Category Archives: Training Tips

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 9 (HARD)

“Perhaps the single most important factor associated with sustaining a high level of athletic performance is maintenance of fluid balance during exercise.”

(Dr. Dan Benardot in  “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Taking in sports drink regularly throughout an intense workout or climbing day is highly recommended. Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking in sports drink regularly throughout an intense workout or climbing day is highly recommended. Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s entry discusses the topic of adequate hydration as it relates to athletic performance and recovery, as covered by Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition” (ANS).

You know from reading the previous “Improve Your Climbing” entry that sipping small amounts of sports drink throughout an intense workout or climbing day can help you sustain your energy levels and performance for longer than not taking in carbohydrates can. But what about the hydration side of the equation?

In ASN, Dr. Benardot provides a thorough explanation of the desirability for athletes to maintain fluid balance and avoid dehydration. I’ll try to (drastically) simplify it here as best I can. Sweat helps dissipate heat, allowing you to continue to perform physical activity. You must replace lost fluids in order to continue sweating adequately to dissipate heat. Sweat includes essential electrolytes (sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium). If your blood volume drops, your ability to sweat decreases, as does your body’s ability to meet your working muscles’ need for greater blood flow. And blood volume drops with dehydration, while your risk of overheating rises.

“Most athletes induce voluntary dehydration because they don’t drink enough despite having plenty of fluids readily available,” says Dr. Benardot in ASN, going on to explain that athletes often appear to have a delayed ability to register thirst, and don’t drink until they’re already too dehydrated to come back to a well-hydrated state by the time they’re thirsty. Dr. Benardot suggests drinking every 10 to 15 minutes during exercise to help avoid dehydration and the performance decline that accompanies it, as well as other potential negative complications.

It’s important to note that some experts and studies have called into question the idea that athletes should drink at regular preset intervals, regardless of thirst, suggesting instead that thirst is indeed an adequate indicator of when to consume fluids and will suffice to keep athletes hydrated enough to avoid negative impacts on performance from activity-induced dehydration. See both “Effect of exercise-induced dehydration on endurance performance…” and  “Dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes” for support of the “drink according to thirst” approach to staying adequately hydrated so as not to impede performance outcomes.

The latter review also references the interesting discovery that athletes could perform better simply by rinsing their mouths out with a carbohydrate-rich sports drink without even swallowing the fluid. Of course, if you’re involved in a lengthy day of climbing or a hard training sesh, you’d probably be better off drinking some sports drink than spitting it out…

Regardless of whether or not drinking solely in response to thirst (vs. at set intervals regardless of thirst) will stave off dehydration enough to avoid performance impairment during a climbing day or workout, planning ahead to make sure you have plenty of fluids to drink available to you during a climbing day or a training workout is a smart strategy and should be a part of your nutrition plan. Forgetting to drink during workouts that last longer than an hour or for an entire climbing day is not likely to leave you in a well-hydrated state, and this may render your performance subpar.

If you simply chug tons of water during a difficult and lengthy workout or sporting event, you risk hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, which can actually be fatal. However, hyponatremia is still far less common than activity-related dehydration is in athletes. Still, you might want to reconsider if you’ve been adhering to a water-only fluid replacement protocol, since recent studies (including one linked above) have shown that sports drinks containing carbs and electrolytes can help athletes perform longer and stronger, keeping mental functions alive and muscles well fueled:

“Different activities result in different rates of carbohydrate utilization, but consuming carbohydrate-laden fluid consistently helps maintain athletic performance, regardless of the sport,” says Dr. Benardot in ASN.

Okay, so what kind of sports drink should you choose? A sports drink below 8 percent carbohydrate concentration absorbs more quickly than water alone and has been demonstrated to have a similar gastric emptying time as water, which will help prevent gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Dr. Benardot suggests that 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate solution is ideal, and preferably not made with fructose, which may cause GI problems as well. Not carbonated (read ASN for the full explanation of that one), and forget all of the extras beyond electrolytes and carbs.

