Rock climbing is a sport/recreation, which can last hours at a time. It requires extreme levels of muscular endurance, power, strength and good levels of stamina. A good strength and conditioning program can help improve these aspects, but the body needs the correct fuel to help the body perform these activities.
I am going to concentrate more on the pre-climbing, during climbing and post climbing nutrition. These make up a very important part of how the body will perform during the climbing period. I will also cover water and electrolyte consumption.
The purpose of this meal is provide fluid and energy to the climber during the activity. Pre nutrition will start around 3 hours before climbing. The pre-climbing meal should consist of a mix very low glycemic carbohydrates, such as oats, sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruits. A good source of protein is also added to this meal, such as lean meats and fish. This will supply the body with the fuel to get through the session. Water is also very important and studies indicate 0.5 liter 2 hours before the activity.
As rock climbing is an aerobic endurance event, you can maximize carbohydrate stores by eating something with about 30 minutes before the session. I recommend my climbers take in fruit and a source of protein that is light on the stomach, such as a whey protein shake. I also recommend my climber drink another 0.5 liter of water.
During Climbing Nutrition
During rock climbing, the main thing to consume is adequate fluid. The purpose of this is to keep the body hydrated and at peak performance. If the session lasts up to an hour, I would recommend water would be sufficient. Evidence suggests that there is no physiological benefit to consuming a drink with carbohydrates in during this time. Around 0.25 liter should be consumed every 15 minutes. Take in large amounts of water as this causes gastric emptying allowing the water to get into the system more rapidly.
If the session goes on longer than 1 hour, then I would suggest taking in a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink to help replenish these stores. A simple and effective drink, which is cheap is adding salt to orange juice. I recommend drinking this alongside water, drinking 0.125 liter of water and 0.125 liter carb/electrolyte drink every 15 minutes. As climbing is focuses on muscular strength, power and endurance, I also recommend having branched chain amino acids during climbing sessions and recommend adding these to your carb/electrolyte drink.
Post Climbing Nutrition
As soon as the session has finished, I recommend taking a mix of carbohydrates and proteins. A mix of whey protein and glucose (Hi glycemic) will help replenish the depleted carbohydrate stores, while at the same time, the insulin release caused by the intake of high glycemic carbohydrates will buffer the protein into the bodies muscle stores. I would try to get this in within the first 30 minutes of finishing the session. Water is also needed to help re-hydrate the body. A good indicator is to consume 0.5 liter for every pound of body weight lost.
1-2 hours after completing a climb, a substantial meal can be consumed, which can consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat. A good meal for this, which I consume myself and suggest to my climbers is sweet potato with tuna mayonnaise and salad. I would also drink another 0.5 liter of water with this meal too.
A good nutritional program is a fundamental part to make climbing a better experience and overall more fun as you will be able to find climbs get easier as your performance increases. Keep hydrated and get adequate nutrients into the body.
Harry Grove BSc CSCS DipPT has helped train athletes and individuals from a variety of backgrounds for more and a decade. He is the co-founder of PT On-Demand Ltd! an online training and exercise resource.