Climbing Nutrition


Being such a varied sport, nutrition requirements will vary climb to climb – from quick release carbs 30 minutes before an intensive bouldering session, to continuous consumption of slow-release carbohydrates and protein over a long day on the wall. Adding electrolytes to your water can prevent cramping over a long day or in hot climates, and caffeine can increase focus and decrease fatigue for some climbers.

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Fuelling correctly is essential to maintain effort at your performance threshold, whilst avoiding dangerous lapses in concentration or worse: hanger. Whether you’re looking to make the most of your sessions in the bouldering gym or sustain yourself over a day of multi-pitch climbing, it is important to understand how different foods will affect your physical performance, concentration and recovery.

Carbohydrates

Most athletes prioritise carbohydrate consumption before exercise. Depending on the discipline, intensity and duration of climb, it’s important to consume carbohydrates before, during and after a session.

For shorter, higher intensity boulders or single pitch climbs, aim to consume about 30g of simple, easy-to-digest carbohydrates around 30 minutes before. This will provide easily accessible energy for explosive sessions and allow you to exert maximum effort over a short amount of time. You won’t want to consume too much and feel too heavy, so it’s also important to be eating carbs over the 24-hour period before exercise to ensure muscular glycogen levels are fully stocked. After the climb, complex, slow-release carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar more consistent over the hours following exercise, providing energy for muscular repair and glycogen replenishment. Glycogen replenishment is shown to be most effective within 2 hours of the activity. Therefore, if you are climbing multiple days in a row, it’s important to eat within this 2-hour window - or even better, within half an hour - to ensure your muscles are fully charged for the next day.

For longer, more sustained efforts - such as multi-pitch or alpine climbs - it’s better to prioritise slow-release carbohydrates from the start to avoid sugar highs and the inevitable crash after. Low blood sugar can cause fatigue, lapses in concentration and irritability. Keeping a cool head on the climbing wall is essential and a smooth, consistent blood sugar will support this, as well as focus and physical performance. Even on the ground – the last thing you want is a cranky belayer when your life is in their hands! For these reasons, you should aim to eat before, not once you become hungry. Consuming about 1g of slow-release carbohydrates per kg of body weight every hour will enable you to maintain optimal performance, focus and to keep your cool at the crux.

Protein

When undergoing a climbing session at medium intensity or with periods of rest, consume around 20g of protein half an hour before the session and small amounts throughout longer climbs. This ensures that you have amino acids readily available and reduces muscle breakdown, while beginning muscle repair and recovery in periods of rest. 

As soon as possible after the session, you want to fuel with protein and carbs. 0.2-0.4g of protein and 0.8g of carbs per kg of body weight with relatively low fat (as this can inhibit protein absorption) will support muscle recovery and building.

Caffeine

Many athletes consume caffeine before and during exercise for its ergogenic effects – it’s ability to decrease fatigue and improve strength, power, endurance. However, these changes occur as a downstream effect of the improvement in focus and mood, rather than as a direct effect on muscles. This means that the benefits of caffeine are entirely dependent on the person. Since caffeine metabolism depends on genetics and habituation (a person’s ‘tolerance’), if caffeine makes you feel jittery and anxious, you aren’t likely to see any of the performance enhancing effects either. Anxiety increases perceived exertion, therefore too much caffeine could increase perceived mental and physical fatigue despite being a stimulant. In this case, reducing anxiety by not consuming caffeine is likely to be more beneficial.

However, if you are someone who gets jittery from a cup of coffee, but wants the performance enhancing effects of caffeine, it might be worth experimenting with lower levels as it is likely to be the amount, rather than caffeine in general, that is the issue. Athletes often choose to consume caffeinated sports products, rather than coffee, because this enables you to control more precisely, exactly how much caffeine you are consuming. Whereas a cup of coffee can vary from 30-90mg of caffeine in an instant coffee up to 140mg in a cup of brewed coffee, you can know exactly how much you are consuming in a caffeinated gel, sweet or drink, allowing you to reach that performance enhancing level without compromising. A sing caffeinated Tropical Punch Clif Blok contains 18.35g of caffeine, allowing you to slowly top up caffeine levels over hours, rather than in one hit.

Caffeine has also been shown to improve recovery by accelerating the restoration of glycogen in the muscles, compared to consuming carbohydrates alone, helping to train harder the next day. However, if you’re training in the evening, the sleep disruptive effects are likely to be a hindrance to recovery. In this case, the benefits of a good night sleep and good muscle repair are likely to outweigh the benefits of caffeine post-exercise.

Electrolytes

Taking on fluids, as with any exercise, is essential. However, the volume and requirement for electrolytes are individual and situation dependent. If you’re in a hot climate spending days on big walls, mixing electrolytes into your water bottle will help to keep you hydrated and prevent cramping and heat exhaustion. In a cool, air-conditioned bouldering gym sipping water between climbs and having a salty snack if it’s a particularly sweaty session will probably be sufficient.

THE OVERALL MESSAGE

Being such a varied sport, nutrition requirements will differ climb to climb. Overall, maintaining blood sugar with a combination of slow release and quick release carbohydrates will help you to meet energy demands depending on intensity. Protein consumption before and during a climb will help to reduce muscle break down, while consumption - alongside carbohydrates - after the session will aid recovery. For sweaty sessions, make sure you're taking on electrolytes to keep hydrated and prevent cramping. 

While many of our products will help to meet these carbohydrate, protein and electrolyte requirements, you can find our recommendations for supporting optimal performance here.

 

You can find more detailed advice for climbers in our nutrition guides, but these are some of our top picks.

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