Nutrition for Climbers

April 18, 2011 § 4 Comments

– by Adair Lindsay

Improve performance

What is the best way to improve climbing performance?

Eat small frequent meals where most of the calories come from carbohydrate.

Whether you are training in the gym, trying to send hard routes with little warm-up, or tackling multi-pitch routes outside, carbohydrate is the ideal fuel.  Carbohydrates are found in grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and milk products. Foods high in carbohydrate include bread, pasta, bagels, pancakes, cereal, crackers, rice, corn, beans, potatoes, bananas, raisins, and chocolate milk.

All carbohydrate is broken down into glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for muscular activity and the only source of fuel for the brain. The higher the exercise intensity, the more glucose is required. Rock climbing burns about 600-1000 calories per hour, depending on your weight.  A majority of those calories come from glucose. If you add hiking the approach, especially if you are carrying food and gear, the need for carbohydrates increases significantly.

Calories burned per hour during various exercises
Activity 130 lbs 155 lbs 180 lbs
Rock climbing, ascending rock 649 774 899
Rock climbing, mountain climbing 472 563 654
Rock climbing, rappelling 472 563 654
Hiking, cross country 354 422 490
Climbing hills, carrying < 9 lbs 413 493 572
Climbing hills, carrying 10-20 lbs 443 528 613
Climbing hills, carrying 21-42 lbs 472 563 654
Climbing hills, carrying > 42 lbs 531 633 735

Calories Burned During Exercise by NutriStrategy

Keep your gas tank full

When you run out of glucose, you run out of energy.  The state of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is associated with both physical and mental fatigue. Like a car with a very small gas tank, you perform better if you keep your “glucose tank” filled.

The body can store some glucose. The storage form of glucose is called glycogen. The average person can store about 350 grams (1,400 calories) of glycogen in his/her muscles and about 90 grams (360 calories) in the liver.

You can maximize glycogen storage by eating multiple small, carbohydrate-rich meals throughout the day.  This means reducing the amount of protein and fat you eat and increasing your intake of pasta, bread, and fruit. The regular supply of glucose will help you carbo-load before a workout and aid in muscle recovery after exercise.

Increase lean body mass

Another benefit of eating small, frequent meals is the preservation of lean body mass. When you go for long periods of time without eating, your body has to make glucose from non-carbohydrate sources, such as fat and muscle protein. While burning fat is ideal, breaking down muscle is not. A double-edged sword, most people who fast during the day (> 5 hours without eating) end up over-eating when they finally sit down to a meal. This results in the excess calories being stored as fat.

The Glycemic Index

Carbohydrates are not created equal. Some provide an instant rush of glucose to your cells while others release glucose into the bloodstream gradually.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a rating scale that quantifies how quickly carbohydrates enter your bloodstream. The higher the GI, the faster the food is digested into glucose, and the faster it enters the blood and reaches your cells. To find the glycemic index of your favorite food, visit

What type of carbohydrate is best?

All carbohydrates are beneficial for climbers. However, it is important to know which types to eat when. In addition to glycemic index it is helpful to consider complexity.

Simple carbohydrates are foods that taste sweet like fruit, cookies, candy, and sports drinks. The sugars in these foods are already broken down into small pieces which are readily digested into glucose and enter your cells quickly. White bread and other processed foods are included in this group.

Complex carbohydrates are foods that have not been processed and still contain fiber and nutrients. Examples are whole grain pasta, whole grain breads, beans, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.

Fiber slows the digestion and absorption of glucose. Having a steady trickle of glucose allows your cells to store the carbohydrate as glycogen instead of as fat.

When to eat what

Days before: In preparation for sustained exercise (multi-pitch or multi-day climbing), it is best to carbo-load with complex carbohydrates and foods with a low GI. This is a good time to get in your whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

90-minutes before exercise: Eat a high-carbohydrate meal that includes some simple carbohydrate. Avoid high-fat and high-protein dishes, which slow digestion and absorption. A bowl of medium-fiber cereal with low-fat milk or enriched white spaghetti with tomato sauce are good choices.