In a nutshell, then, you should start your activity well hydrated and aim to keep your hydration levels up throughout your workout or climbing day. Drink roughly 16 ounces of fluid an hour or an hour and a half before you begin a workout, and then regularly sip on sports drink throughout any intense workout or climbing day, either at fixed intervals or according to thirst. Make sure you pack enough fluids for the time you plan to be working out or for your climbing day. When you’re done working out, consume a recovery beverage containing carbs and a small amount of protein (like chocolate milk or a specially formulated recovery drink; I like Clif Shot Chocolate Recovery Drink Mix ), and continue to drink fluids along with your meals until you’re rehydrated (clear urine is a good indicator of this).

The next Improve Your Climbing entry will conclude and summarize this 10-part series covering ways to optimize your nutrition plan and body composition (based mainly on Dr. Benardot’s recommendations) for climbing/athletic performance.

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 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!

Move of the Month 3: The Backstep (Improve Your Climbing Series)

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It’s very common for those new to climbing to approach each rock climb they attempt as if climbing up a ladder. This actually makes sense, as climbing a ladder or a tree is probably the closest thing most people have done to rock climbing before they actually start rock climbing. When you climb a ladder, you tend to stay square to the ladder, positioning your hips parallel to the rungs, and stepping up each foot in turn after reaching up to grasp the next rung with your hands, often with bent arms, gripping the rung with your fingers.

When rock climbing, this ladder-like approach can be extremely limiting and draining, sapping your strength and endurance very quickly while also making holds that are well within your reach range seem much harder to get to than they actually are. Learning to keep your arms as straight as possible (both while resting and while climbing) is one part of the equation; I discussed the resting aspect of this in the previous Move of the Month entry, and I’ll elaborate on the straight-armed approach to making climbing movements in a future entry. But today’s focus is on the feet, and more specifically, integrating the backstep into your climbing footwork.

As covered in Move of the Month 1, your foot placements dictate the direction, efficiency and outcome of your climbing movement, making it imperative that you watch your feet connect with each intended foothold precisely, and that you start to develop an intuitive sense of foot placements, so you’re not restricted to trying to get your foot on the biggest hold possible, but rather, you’re looking for footholds that will enable you to advance on the climb with as little effort from your upper body as possible. This takes time and practice, of course – you’ll probably need lots of repetition and patient exploration of/experimentation with different options to develop an intuitive sense of efficient body positioning while climbing.

To expedite this learning process, the backstep is a technique that beginner climbers should start exploring and trying to integrate into their technical game as soon as they begin climbing. To perform a backstep, step on a climbing hold on the outer edge of your climbing shoe, the pinky toe side, as opposed to stepping on the inner edge (the big toe side). Sometimes when backstepping with one foot, the other foot will not be on a hold; you can often simply press it into the wall for extra balance or leverage as you rotate into the backstep. When you backstep, the hip of the backstepping foot often gets turned into the wall as well, taking you out of the straight-on, frontal positioning.

Backsteps of course won’t work for every climbing movement, but they tend to put the climber into a more straight-armed position AND to extend his or her reach, rendering holds that seemed out of range much more easily accessible with less effort. It can be confusing at first to coordinate this motion, so be patient with yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask other climbers to help you learn how and where to backstep – especially if you observe those other climbers backstepping a lot while they climb a particular route that you’re going to try. Watching others and then trying to replicate what they do is a fantastic way to speed up the development of technical skills like backstepping.

Unlearning ladder-style climbing once it’s engrained is more difficult than starting out climbing with the idea that you don’t need to be locked into facing the rock frontally for every climbing move. Even if it feels unnatural and confusing at first to try to backstep, don’t be afraid to experiment with this basic foot position, understanding that it will take time to sort out when it makes the most sense to use this type of foot placement versus standing on your inner (big toe) edge. Knowing when, where and how to backstep will add an element of efficiency to your technical climbing game, enabling you to climb harder routes without getting stronger just by allowing you to make more of the strength and endurance you possess right now.

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!