Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 4 (HARD)

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/

“[A]thletes should work as intensely as possible within a given time frame to increase fat loss and optimize body composition.” (Dr. Dan Benardot, “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Today’s entry continues the previous entry’s discussion about working toward optimizing body composition (strength-to-weight ratio), as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: What is the best way to lose fat and sustain or gain sport-specific lean muscle mass?

A: There are a couple of physiological realities that people don’t generally understand too well. First of all, genetically, we’re coming from a place where calories were hard to come by. Our bodies are always trying to become more energy efficient. And, we are amazingly good fat storers. We have remarkable ways to store fat!

Secondly, if you lift weights [or train] with regularity, your body will be forced to make an energy-efficient adaptation. Once that adaptation – with larger, stronger muscles and a more efficient cardiovascular system – occurs, the adaptation to activity is associated with a lower caloric requirement than you had when you started the activity.

In other words, you need to constantly ramp up the activity’s intensity to maintain caloric burn and to push for greater adaptations. And, while it may take you weeks to become extremely efficient at a certain level of physical work, if you stop doing it for some time or don’t continue to increase your intensity, the body will try to go back to baseline.

There’s also a common misunderstanding of proportion and volume when discussing activities for fat loss. Doing a low-intensity aerobic activity to burn 100 calories, let’s say that 80 percent of those calories come from fat, so 80 calories are burned from fat stores. Double the intensity of that exercise so that you’re burning 200 calories in much less time, and the fat-burn proportion has gone down to 60 percent – but you’re still burning 120 calories from fat. People chronically confuse proportion with volume, and this has led to the erroneous idea that relatively low-intensity aerobic activity is the best way to lose fat or is necessary for fat loss. It’s not. [For more on this, check out “High or Low Intensity Exercise – Which Is Best For Weight Loss” on]

Summing it up, these two things – our bodies’ ability to store fat and our propensity toward energy efficiency – make an athlete’s life difficult. Athletes need to focus on getting calories in regularly in relatively small doses in order to sustain muscle mass and keep body fat levels desirably low, as well as engaging in sport-appropriate training programs that continuously challenge the body in new, more intense, ways.


This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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