Category Archives: Climbing Training

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 7 (HARD)

“The recent popularity of higher-protein, higher-fat, and lower-carbohydrate diets has serious and potentially negative implications for athletic performance.” (Dr. Dan Benardot in  “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Image Courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry discusses the ideal distribution of macronutrients in your diet for the promotion of top athletic performance and recovery, as covered by Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition” (ANS).

Carbohydrate, fat and protein are the three macronutrients that provide us with the energy needed for survival. Every food you consume includes one, two or all three of these essential macronutrients. Each plays an important role in a well-balanced diet, and each type of macronutrient also has a preferred and a less-preferred form to consume – meaning that not all carbs, fats and proteins are created equal.  For more on the types of carbs, fat and protein you should select (and which ones to avoid or limit), read the first chapter of ANS.

Carbohydrate: Poor carbohydrates. They’re so misunderstood and maligned. Carbohydrates are your muscles’ preferred fuel source, and supplying your body with enough carbohydrates at appropriate times (while also staying hydrated) is probably the No. 1 thing you can do to enhance athletic performance. Since sport climbing is generally a high-intensity sport, you actually use more carbs when you’re trying hard on a climb for fuel than anything else. Once you deplete that fuel source, it’s game over, unless you supply your body with a steady stream of carbs throughout a workout or climbing day to allow your muscles to continue to have adequate fuel for the demands you’re placing on them – not to mention your brain.

As Dr. Benardot explains in ASN: “A failure to sustain glucose delivery to working muscles results in cessation of high-intensity activity.” Since our ability to store carbs is limited (unlike our ability to store fat), not taking in carbs during an intense training session or climbing day is a surefire way to sabotage your efforts. Benardot continues, “When blood sugar becomes low, mental fatigue sets in, and mental fatigue results in muscular fatigue regardless of how much energy is stored in muscles.” In addition, it’s likely that not taking carbs and fluids in during intense activities (like sport climbing or training for sport climbing) can result in muscle breakdown – not what most folks are trying to get out of a solid climbing day or training effort.

Benardot makes it clear that human survival needs in terms of diet are quite different from what humans should be eating to promote peak athletic performance. He suggests that athletes aim to get 55 to 65 percent of their total daily calories from carbohydrates to optimize performance and recovery, both. If you think this is easy, think again! Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your macronutrient intake for a few days, and the results might surprise you, even if you think you eat a lot of carbs already.

Fat: Fat is an essential nutrient that helps deliver fat-soluble vitamins and that is needed for certain bodily functions. It also helps you feel full and makes food taste good. Athletes should take care to have a balanced approach toward including fat in the diet, taking care to have no more than 25 percent of total calories to come from fat, as even a few days’ increase in fat intake has been shown to result in decreased athletic performance, most likely from a lack of adequate carbohydrate consumption.

Protein: Protein gets too much play in most athletes’ diets, according to Benardot, who warns against using protein to replace carbohydrate in your diet, as this can seriously diminish your training and performance results, both. He explains that the majority of athletes (and the American population in general) already consume more protein than necessary to optimize athletic performance and general health. By doing so, athletes often undermine their training and performance results, in part because eating too much protein can lower the intake of carbohydrates essential for performance and recovery, both.

Eating an adequate amount of protein is of course necessary for performance and recovery. For nonathletes, the recommendation given in ASN is .8 gram per kilogram of body weight, while for athletes, the recommendation is roughly double that amount, or between 1.2 and 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. Ideally, you’ll eat even amounts of protein at each meal, as the body uses protein more efficiently when consumption is distributed like this throughout the day, rather than eating 90 grams of protein in one sitting.

Burning protein for energy in place of carbohydrates is undesirable and inefficient for your body. Protein is harder for the body to use as fuel and excessive protein consumption can lead to loss of body water, too, due to the way the body handles it. Too much protein in the diet is often stored by the body as fat, or burned for energy, a process that creates a great amount of metabolic waste products that the body must then get rid of.

Interestingly enough, endurance athletes (like distance runners, swimmers and cyclists) typically have higher protein needs than athletes participating in sports like sport climbing and bouldering – because your body actually does burn protein for fuel, and the more endurance-oriented the activity, the more protein gets burned for fuel during the activity. Remember from the discussion on carbs above that carbohydrate (glycogen) storage is limited, so if you exercise for a prolonged period of time without replenishing fuel stores adequately, your body will burn more and more protein for fuel as muscle fuel stores get depleted (muscle loss, anyone?).

The next Improve Your Sport Climbing entry will discuss the optimal timing and distribution of nutrients before, during and after training or competition/performance days.

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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!

Product of the Month 4: SCARPA Booster S

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The first time I climbed in the SCARPA Booster S, I fell in love. I was working on a route that had a redpoint crux up high that involved popping my right hand to a small, slopey edge from another small, slopey edge (where my hands were matched, so my left hand stayed there). Hanging on to both edges with arms bent, I had to step up my right foot onto this tiny protruding edge, and then step the other one awkwardly high onto a smeary, nasty, non-confidence-inspiring slopey dish. From there, I had to rock up over the dish until I hit a high enough lock-off point to give me the reach, and then accurately stab my left hand for a decent pocket.

