If variety is the spice of life, the usual collection of energy bars doesn't cut the mustard. Climbers take note: you can meet your energy demands without bars or supplements, simply by adhering to a varied diet of fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy protein sources, unsaturated fats and a host of whole grains.
Climbing is physically demanding. Muscles break down and rebuild every time we tie in and work our way up a route. In order to get the most out of our bodies, we need to put the best stuff into them. Healthful eating is no mystery, nor even as tricky as that 5.11b you've been eyeing. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the recipe is simple, and it doesn't include long ingredient lists loaded with words you can't pronounce. Here are your nutrition guidelines for a healthier, happier, harder climbing body - and they are all available at your local market.
Protein. Let's face it, energy bars and chocolate whey shakes can't replace the protein and nutrients derived from real food like fish, eggs and dairy products. With nearly 10,000 proteins making up the hair, skin, nails, muscles and organs of your body, you need a smorgasbord to keep your parts healthy. Trade the power shake for a tasty salmon filet and your body will thank you for the influx of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 30 grams of protein per six-ounce serving. Other great sources of muscle-building material: lowfat yogurt, lean poultry and beef, and soy. Limit your intake of mercury-laden fish like tuna and swordfish. Protein also helps you stay satiated longer: i.e. after eating it, you won't feel the hunger pangs for hours.
Carbs. Often referred to as the staff of life, carbohydrates are key to moving your body. During digestion, carbs are converted into glucose, or blood sugar, which is the most readily usable form of energy in the body. The kind of carbohydrate you eat determines how quickly it will break down for energy. Simple sugars like white bread, soda and candy burn faster; the energy spike they provide is quickly followed by an energy crash. With their higher fiber content, whole grains take longer to digest and release a slower, more steady stream of glucose into your bloodstream. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, studies have shown whole grains also help reduce heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer, so avoid the white stuff (white rice and bread, and anything made with bleached flour). Mayo Clinic's top choices: oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, multigrain bread and brown rice. Once again, variety is key. Don't be afraid to try quick-cooking, nutrient-packed grains like quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and whole-wheat couscous.
Fat. Long gone are the days of fanatical low-fat and fat-free eating - and bodies are happier for it. Fat is an essential nutrient. It makes up cell membranes, keeps skin supple and hair strong, and helps you stay full longer. Harvard School of Public Health studies have found that less important than the quantity of fat you eat is the quality. Feast on unsaturated, omega-3-rich sources like almonds, olive oil and salmon, and steer clear of saturated fats like butter and bacon grease that are solid at room temperature. Just picture that stick of butter - or Whopper with extra cheese - stuck in your arteries. An overabundance of fat will store itself on your belly, thighs, butt and wherever else you don't want it to be, so aim for no more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat and you'll be golden. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that amounts to about 44 to 78 grams of fat in total per day, or half an avocado (15 grams), a handful of almonds (15 grams), and a six-ounce portion of salmon (20 grams), with a little wiggle room for dessert.
Eat your vegetables! Mom was right. Stay away from the sodium-laden canned green beans and peas, though. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart disease. Instead, incorporate nutritious fresh vegetables that are easy to eat and prepare. Broccoli is a powerhouse, packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants, fiber and iron, and a quick-cooking stir-fry staple. Leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard are rich in calcium and iron, which keep your bones strong and red blood cells healthy, and they are tasty additions to egg-white omelets.
Don't forget the fruit. The latest Food Pyramid Guidelines recommend that you eat at least nine servings, or 4 1/2 cups, of fruits and vegetables per day. Pack in vitamin C and cancer-fighting antioxidants by snacking on apples, oranges, berries and mangoes. For a boost at the crag, slather an apple with almond butter.
Sweets. Limit them. Sugar gives you an energy surge that drops hard and fast shortly after eating. Get your sustained energy from complex carb and protein combos like almond butter and multigrain bread, and satisfy your sweet tooth with antioxidant-rich dark chocolate that may reduce your blood pressure, and hence your risk of heart disease.
Here's a grocery list of healthy foods to keep on hand. Toss the processed foods and supplements and try eating foods from this list for a month.
Olive Oil | Wild salmon filets | Free-range eggs | Filet or ribeye steaks | Boneless, skinless chicken breasts | Lowfat yogurt | Almond or peanut butter | Raw almonds | 2-percent milk | Oatmeal | Whole-wheat couscous | Quinoa | Multigrain bread |Whole grain tortillas | Whole-wheat pasta | Canned chickpeas | Marinara sauce | Black beans | Spinach | Swiss chard | Romaine lettuce | Tomatoes | Carrots | Beets | Avocados | Garlic | Red bell pepper | Broccoli | Lemons | Apples | Oranges | Blueberries (frozen are good for smoothies) | Mangoes | Bananas | Wild rice | Dark chocolate (rich in antioxidants)
For more information:
American Heart Association: americanheart.org, Harvard School of Public Health: hsph.harvard.edu, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: ajcn.org