Climbing Food Part 2

So after today’s CrossFit Workout of the Day I was discussing diet with Michael – co-owner, coach and, this morning, the guy who got me through a 5000m row in under twenty minutes. He’d been reading my original post on climbing food and his take on it was that it was carb heavy. As a proponent of The Zone Diet (40, 30, 30) he meant really carb heavy. I’d been meaning to do some more thinking about this before my next trip and this prompted me to make a start.

Firstly here’s the breakdown of what we took last time.

Item Carb (g) Protein (g) Fat (g)
Pre climb “meal”
2 Nature Valley granola bars 58 8 14
During climbing
2 PowerBars 90 18 5
6 Gummy bears 13 0 0
3 Hard candies 13 0 1
2 Gu or Hammer Gel 50 0 0
Cytomax, dry power for 1 quart 40 0 0
Post Climb Recovery
Teas 0 0 0
1 PowerBar Protein Plus bar 38 23 6
1 Lipton Instant soup 9 2 2
1/2 Alpine Aire meal 66 13 2
Total weight (g) 402 74 30

This breaks down into the following by energy intake.

Item Carb Protein Fat
Pre climb “meal”
Total calories (kCal) 232 32 126
Breakdown 59% 8% 32%
During Climbing
Total calories (kCal) 824 72 54
Breakdown 86% 7% 5%
Post Climb Recovery
Total calories (kCal) 452 152 90
Breakdown 65% 22% 13%
Total calories (kCal) 1508 296 270
Breakdown 72% 14% 13%

Interestingly on a more recent trip Stuart and I ate pretty much the same menu minus the Alpine Aire meal due to fuel limitations. I also had a much thinner sleeping bag to save weight. This worked fine for three days but it literally took me a day to warm up after we got back.

By any measure the above is high in carbs and low in fat and protein. Improving this would be easy if it were not for the following contraints:

  • Can’t weigh any more than about 500g per person per day.
  • Fat isn’t metabolised as effectively at altitude and may worsen AMS symptoms (see references). This suggests that a high fat diet, while calorifically benificial may have other disadvantages. In addition most climbers, including me, find fatty food hard to eat at altitude.
  • Must be paletable and easily consumed in cold temperatures with little preparation or cooking.
  • Items eaten during the day must be tolerated when eaten during exercise.

For example, given none of the above I would plan on consuming 2300 carbohydrate calories in the first few hours after exercise and about 800 kCal in protein just for recovery. I’d also eat a big chunk of fatty food prior to sleep to give my body fuel to generate heat during the night. Unfortunately that represents more than I’m willing to carry in total.

However it should be possible to replace some carbs with fat and protein which should get better balance and, by increasing highly calorific fat, have the nice side effect of upping the total number of calories. More fat should help with aiding use of the fat metabolic pathways and a bit more protein will reduce muscle canabalism by the body. I’m also going to try and replace some of the psychological foods, like gummies, with something more useful.

The other big issue is hydration and this time, like last time, we’re going to try and do a better job, maybe by taking slightly more fuel to allow for a midday brew stop – time allowing. On our last trip we drank only 2l of water during a typical climbing day of ten hours or more and an additional total of 2-3l before and after climbing.

Part 3 should include a new eating and hydration plan.

Useful Links:

High Altitude Nutrition
DIET–Scientific American Article
Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success
Endurance Sports Nutrition, Suzanne Girard Eberle
Gym Jones – Knowledge

See also links in my original blog.

One Comment

  1. graham crackers:

    Have you read Twights thing about hydration on deprivation? Just curious.

    Personally, I eat two very different diets: the crossfit general diet which is close to a zone diet and then a alpine climbing diet which is far more carb heavy.

    People who don’t alpine climb at my level might not understand it, but I am basically doing a long endurance workout with bits of power endurance, basically because i’m not climbing very hard.

    It really reminds me of full day bike racing. When I eat and drink in a similar way to the way I did bike racing, I have great days. I have a bit more protein, but not a lot more.

    You might want to consider having two totally different diets for the different demands your body will be under. A crossfit work out is at most 45 minutes. Ok, in 45 minutes maybe I’ve finished the approach, but the climb has yet to come.