You train hard. You practice until your fingers bleed. Your muscles ache. Have you thought about nourishing your body to make sure it can adapt to all that training? If not, you’re missing the key factor that can take your climbing further. Here are some simple nutrition hacks to maximize training gains and chase your GOAT.
Eat after you climb. The sooner the better. Your body is in recovery mode for 24-48 hours after you work out, rebuilding and repairing muscles. As soon as 30-60 minutes after working out, certain body processes begin to kick in to start recovering from your training session. This is especially crucial if you are on a multi-day climbing trip, you train daily at a gym, or you’re doing a multi-day comp.
Eating a combination of protein and carbohydrate does a couple of great things for your body. The carbohydrate helps replenish glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose (sugar) in your muscles. It’s the on-board fuel that helps with muscle contraction. Replenishing glycogen will set yourself up for a well-fueled workout the next day. Eating enough protein (20-40 grams) helps support muscle growth and repair. Protein before bed helps your body repair and build muscle during the night. The dose is high—about 28 g. You can get this from two scoops of protein powder, four eggs, or a large chicken breast. Having a diet full of fruits and vegetables provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for cell function and repair.
These post-workout meals will get you well on your way to proper recovery.
Drink after you climb. Hopefully you’ve been hydrating during your climb (see “Nutrition Beta Part 2: Fueling to climb longer and stronger”). Keep drinking according to thirst. Milk and chocolate milk are great for re-hydration because they offer not only fluid, but electrolytes, carbohydrate, and protein. You can also use a sports drink or electrolyte tablets after your climb if you sweat a lot or feel dehydrated. Definitely do this if you are a salty sweater. You’ll know if you are because you’ll have traces of dried salt on your skin and clothes after you climb.
Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol is a great way to sabotage all those training gains you just made. It interferes with muscle protein synthesis (that’s the rebuilding and repairing that occurs after a workout). There are some studies that show it also interferes with glycogen storage. It prevents good sleep quality (good sleep is key to recovery). It prevents re-hydration. And in a sport where mental clarity and sharp decision-making can literally mean life or death, do you really want to be drinking while climbing? If you must enjoy that post-climb beer, at least pair it with a good meal.
Consider supplements for muscle soreness. Fish oil supplements at 3000-4000 mg per day can help with muscle soreness. Tart cherry juice and (12-24 ounces) is anti-inflammatory and can reduce muscle damage. And as a climber, you need this. Climbing produces micro-tears in muscle tissue that need repairing.
The take-home message: Eat as soon as possible after climbing. Make it a solid meal with both carbs and protein. Eating the right kinds of foods at the right times will help you reach your climbing goals. Honor your body, fueling it well.
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.