General Fueling & Hydration
While training is critical to success in the mountains, if not coupled with an overall game plan for diet, hydration, and hygiene when on your climb or trek, there will likely be some difficult challenges along the path towards your goal.
Here is the first of several blogs addressing these sometimes overlooked key components that will lead to success.
Ever dig through a climber’s or trekker’s backpack looking for snacks? Perhaps what you found resembled a kids Halloween haul with a heavy dose of caffeine? Are sugar and caffeine the best things to take with you on the mountain?
What about when you’re training for your next mountain adventure like Aconcagua, where you will have a summit day as long as 12 hours? How will you manage your food intake?
We’ve talked to mountain pros and medical doctors about nutrition and here are some tips we’ve learned the hard way, but that ultimately have contributed to success on a climb or trek once they became routine practices.
First, whether you’re training in the gym or in the mountains, think of everything you consume (even that beer) as fuel. Most mountain athletes don’t eat enough protein. A general rule of thumb for calorie consumption is:
Protein = 30%
Carbs = 30%
Fat = 40%
Aim for real food, with ingredients you can pronounce. And, whether you’re trekking or climbing, have a plan for how frequently you will eat. Don’t wait until you feel hungry. While that early morning breakfast with a pre-dawn start will get you going, what happens during that break three hours into the climb when you feel diminished energy? And while that tasty teahouse breakfast of an omelette, porridge, toast and jam, and some coffee may rev up your engines for the morning on your trek to Everest Basecamp, it’s a fast fuel burn as you walk up steep hills at altitude. Be ready to put some fuel back in your tank, if only enough to get you to the lunch stop. Anticipate your needs.
PRO TIP: On the mountain, be sure your snacks are easily accessible for eating on the go. Stuff your pockets with bite-sized chunks of your favorite bar and have some quick energy, like honey or hard candy, in case you need a boost. If you’re craving protein on the mountain, grab a nut butter. Those packaged in squeezable pouches are especially easy to eat on-the-go. And, some even have a dose of caffeine.
Hydration also plays a huge role in your performance on and off the mountain. Test electrolyte mixes during training to find one that works best for you. And, have a hydration plan when you’re working hard. Don’t chug big quantities when you’re exerting yourself. Your stomach will likely pay for it later as it tries to absorb the fluids, resulting in nausea and stomach ache.
While a sundowner in Arusha National Park before your Kilimanjaro climb, won’t lead to a hangover for the start of the climb the next day, it’s wise to minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption while on your trek or climb, especially when at higher altitudes. Instead focus on the usual water hydration during the day, but consider non-caffeinated drinks when at camp.
PRO TIP: Save the alcohol for your celebration dinner after the climb or trek.
The mountain of nutrition and hydration advice for endurance athletes is huge. If you really want to dial it in, work with a licensed nutritionist who understands the demands of endurance athletes. Know before you go – experiment with all the different options out there and dial in what works and what doesn’t, both for your training and your actual adventures in the mountains. For starters, give a call to Jess Mullen MS,RDN at Fitfirst for some tips on nutrition and exercise.
For your training in the gym and in the mountains, at the very least take mental notes of what works and what does not. If you want a structured plan to help you build the fitness you’ll need for your next mountain experience, consider hiring a trainer that has mountain experience, like Alpine Athletics, who will help you with physical, mental, and tactical preparation.
Complied by Lisa Thompson/Alpine Athletics and Mark Gunlogson. Photos by Kevin Sanchez and MM Collection