Before the arrival of the Booster S, about 50 percent of the times I tried this move, my left foot would blow off the slopey hold at the apex of the rock over…it just seemed so finicky and hard for me to feel and weight it properly and exactly. I’d think I was all set, and then – BAM – I’d overweight my foot just enough to get ejected from the smeary foothold right before I could attempt to reach the pocket or just as I let go to try.

Enter the Booster S. This sensitive and powerful shoe transformed this move from a low-percentage move to a highly doable move for me, ultimately leading to a send. Because of the sensitive precision of the Booster S I could feel exactly how much weight to put into the left foot – as much as I could without overweighting it, allowing me to gain the height to reach the pocket. With the concern of foot-popping gone, I was much more confident in attempting this move; I never fell off of it again from my foot unexpectedly blowing off the hold. And I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever climbed in a climbing shoe before that I can definitively say allowed me to do a move with so much more ease than I could without it.

The difference for me now between this shoe and other shoes when I’m climbing reminds me of the difference I felt so many years ago when I transitioned from my very first pair of board-lasted climbing shoes to more modern, soft climbing shoes. After climbing in my new shoes for a few weeks, when I went back to try to wear my first pair of climbing shoes on a warm-up climb, I discovered that my new sense of feel through my feet had rendered the stiffer shoes pretty much useless for me. Climbing in them made me feel like I was trying to climb in wooden clogs or goofy clown shoes.

Ditto for the Booster S. They are so sensitive that I can rely on and trust the feedback from my feet completely, in a way that I don’t recall feeling ever before, allowing for more precise pressure, placement and adjustment of positioning than any shoe I’ve ever climbed in, period. Plus, they can still edge decently on smaller holds and less-steep terrain for those routes that offer a blend of both styles, a combination of steep-thuggy and tech-vert. Right now, I feel like I probably won’t ever want to climb in any other shoe for the rest of my climbing days – but the wizard behind SCARPA shoe designs may change my opinion yet again whenever the next installment comes out!

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Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition Part 6, (HARD)

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry discusses the topic of taking supplements as related to athletic performance and recovery, as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: Are there any supplements athletes should take?

A: Supplements should be used to be used to supplement known biological weaknesses, not as a preventive measure.

For example, if somebody is low in iron, they will not perform up to their athletic ability. Women are predisposed to having an iron deficiency. If this is the case, then a reasonable iron supplement makes sense – but if you take too much, it’s toxic, so iron should only be supplemented if a deficiency is found [via a blood test]. It can increase risk of all sorts of diseases if you supplement unnecessarily.

Most athletes don’t realize that there’s a reduced tissue sensitivity that occurs with a chronic intake of supplements. If you’re healthy, you use a tiny bit of stored vitamin C per day, and you could go a long time without any symptoms of scurvy. But if you chronically take a huge supplemental dose, your tissues “figure out” that they don’t need it, and they consequently don’t let it in as easily, so you get a resistance in tissues to the vitamin in question, and then you’re stuck having to take the vitamin, as you’ve altered your daily requirement. If you stop taking it, you will need it – because you’ve increased your daily requirement by supplementing.

Be extremely careful about how and why you take supplements. If there’s a biological need, sure – have a logical dose. Most people don’t realize this, but they are being given huge doses of vitamins and minerals. For example, with iron, taking too much every day is an ineffective way to return to a normal iron status. Chronically exposing yourself to a huge amount of any particular vitamin or mineral predisposes your absorption system to take in less and less of that particular substance. Also, receptors that take up a number of different vitamins and minerals can become completely saturated by the overly supplemented vitamins and minerals, causing other necessary vitamins and nutrients to not get absorbed. This can create other nutrient deficiencies, even if your diet appears to be well balanced. So generally speaking, even with a known deficiency, taking a smaller supplement here and there tends to be better to return to normal levels than taking a regular and relatively huge daily dose.

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In “Advanced Sports Nutrition,” Dr. Benardot also discusses ergogenic (performance-enhancing) aids in depth, concluding, “There is no ergogenic aid that can make up for a proper fluid intake, a solid nutrition intake, an appropriate training regimen, and sufficient rest.” He warns that many ergogenic aids actually contain potentially harmful and/or illegal substances not listed on the labels. He is of the opinion that most athletes would see a marked increase in performance if they paid more attention to regularly consuming carbohydrates and fluids before, during and after training and competition, as it’s common for athletes to underfuel and get dehydrated despite having plenty of fluids and foods readily available to them.

Dr. Benardot summarizes his main point about ergogenic supplements as follows: “Of all the ergogenic aids mentioned…it is very clear that carbohydrate holds the greatest promise for improving both endurance and power performance. Before trying anything else, athletes should consider a regular consumption of carbohydrate with plenty of fluids.”

The next entry will delve into the roles that carbohydrates, along with protein and fat, play in supporting peak performance and recovery in greater detail.

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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!