If you’re in the habit of not eating before you climb, or maybe you shove a few cookies in your mouth on the way to the crag, it’s time to re-think your fueling strategy.
If it’s been more than two to three hours since your last meal, eat something. Simple carbohydrates are the best. They are easy to digest, which means your body will metabolize them quickly to supply much-needed blood sugar to fuel your ascent. Simple carbs also won’t sit like a rock in your stomach (pun intended), which leaves you feeling energized and light rather than bogged down by fiber or fatty, greasy foods.
Examples of quick-digesting carbs for a one to two hour climbing session:
Be sure to test all foods and fluids first to make sure you tolerate them. If you are trying a new food, eat it first at home or before a short trial climb at an indoor gym before going on a climbing trip. The last thing you want is a gastrointestinal surprise at the crag.
All types of climbing demand carbohydrate, Static, slower moves and explosive dynos all need carbohydrate. Guess what? Your brain also needs it!
Along with carbs, caffeine can give you an extra boost. It can improve endurance, delay fatigue, improve mood and alertness, improve reaction time, and decrease perceived pain.
An effective dose is around 100-200 mg. A cup of coffee has about 60-150mg. Energy gummies have between 20-150 mg (check the label). Caffeinated soda pop has about 35-115mg. Avoid energy drinks that have excessive amounts of caffeine or other ingredients whose effect is unknown.
Be cautious if you are not used to taking it. Watch out for digestive issues, jitteriness, anxiety, or an elevated heart rate. Don’t use caffeine if you feel these side-effects.
On the flip side, if you consume caffeine on a regular basis, you might not benefit from taking some caffeine before climbing. It’s less effective in some people who are already used to it.
If you have felt any of the following while climbing, eat beforehand. These are signs of fatigue, linked to under-fueling and/or dehydration. No excuses. No fuel, no send.
You suddenly feel very hungry during climbing (breakthrough hunger). You feel like you fade away toward the end. You can’t quite do a move that should be easy. You feel like your concentration and mental focus is not as sharp as the session goes on (i.e., you want to sob when you encounter a roof). You make dumb mistakes you don’t usually make. You feel dizzy, shaky, or nauseated. You are hangry and irritable (much to the delight of your climbing friends). You quit earlier that you’d like, either from mental or physical exhaustion (or both).
One more tip: Beet root juice is all the rage right now, because it helps with blood vessel dilation. This means increased oxygen uptake and improved blood flow. Drink some before you climb either by itself or in a smoothie. (Goodbye, pump!)
Take home message: Eating some food before you climb can make all the difference in sending your project. There’s nothing like the feeling of having enough energy to push through the crux and conquer the route. Pack some snacks in your gear bag and head to the crag well-fueled and ready to crush it.
Marisa Michael, RDN, LD is a sports dietitian and personal trainer. She helps athletes and active people eat better for sports performance and health. She has conducted original research on adolescent rock climbing nutrition. You can find her at realnutritionllc.com to book a virtual nutrition consultation. Follow her on Instagram @realnutritiondietitian for nutrition and fitness tips. Michael is in the middle of writing a book on rock climbing nutrition and she wants to hear from you. If you have nutrition questions, tips, stories, or favorite foods to share, drop her a line at dietitian[at]realnutritionrdn.com.