Food for Climbers By Guest Contributor Michael Restivo
Climbing is an intensive and all-committing sport where the body has to be able to support itself with continual movement and energy while ascending the wall. Good training and increased flexibility support climbers but on truly committing routes, it’s essential to keep the body well fed and well hydrated to be able to perform at the maximum capacity, especially on the longest routes.
My favorite style of climbing is in the alpine realm. Alpine climbing involves long routes, usually in a moderate grade, all day continuous climbing, and being able to perform and survive in harsh temperatures, whether on an exposed sunny face, or a cold, snow swept, and windy summit. The food that we carry with us on big peaks or tall rock pillars reflects the changing conditions and the task at hand.
Breakfast is always loaded with carbs, which provides the necessary fuel and energy to continuously burn as we climb. When I was climbing in the Cascades over the summer, my breakfast consisted of whole-wheat toast with jam, oatmeal, and dried fruit. Two important factors were decided in breakfast: First is that the food is perishable and will last a long time, and second is it has a good balance of carbohydrates and sugar for prolonged energy.
As we get into the fourth or fifth hour of climbing, we’ll find a spot to rest and eat lunch before continuing onwards. Lunch will consist of starchy foods and protein to recover muscle as well as the ubiquitous sugars, so we’re typically eating white flour burritos, nuts, dried fruit, cheese on crackers, rice cakes, and energy bars and gels. After several hours of climbing in different circumstances (cracks, chimneys, faces, uphill hiking) the body can feel totally drained and the point is to refuel for the next several pitches.
On multi-day trips, dinner focuses on two aspects: the first is recovering muscle with protein, and the second is eating lots of fats to keep warm. A typical camp dinner in the mountains would include dry salamis, sausages, beef jerky, chicken soup, ramen noodles and any available vegetables. The fat and protein burns during sleep and help keeps the body warm as well as ensuring there is enough energy for an early alpine start.
When packing food, it’s important to ration the weight of the food against the weight of the pack. Measure out how much to take and then divide the meals by day while keeping smaller trail foods like candy bars and dried fruit separated. This will ensure that climbers are assured their daily nutritional balance.
When planning a menu for a long stay in the mountains, it’s important to think of what each item is going to accomplish as well as having foods that are familiar, tasty, and contribute towards the overall goal. Carbs for breakfast, energy for lunch, and then comfort foods for dinner will provide a strong and happy climb.
Michael Restivo is a writer and adventurer from Seattle. He writes for his own blog, Mike Off The Map and encourages living an active, healthy, and outdoor lifestyle while inspiring people to travel and find adventure. He is a passionate climber and aspiring alpinist who can be found exploring new walls, hiking trails or planning the next adventure.
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