Eat Right for Rock Climbing Performance

What Should You Eat on Rock Climbing Days?

Ignacio Palacios/Getty Images

When you go rock climbing for the day, you probably don't give much thought to what you bring to eat. Maybe you toss a couple energy bars and a quart of Gatorade in your pack. Maybe you pack like my friend Brian and bring a bag of mini-donuts, a couple beef jerky sticks, and a Red Bull. Or maybe you bring a Euro-lunch like I do when I climb in France with a fresh baguette from the village bakery, a wheel of camembert or brie cheese, fresh fruit, and a bottle of sparkling water like Perrier.

Make a Climbing Meal Plan

It seems that most climbers don't plan what to eat for the day when they head out rock climbing, ignoring daily nutritional requirements and not thinking about eating for better performance. If you have a meal plan for the day, you will climb better as well as avoid problems like nausea, cramps, dizziness, and lack of motivation from not eating enough or properly.

Eat Well to Increase Your Performance

When you focus on the food you eat during a day of rock climbing and hiking, you will increase your performance level. If you snack regularly during the day, you can keep your reserves up and maintain an even blood sugar level so you won't crash and burn. If you eat a good breakfast with protein, then you'll be all right during the morning and won't suffer a drop in your performance. But when your breakfast energy wears off, you may be prone to loss of strength and motivation.

Balanced Breakfast is Important

When you go rock climbing, especially if you're doing a route with a long approach or a day-long multi-pitch climb, it is important to eat a balanced breakfast with somewhere between 700 and 1,000 calories, including at least 500 from carbohydrates. A breakfast which includes protein like meat and eggs, as well as carb foods like potatoes and toast, provides your body not only with enough carbohydrates but also fat and protein, which translates to plenty of energy during a long period of exercise on a route.

Carry Food to Replenish Energy Stores

Once you are out on the rock and climbing, that good breakfast will eventually wear off and your energy stores will start being depleted after a few hours, especially glycogen or carbohydrate stores which need a constant supply to keep you fueled. You need to carry food that has a balanced mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This is usually a high-calorie food that you can easily carry in your pocket or pack and is easy to eat and digest. On a long climb, you should figure on consuming about 50 grams of carbohydrates per hour or the amount found in a quart of energy drink or an energy bar.

Energy Bars are a Good Choice

Energy bars are a good choice of food for climbers to carry since they are compact; easy to carry; generally gentle on your stomach and easy to digest; have a long shelf life, and conveniently offer specialized nutrients in packets that can be eating as you need them. Energy bars can give you sustained and consistent energy rather than spiking your blood sugar which happens after you eat a candy bar.

Drink Water with Energy Bars

Energy bars are usually high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat, making them ideal to eat before a climb or afterward to restore glycogen to your muscles.

Before buying bars, check the carbohydrates as well as how much protein is in them. Also, remember to drink water when you eat a bar since they are usually dense and water makes them easier to digest. Don't use an energy drink with bars since you will probably consume too many carbs, making it difficult for your body to absorb them.

Energy Gels, Bites, and Chews

Another climbing food option besides bars are energy gels, which are also popular with bicyclists and hikers for energy during a workout or climb. Gels, usually a sweet syrup in a small, lightweight packet, give a quick boost of carbohydrates and are easy and quick to digest so you can quickly feed your muscles. If you don't like the texture and taste of gels, then you should try bites and chews which are like gumdrops and jelly beans.

These quick energy bites function like gels, providing carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish salts lost by sweating.

Carry and Eat Real Food

Lastly, consider carrying snacks and real food like cheese and crackers; peanut butter or nuts; an apple or other fresh fruit that won't crush; beef jerky; dried fruit like raisins, apricots, and cranberries; granola and granola bars; and Gorp. Gorp, also called trail mix, is a solid way to get both carbs and protein by using a combination of your favorite snack foods all mixed together, including peanuts, cashews, dried fruit, raisins, granola, cereal like Cheerios or Chex, chocolate chips, and M&Ms. Gorp is easy to make, easy to carry, and tasty.