Right before exercise: Sip an energy drink (2-4 ounces every 10-15 minutes), or nibble on low-fiber foods (pretzels, saltine crackers) while drinking water.

During exercise:  As much your stomach can tolerate, continue to eat simple carbohydrates and high GI foods while you exercise. This reduces use of glycogen stores by providing a constant source of glucose.

What about protein?

Athletes need more protein than the general population. The average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilo-gram (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds) of body mass. Athletes need 1.2-1.7 g/kg. However, most athletes get more than enough. The Example Menu Plan below shows that protein is in everything and it adds up quickly.

However, it may be difficult for the following groups to get enough: young athletes who are still growing and athletes who restrict food intake for religious, cultural, health, or environmental reasons. In the case of strict vegetarians and vegans who do not eat meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products, it is necessary to eat non-animal sources of protein like beans, lentils, peas, nuts & seeds.

Vegetarians and vegans should also be mindful of their vitamin B12 levels. Vitamin B12 is found predominantly in animal products. Therefore, athletes who do not eat animals should either invest in a good supplement or consume products like fortified soymilk and cereals.

Bernadot, Dan. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.

Got questions?  Comment below and Adair will answer them!

You can also contact her at:

Adair Lindsay, MS, RD

Optimism and Presence: A Love Story

April 12, 2011 § 4 Comments

– by Myriam Souaya

photo by l@mie

My mentor recently pointed out to me why the climbing community is such a positive group. Though he’s never climbed before his logic made complete sense, “they’re all optimists,” he said,”you’d have to be”.

While his assessment was right on target, there is something more there that I’ve only recently been lucky enough to tap into. In order to find success on a wall you have to live in the moment. Lord knows the odds (and gravity) are stacked against you. Thinking too far ahead about everything that could stand in your way would make anyone blanch.

How many times have I been on the wall distracted and nervous thinking about obstacles I haven’t even come across yet. “I can’t make that dyno, pull that roof, stick that hold, get that clip…”. Over and over and on and on. Energy wasted worrying about problems not yet encountered.

In fact, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last few years wasting energy and letting obstacles get in my way. There was the frustration over the job that wasn’t producing money to allow me to go back to school. There was the family whose rejection I feared. The relationship I left with more baggage than I could fit in my old beat-up jeep. The period of sickness I couldn’t shake. The opportunities not given to me. An endless list of employers, friends, acquaintances, and grocery store clerks whose fault it was that I was stuck in a rut.

Three years ago I walked into work on a beautiful, sunny day that would promise to be a blast and that would surely give the opportunity to make quite a bit of money. I was incredibly lucky, there were people all around me who couldn’t get work. But a feeling rose to the surface after being buried deep down for quite a while. I was miserable. A little thought crept into my mind, born seemingly out of nowhere. I should move home. In ten years I hadn’t spent more than two nights there. I could think of a million reasons why it would be a terrible idea. And yet, just like that I called my sister and offered to take care of her kids for the year. On the phone she was incredulous, “you want to do WHAT?”. It made no sense but from moment to moment over the next month it was as if someone other than myself was in charge. I’d need to get out of my condo, leave a career I’d worked so hard for, leave dearly loved friends and drag everything I owned back to the house I grew up in. It was a lot. If I had stopped to think about all the reasons to maintain the old status quo I never would have budged. I’ll never know why I was struck with that urge on that day, but I set in motion a series of events that have made me a far happier person than I’ve ever been. It was all about living in the moment.

Last week I showed up to Sportrock with the weight of the world on my shoulders. A little excitement, a drop of anxiety, a mountain of unfinished work with a dash of confusion and an inkling of self-doubt for good measure don’t sound like they would result in the best mental state for an undertaking such as climbing. I was surprised to discover however, it was just what I needed. My mind was so full I had no choice but to tune it all out. For the first time I truly experienced climbing-as-meditation. Climbing- living- in the moment. It’s an amazing space to exist in, so utterly absent of all other things. Just your breath, your hands, your feet, your gaze, your mind all working together as they should to accomplish one little goal after another, one at a time, again and again. Living in the moment. Being present. Seeing through the obstacles. As I clipped the rope into the anchors that day I looked down from the top of the wall and allowed myself a smile.

