What I Do: I follow a conscientious, healthy eating plan that includes delicious meals and snacks made up mainly of whole foods, plus appropriate supplements, all aimed to support my efforts at achieving top personal levels of climbing training, performance, improvement and recovery.
At the beginning of this summer, I made a conscious decision to completely overhaul my diet and change my eating habits – hopefully for life, this time. I wanted to create a healthy eating plan that follows current general and sports-specific guidelines given by experts in the field, and I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t an eating plan that left me constantly obsessing over food, starving, binging or bonking. I started modifying my food intake by changing the composition of my meals to focus more on whole foods, and then continued on from there (see below). Since making these dietary changes, I feel more energetic and less hungry, and I actually take more pleasure out of my food choices – both because they are delicious, and also, because I know they’re serving my overall goals as an athlete as best they can. Writing nutrition articles for LIVESTRONG.COM, including those referenced below, has only encouraged me to make healthier and healthier diet choices as my nutrtional education continues.
The Science Behind It: Developing a healthy lifelong eating plan does not involve “going on a diet.” Diets that have end points almost invariably fail, because as soon as you start eating “normally” again, meaning returning to your old, less-healthy habits, your body can’t help but regain any weight you’ve lost, also losing out on any other beneficial aspects of your more health-oriented eating plan. As a January 2006 article appearing in “The Medical Journal of Australia” astutely put it, “Weight loss requires long-term commitment to permanently change eating and exercise habits.” I’d add to this that a healthy lifelong eating plan and/or an eating plan for top climbing performance/training results requires the same for most people – a commitment to permanently change dietary habits, whether weight loss is necessary or desired or not.
Here are the basic areas in which I have changed my diet to create my healthy and sustainable lifelong eating plan:
1. Whole Foods: As recommended by USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov, I now eat mainly whole foods, particularly avoiding refined sugar, refined (white) flour and trans fats as much as possible.
2. Meal Composition: Also following nutrition guidelines for the general population, I strive to eat far more fruits and vegetables than I previously did. In this way, among others, my eating plan follows the guidelines for the Mediterranean diet. For more, read Recommended Percentage of Calories From Carbohydrates in a Mediterranean Diet and Recommended Meals Per Day.
3. Portion Sizes: I pay particular attention to my portion sizes of lean protein, whole grains, fats and sweets. These items tend to be more calorically dense than fruits and vegetables, making them easier to overeat. For more on portion sizes, read Making Sense of Portion Sizes.
4. Nutrient Timing: Eating at appropriate times to promote peak energy levels and prompt quick recovery from workouts is essential for climbers seeking top training and performance results. It’s key to eat a small recovery snack containing a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 30 minutes of finishing a climbing workout or day, as explained in the October 2008 International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on nutrient timing. For more on nutrient timing, read Sweets and Working Out.
5. Vegetarian Meals: I don’t eat red meat every day – in fact, I don’t eat any animal flesh two to four days per week. At the start of my diet overhaul, I realized that I was eating virtually no legumes, ever, and I was therefore missing out on the nutrients and healthy variety these foods can provide. Not only does this choice benefit my body personally (see Meatless Meals: The Benefits of Eating Less Meat) but also, it benefits the planet as a whole – see UN Says Eat Less Meat to Curb Global Warming for details. Though I was a vegetarian for 11 years, I currently still do eat meat (including fish and poultry) and other animal products (yogurt, egg and cheese) for the variety of nutrients they provide. For more on the animal products I eat, read Eating Local.
6. Healthy Fats: Healthy fats are an integral part of any healthy diet. I eat almond butter, peanut butter, nuts of all kinds and extra virgin olive oil regularly for their health and weight-maintenance benefits. Read more about fats in your diet: Different Kinds of Fats, Side Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Side Effects of Almonds.
7. Delicious Choices: A healthy lifelong eating plan shouldn’t equal a boring mealtime wasteland. It’s important to seek out healthy foods that you look forward to eating, making every mealtime a culinary celebration of tantalizing and tasty delights. Just because you’re eating healthy, whole foods on the whole doesn’t mean you need to turn into a food Nazi, either – I certainly enjoy my dark chocolate, and while I was delighted to learn that scientists think the health benefits of chocolate outweigh the risks, I’d still eat a small portion of it every few days, regardless – simply because I love it.
8. Liquids: Don’t forget that adequate hydration is a part of every healthy eating plan and climbing training/performance plan. Dehydration hinders performance and recovery, making it crucial for climbers to stay hydrated throughout climbing and rest days, both. (As I write this, I pause to go downstairs and grab a glass of water.) For more on this, read Dehydration and Athletic Performance: The Link.
9. Supplements: I use nutritional supplements to promote improved recovery, health and performance, but I only use natural supplements that I’ve researched thoroughly and am convinced will benefit my body with no harmful side effects. Though I’m not recommending these for anyone else (you should conduct your own research and keep in mind that I’m not a nutritionist – well, keep that in mind for all of this article, actually), the supplements I regularly take include fish oil, tart cherry juice/cherries, green tea and whey protein. I also avoid taking NSAIDS (over-the-counter painkillers), because they can harm your body’s ability to recover.
10. Substances: I drink a moderate amount of coffee (one to two cups) daily, and I was delighted to learn about the benefits of drinking dark-roast coffee. Caffeine is a performance-enhancing substance that may yield some performance benefits for rock climbers. Caffeine might also promote faster muscle recovery when ingested with carbohydrates directly after exercise.
As for alcohol, though you might have formed the impression that I’m a teetotaler, I’m not – but I only drink alcohol when I send a meaningful route (which, as I commented at the crag the other day, means not very often) – and then I limit myself to two drinks. I want to save this topic for a future WID & TSBI entry, though, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
I avoid other substances entirely, as I don’t believe that they contribute anything positive to my health or my potential climbing performance.
For more information on creating a healthy climbing diet to support your climbing training and performance, check out Basic Nutrition and Diet Advice for Rock Climbers, Weight Loss/Diet Program and Tips for Better Climbing Performance and Climbing Fitness & Diet Plans – Both Take Time & Mental Strength. To delve more deeply into the topic of athletic nutrition, I recommend Performance Nutrition: Applying the Science of Nutrient Timing.