Category Archives: Training Talk

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!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 5 (HARD)

 

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Today’s entry discusses the topic of alcohol as it relates 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: What are the effects of alcohol on athletic performance?

A: The data are incredibly clear. Alcoholic beverages specifically impact reaction time for up to five days and for at least three days after consumption. And yet consumption of often quite large quantities of alcohol post-competition or post-exertion is prevalent in virtually all sports. The pressure of performance is high, and athletes turn to alcohol after to relieve this pressure. However, it can take up to a week to recover from this type of consumption. This is the problem with acute alcohol intake.

There’s also a problem with a chronic consumption of alcohol at not such a high intake. Alcohol is an anti-nutrient. It inhibits the production of a number of B-vitamin coenzymes that are required for nutrients to be absorbed, so you can get de facto vitamin deficiencies even in the presence of those vitamins because alcohol blocks the coenzyme production. This is just one way that alcohol interferes with the body’s use of nutrients. Another example of interference happens with retinol, the precursor to vitamin A. [For more on this, read Alcohol, Vitamin A, and Beta-Carotene: Adverse Interactions, Including Hepatotoxicity and Carcinogenicity.]

I understand if you’re not an athlete having a drink in the evening to relax. And in fact, there are a couple of new studies out looking at beer consumption as a post-activity replenishment beverage. As a post-exercise replenishment, a moderate amount of beer may not be bad if you’re not going to exercise again in the next few days or do another sporting event for a month. The relaxing effect of alcohol is valid, and it can potentially help you remove metabolic by-products more efficiently – but only if you’re not exercising or participating in an event for a long period of time afterwards.

Alcohol works against athletic performance both acutely and chronically. The bottom line is that if you’re actively involved in athleticism, lay low. In other words, if you want to drink alcohol, drink. If you want to be an athlete, be an athlete.

(For more on the potential effects of alcohol consumption on athletic performance and recovery, read ESPN.com Special Section on Drugs & Sports: Alcohol; Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes; and What I Do and the Science Behind It (9): Alcohol.)

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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!

Move of the Month 2: Straight-Arming Your Rests (Improve Your Climbing Series)

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what's coming up.

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what’s coming up.

This month’s move is a simple one, yet one that often goes under-utilized by climbers: straightening your arms at rests while you’re climbing. It’s a very common tendency for climbers to “rest” with their arms quite bent and with rod-straight legs – especially on slightly less-than-vertical to vertical to slightly overhanging terrain. The more overhanging terrain becomes, the harder it becomes to get away with feeling like you’re truly resting while keeping your arms bent. In other words, super-steep climbing tends to force the issue a bit more, resulting in straighter arms on rests or quicker, more obvious failure from not using rests as efficiently as possible.

Instead of keeping the arms in a powerful, bent, locked-off position during a true on-route rest — a place where you’re still climbing (not hanging), but you can shake out both hands alternately — try to lower your body weight down so that your legs are bent and your arms are as straight as possible.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

The next time you find yourself on a set of handholds that feel good enough for you to take a rest and shake out each hand alternately on a route, experiment by lowering your body weight down on the holds until your arms are straight. Try to make this a habit in your climbing, looking for ways to straighten your arms and alternating which hand you can let go with while keeping the opposite arm as straight as possible. Sometimes this requires a shift in foot positions in order to find the most efficient rest for each arm.

Be careful about not taking the rest to its full advantage, too. What do I mean by this? As shown in the photo below, this most commonly happens when you straighten your arms but fail to bend your legs. In this type of position, you get somewhat of a rest, but not the fullest rest you could potentially get from a great resting spot like this. It takes more energy to lean back like this and keep your legs straight rather than bending your legs and letting your body weight sink down. It’s also way harder to shake out while leaning back like this.

IMG_8376

There will certainly be times when you take a much-needed (often very quick!) rest (a “quick shake”) while climbing when you will not be able to find a straight-armed position, or when you’ll only be able to shake one hand and not the other.  And, you will sometimes need to pull up out of a rest to feel out or get a visual of what’s ahead, particularly when you’re onsighting and you can’t see clearly what might be coming up from your most efficient resting position. However, it’s a good idea to make it a habit of trying to find the most straight-armed, least-fatiguing positions possible when you rest on your warm-ups, onsight efforts and projects — so long as amazing no-hands rests aren’t available, of course.

Recovering by resting efficiently while climbing is a key tactic that can make or break your send of a route, and strategically managing your rests to be as effective as possible can help you achieve this end. Finding resting positions that require the least amount of energy and that are the most truly restful positions for you is a major way to make the most of your on-route resting, and seeking straight-armed positions in which you can lower your body weight so that you’re hanging down (not out) by bending your knees usually supports this effort, allowing you much more ease in shaking out each arm in turn as you rest and contemplate what’s ahead.

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!