It’s good to be an optimist.

Got Fit?

April 6, 2011 § 7 Comments

– by Jason Montecalvo

Question: What is your definition of being “fit”?

How about your meaning of “healthy” or “strong?”

Does it mean you look good at the beach?

How about receiving good results on a physical exam?

If you lift weights or run long distances, does that make you fit?

I thought I knew the answer to that question when I was in my early 20’s. I was relatively strong (so I thought) and totally convinced I was fairly fit. I mean, I played varsity basketball and baseball in high school, mountain biked competitively in college, snowboarded backcountry, kayaked whitewater monthly, took up rock climbing religiously, and had been lifting at a local Jungle Gym at least 4 days a week. As I approached 30 years old, I started having difficulty keeping up my fitness level with the same workouts as my metabolism slowed down and my motivation had dropped off mainly because my regimen had become monotonous and boring. I was desperate for a change in my fitness so as not to slide lazily into my 30’s but I became tired of the weight gym and I missed the competition of sports and the camaraderie of teammates.

It was just my luck when I turned 29 that I met a friend at Sportrock Climbing Gym that introduced me to CrossFit and from that day on my life has been completely different. For the first time in years I absolutely love working out again. CrossFit added a dimension to my fitness that I could not have achieved with my typical standard workout. The physical achievements that I accomplished over my first 6 months are incomparable to the many years of athletics and gym workouts prior. What I was once unable to accomplish during long treadmill runs can now be accomplished within minutes with intensity. Two years ago this new lifestyle and workout regimen inspired a climbing partner and I so much that we got together to create a strength and conditioning course for Sportrock called FFX- an off-shoot of CrossFit catered more to climbers and athletes alike.

I have been a Level 1 certified CrossFit coach for over 2 years now and the reason I wanted to became certified was to teach and change the lives of others the way CrossFit and now FFX has changed mine. The focus of FFX is clearly on maximizing workload in minimal time with precision technique in order to increase your power as an individual and climber and reduce the chance for injuries by incorporating functional movements executed at high intensities. My personal goal as a trainer is to help people reach their full athletic potential be it recreationally or professionally. Throughout my competitive experiences in high school and college along with FFX I have witnessed the benefit and power of mental toughness in sports. Over the course of this process of building a strong mind and body I have seen participants overcome what they had once thought impossible and succeed on climbs that were previously far out of reach. If you’re starting to feel like your workout is a bit one-dimensional and you are looking for something different that is fun, competitive, in a supportive team-like environment and you are ready to get in the best shape of your life this has got your name written all over it. I would absolutely love to help you reach your fitness goals and invite you to give FFX a try on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8pm at SR2 in Alexandria- beginners are totally welcome!!!

Who is JDH?

March 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

– SR Profile

You’ve seen the initials, worked his routes, projected his problems, maybe even cursed him once or twice… but who is JDH?  It’s time to get to know your Director of Routesetting…

Name: Jeremy Hardin

Age: 25

Height: 5.9 ish

Ape Index: +1

Hometown: Ft. Worth, TX

Interests/Hobbies: Cars, Motorcycles, anything that goes fast and can get me in trouble.

Favorite climbing spots and/or climbing accomplishments: Sportrock Sterling’s 45 degree, home of the best problems in the world!

What got you into climbing?: I’m not allowed to say.

How long have you been setting at Sportrock?  How did you learn?: My setting career started about seven or eight years ago during illegal late night sessions when I wasn’t allowed to set.  I’d go around and take all the big volumes off existing routes and set temporary masterpieces that would disappear only hours after they went up.  I never had anyone really teach me about setting, but Mike Helt (former Director of Routesetting), was the one who pushed me to become better and better through his harsh criticism and his ability to be unimpressed by anything I did.

