Don't Bonk on Your Next Climb

Nutrition for Athletes on the Wall


Finding the right nutrition for athletes that climb can provide a challenge to find the right energy in the right size with the right weight.

Research out of the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University showed that nutritional supplementation during exercise can improve endurance performance. But climbing is unique in both physiology and replenishing lost energy.  Weight, packaging, and the ease of consuming the nutrients are all important considerations when selecting the right supplement to keep you on the wall.

Climbing is different from other endurance sports because of how anaerobic metabolism impacts energy production to drive the muscle contractions used in climbing.  In addition, energy expenditure in climbing is confined to a relatively small group of muscles.  As an example, continual forearm contraction common in climbing relies significantly on the anaerobic system which is only about 5% as efficient as the aerobic one.  The acid buildup related with muscle fatigue can reduce hand grip strength by as much as 57% from the beginning to the end of a climb. The dependence on the anaerobic system means that muscles can fatigue quicker and the nutrient stores necessary to produce energy are depleted more rapidly.  Also, research has shown that important cognitive functions can be impaired through fatigue resulting in lower concentration.  Reduced concentration and decreased finger strength are a bad combination on any climbing wall.

Research has shown that acid buildup related with muscle fatigue can reduce hand grip strength by as much as 57% from the beginning to the end of a climb Photo Source:  www.collthings.co.uk

Having the right nutritional sources can greatly reduce the depletion of muscle energy stores and delay the onset of fatigue.  However, climbing has practical challenges on what fueling methods can be used. Weight, bulk, packaging, and ease of consumption are all important considerations for any nutritional option.  When considering climbing nutrition, think about fueling before, during, and after the climb to maximize performance and recovery.  Prior to your climb fully hydrate the body and eat a balanced meal that is not too heavy.  Many nutritionists recommend fluid and carbohydrates as the foundation of pre-climb nutrition with a small portion of protein. The goal should be to raise the blood glucose level before you start climbing.

During the climb the goal is to provide rapid sources of energy to restore lost supplies.  This can be difficult given the limited space the climber has to carry energy supplements, the limited amount of water, and the difficulty to consume nutrients while hanging off a wall.  Look for a supplement that provides the fuel and electrolytes necessary for optimal muscle function during sustained activity.  Items that dissolve easily in the mouth, don’t need water, and are in single serving packages are ideal for the constraints of climbing.  These items can be pre-opened to allow for quick munching during short breaks along the route and will supply a continual source of energy to your muscles.

Post climbing nutrition for athletes is critical to reduce soreness and rebuild damaged muscles.  The metabolic machine that is super-charged during exercise has an optimal window of about 45 minutes after exercise.  It is important that you not miss this window of opportunity to maximize the metabolic process to speed recovery.  Research has shown that when the right combination of nutrients is consumed during this window there is greater restoration of muscle energy stores and an increase in the rebuilding of damaged muscle tissue.  Nutritionists recommend a blend of carbs and protein to replenish lost stores and help rebuild damaged muscles. This greater recovery means a much stronger performance on your next climb.

Replenishing lost energy is important to maintaining strength and focus during climbing.  Look for a supplement that dissolves easily in the mouth and does not require additional water.  Single serving packaging is a bonus.  Photo Source:  www.groupon.co.za

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