In climbing, you get out what you put in. That applies not only to what you do in the gym, but also the choices you make in the kitchen. Learn about nutrition for climbers from sports dietitian Amity Warme to provide your body with enough energy for working hard, sending hard, and loving climbing for life. 

Amity Warme

Amity Warme on the Golden Gate route (13a) up El Cap in Yosemite.

Nutrition is one of the most crucial, but controversial, pieces of the puzzle for athletes. Food fuels our hardworking bodies through periods of training, recovering, projecting, and—on occasion—actually sending. We can’t do any of the things we love in the gym, on the rock, or in all the little life moments in between without enough gas in the tank to support it all.

The line between healthy eating and underfueling can be a fine one. So how can climbers keep from crossing it? Amity Warme, sports dietitian and the newest member of the PhysiVantage pro team, is here to help make sense of it all. Here are a few highlights from her recent chat with Ryan Delvin on The Struggle Climbing Show to help you make friends with food again! 

How much does weight really matter? 

Not as much as you’d think. Manipulating the strength-to-weight ratio by dropping weight does work…for a while. Climbers like Melina Costanza have expressed how it feels to be “sprinting toward a cliff” when restricting intake for the sake of losing weight. Gravity is real, and having less weight to move around can certainly have a temporarily positive impact on your climbing. But the upward trend only lasts so long. Climbers will eventually begin to lose power and strength, which comes back around to negate any changes to strength-to-weight ratio. Other factors also matter just as much as, or even more so, than weight. Training adaptations, skill development, goal-setting practices, recovery habits, mental health, relationships, and more all affect climbing performance. Thinking in terms of performance goals rather than weight goals is a good way to put it all together.  

Is there such a thing as healthy weight loss for climbing?

In a word, yes. But it’s complicated. There’s a difference between temporarily dieting down for a specific project or goal and sitting in a long-term deficit, says Amity. The human body prefers stability. Remain in a drastic enough deficit for too long, and your body will begin to fight back with energy losses and negative health effects. A modest, short-term cut could very well be a different story. Matt Fultz often goes through phases of slightly heavier and lighter body weights. The key word here is slightly. Trimming a small amount of weight—a mere percentage or two—helps him enter a performance phase. But that’s only after putting in all of the other work required to be at his best. 

Should climbers track their nutrition intake? 

This depends on the person. For some, tracking intake or macronutrients works well to help them figure out their needs. For others, it triggers an eating disorder. And, numbers don’t paint a full picture, as Amity reminds us. Nutrition isn’t an exact science; it’s more about how you feel. Symptoms like fatigue, irritability, frequent injury or illness, and slow recovery are common warning signs of underfueling that can tell you more about your nutrition than any calorie count. Keeping basic track of changes in activity level can also offer climbers a good understanding of how to tweak their nutrition throughout different phases in training and life.   

Amity Warme near Salt Lake City.

Does meal timing matter? 

Food is important for all activity in life, but especially for the hard stuff. Focus on building good nutritional habits around your training and climbing times. This looks like powering up with a meal or snack before your sessions, bringing along a carb-rich snack to cap off your energy stores during sessions longer than an hour, and finishing with a combo of carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing for optimal recovery. 

What are the most effective nutritional supplements for climbers?

Protein powder can be a simple way to make sure you’re getting enough of this macronutrient in your diet. Highly active athletes should aim for 0.75-1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight spread throughout the day. Caffeine can provide a helpful energy boost, especially when used as an intentional supplement rather than an everyday habit. That doesn’t mean you have to kick your morning coffee habit…but tapering down in the days before a big effort when you could really use an extra-strong hit of energy will make caffeine more effective. Collagen, when paired with an exercise stimulus, can build more robust tendons and ligaments. Collagen on its own is like sending a letter without an address; exercise gives it a place to go. It doesn’t take much to do the trick. Even 10-15 minute hangs that engage your tissues is enough to direct the collagen to the right places in your body. 

For more where all this came from, listen to the whole conversation with Amity Warme on The Struggle Climbing Show

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