At what other gyms or competitions have you been a setter?: I’ve set at over 13 different gyms/ venues, and 20+ local, regional, national, and world cup events.

You recently set for Adult Nationals in Boulder.  What was that experience like and how does it differ from your everyday setting at Sportrock?: National competitions are always a week of 12+ hour days filled with drama, hard work, stress, and unforeseen problems.  These athletes train for the better part of a year for these events and it’s our job to break down the field from 100 climbers in each division to 1 single competitor finishing the final problem.  The amount of what rides on each problem is ridiculous.  If I were to spend one week setting boulder problems at Sportrock, I could easily set 150 problems.  At nationals, in the whole week I set less than 10.  Every move and every hold are reviewed multiple times with multiple setters, making sure the final problem that gets put up is as perfect as it can be.

This year ABS Nationals was even harder because it was the first time we had ever taken the competition outside of a gym setting.  To start, the comp wall wasn’t finished in time and we had to help the wall crew complete the build.  This meant screwing in thousands of t-nuts the first day and having to compress a week’s worth of setting into three days.  The warehouse didn’t have heat or electricity for the first few days and we had to work with just two-three spot lights.  As hard as these events are, I believe setting at Sportrock prepares me better than anyone else at handling the heavy work load.  I’m very fortunate to have our great comp style walls to set on everyday to come up with creative ideas to use at Nationals.  My women’s semi-final #2 was a direct replica of a feet-first climbing problem I had set on the Orb at Alexandria, and the men’s final #3 was something you’d see everyday on the 45 degree in Sterling.  Our setting program and style and diversity of problems at Sportrock contribute so much to these high level events.

What are your favorite kinds of routes or boulder problems to set?  Terrain?  Grade?  Difficulty?  Do you have a particular style?: I like to set routes and boulder problems that challenge me; anything that gets outside the norms of everyday setting and rock climbing.  I was one of the first USAC setters to bring powerful gymnastic movement into sport climbing comps and especially YOUTH sport climbing comps, that’s the style I like most.  That being said, If I only set what I liked, you all would be looking like silverback brawlers.  It’s important to me to be well-rounded and have the ability to set great routes in all styles and grades.

What do you like best about setting at Sportrock?: Being able to set in an environment that demands only the best out of me.  I enjoy the challenge of having two of the biggest gyms in the nation to set for and keep happy.  It keeps me motivated and at the top of my game.  I go to work everyday because I enjoy it and the family I get to work with.

Quote to live by: “Get to the chopper”

Memoirs of an Invincibility Addict

March 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

-by Molly Donelan

It’s 7am and I’ve already done 45 min of strength training, a brutal 2 and a half hours of swimming, and am already anticipating another treacherous 2 hour practice this evening.  Ok that’s a lie I didn’t really do that but that was me 15 years ago.  From the age of 7 until I was 21 years old this was my life:  Swimming intermixed with a little soccer and running- oh and I almost forgot- school.  Despite the hours and hours of physical activity I did on a daily basis, I was almost never injured.  I once even proclaimed to my mother at the age of 10 that I was “invincible” so she didn’t need to worry about me doing so many activities.

17 years later and now a self proclaimed climber and runner I still believe I am invincible.  The only problem is that my right knee, upper back, left heel, right ankle, left and right shins, along with numerous cuts and bruises seem to disagree.  I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I am nearly 28 years old now or the new sport of climbing that is causing this, but I don’t like it one bit.  Not only do I not know what to do with my time if I can’t do something active, but I also don’t know what to do about the dozen krispy kreme donuts calling my name at 3am.  The donuts have got me stumped, so I will continue to feed (note:  if you bake me sweets I will try really really hard to remember your name next time I check you in at Sportrock).  As for how to keep myself sane while being injured I’ve got practice- lots of it- and here is what I’ve learned.

1.  A torn ACL, MCL, lateral and medial meniscus does NOT mean that one should stop all physical activity.  Perhaps wait until the Oxy and Percs are at half the maximum legal dose before diving back in, but crutching on to the climbing mat and proceeding to climb with a full leg brace on is perfectly acceptable.

2.  Yoga is really expensive but effective at keeping one sane.

3.  Cycling indoors is extremely boring but also effective at keeping one sane.

4.  So is running on a treadmill but if you’re able to run take what you can get.

5.  Lifting weights sucks but its good as a last resort- it at least will make you sore the next day.

6.  Lastly I’ve learned to relax and be okay with not working out half the hours of every day.  As hard and as frustrating as being injured can be it has given me the opportunity to re-connect with old friends, solve countless crossword puzzles, read a lot of good books, get into bikram yoga, make a reef aquarium, bake more often, and enjoy spending time curled up on the couch watching a good movie with Josh (my boyfriend).  Some days are more challenging then others and when I’m ready to snap and throw a hissy fit (or just after snapping and throwing a hissy fit) I have to remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint:  Breathe (ice), relax (Advil) and enjoy the ride!

New Climbs Set 3-2-11

March 2, 2011 § 3 Comments

– By James Anastasion

Warning reading this blog may cause temporary symptoms of sweaty palms, flushed appearance, and nausea.

WrenchYou may suddenly feel ill and need to ask for the afternoon off as you will need to beat the traffic and get to Sterling and climb the 4 new routes that were set today. Stopping by the gym will surely cure you of your temporary ailment as you gaze up at the new climbs just asking to be conquered. Below is a short introduction to the experiences to be had. All of the new routes were set just to the right of the cave on the slightly overhanging wall.

Attack of the Nudist – 5.9+

The name is not an invitation for you to share with the local climbers your new found purist philosophy. PLEASE NO!!! However this route is a great way for you to show off all of the great moves you learned in Fast Forward 2 Turning. You will start off by snaking your way up the wall on some rather positive holds. This will help you to build confidence as you progress into the overhang. Once fully into the overhang you will suddenly be struck down by the sad feeling of defeat. A long move to a large hold from a small undercling awaits you in the hardest section of the climb. If you manage to break through the self defeating thoughts and securely grasp the large flake, you will find yourself once again in the land of bliss. The holds now get better and more positive. Thinking that this climb is now firmly “in the bag” you will press on. About the time that you begin to feel good about yourself you will enter the second crux. The long stretchy move is behind you but less positive holds await your continued ascent. The movements become less winding but you will begin to question your stances as your fingers slowly slide from the holds. Concentrate on the last hold and the sense of euphoria that awaits your completion of this climb. Now firmly holding the top of the wall you are granted the power to spout beta to all who come after you.

Legend of the 6′ Crawdad – 5.10+

The legend goes that there was once a 6′ crawdad that rose from the depths of the Bayou to decimate every climb that he crossed. You will need to muster the legend within you to complete this climb. Pinch after pinch after pinch after … well you get the idea. The only reprieve from the forearm thrashing brutality is a few small incuts scattered throughout the climb. Once you manage to reach these havens of joy, stop and shakeout. The first few you reach are only about 13 feet off of the ground. You may feel confident and decide that shaking out at this point is fruitless. However you will soon regret your decision. The pinching continues relentlessly for the rest of the climb until the last few holds. Think of it this way, your unwillingness to stop earlier has now given you the power to pop tennis balls with your bare hands. Your new found skill will come in extremely handy for climbing and stupid human trick contests at the bar tonight.

Sweet Smell of Lactic Acid – 5.11

Enough said sustained contorted torture for the whole family. No long moves will be found in this climb but oversized inflamed forearms are another story. The pungent odor that will emanate from you after you descend victorious will let everyone in the gym know what you have accomplished. The experience will be the same as over indulging in cheap Australian wine. You will feel great but in the morning you will only feel pain and agony. So get out there and climb this is one not to miss.

My First Twelve – 5.12-

The sudden rush of excitement is probably overwhelming you right now after reading the name of this climb. Hold on! This climb has a little of everything with blocky pinches, slopers, tiny crimps so has that sudden urge passed? This climb may be the first 5.12 that you climb as overall it is fairly light on the rusty old body. However the skills learned in working this climb are much more valuable then the gym wide acclaim for conquering your 5.11 plateau. This is a climb that begs to be climbed over and over to hone the movements and hold types that you will throughout the rest of the 12s in the gym.

This is just the start so get to the gym and crush these climbs. They are ready and waiting for you!

As always criticism (constructive) is always welcomed so comment back and let me know your thoughts.


February 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

– by Adam Smartt

There may be no “I” in team, but there absolutely is one in “climb.” In fact it’s nestled right there in the center of the word as if to indicate its position at the very core of the discipline.  More so than any other athletic pursuit there is a sense of individuality that comes from climbing and it quickly becomes readily apparent that we will either succeed or fail solely on our own merits. There is no team to rely on, no compatriots to share the exuberance of victory or soften the sting of defeat. As a climber if you fail to finish it’s all on you. If you doggedly work a route and finally overcome the obstacle set before you by God or man, the victory is yours alone – not shared and passed around like a trophy that was mutually earned. It is in this simple, foundational truth we find that which makes our sport forever unique.

From the time our feet leave the ground, all the beta we have gathered, the sequencing we pantomimed, even the adrenaline-churning music pumping through our ear buds fades away. In its place the nature of the beast morphs into a continuing series of personal challenges that a climber must address, choose their response to, and overcome. Will the friction hold on the dime chip where you’ve trusted your foot? Did you flag the opposing leg to maintain sufficient balance on a particularly stretchy move? Is the lactic acid building in your arms accumulating at a pace faster than you can disperse it? We process these “will it work?” equations dozens, if not hundreds of times during each ascent – often without realizing that they occur.

As a single piece of broken code can render the most sophisticated piece of software useless, one miscalculation can jettison a climb that heretofore had been executed flawlessly. At the same time by successfully orchestrating the symphony of moves, technique, and mental fortitude, the climber finds himself at the top – a sacred piece of real estate fought and won solely by the efforts of the individual.

Equally important to note is that the glory of victory (for even failure is success deferred) is a renewable resource. There is no less pride due to a novice climber who fights their way to the top of a 5.5 route than for one who clips the anchors atop a 5.15. Rather, it is a sliding scale. As climbers we identify our physical and mental limits, set our sights on something that lies right on the fringe of the “can’t do it” zone, and we go at it. Then we do it again. Once that has been achieved (be it minutes or months later), we level our crosshairs on the next most difficult challenge and start back at square one. Rinse and repeat.

It is this pursuit of individual success that drives us to do what may well terrify us. It places worth on the chalky sweat (and yes, sometimes blood) that we leave on the rock altar as an offering towards future victory. Most of all it is the realization that should be a foundational part of every climber’s ambition: when you succeed it is because you as an individual overcame everything thrown in your path and fought your way to the top. Bonus points if you looked good doing it.

So you’re injured?

February 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

– by Lillian Chao-Quinlan

In my years of climbing, I’ve experienced a few injuries…fractured ankles, pulled hamstrings, shoulder strains, pulley tears and over the last few years, tendinitis (I think it’s more accurately called tendinosis) in the wrist. One thing that has been effective for me post-climbing sessions is a “contrast bath” for my wrist.
1) 10 minute soak in bucket of cold water with only a few ice cubes. It shouldn’t be so cold that you think you’re going to vomit within the first few minutes of the soak.
2) 10 minute soak in bucket of very warm water.
The key is to address the inflammation and then get blood pumping through the area to move out the “guck.”

A climbing friend sent me a few links addressing finger injuries and though the “contrast bath” regime is different from mine (see video but be patient with the quality and pauses), I think the idea of getting blood flow into the injured area is the same.

So I say all this with the caveat of…this works for me, there are many ways to treat injuries but take the time after your climbing session to take care of your injuries or chronic nags so you’re all ready for the next climbing session!

Here are some articles on the subject:

Pully Injuries Artcle

Pully Injuries Review

Pully Injuries Treatment Vidcast

– Lillian

Settin’ up

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Settin’ up.

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