Mountaineering Training | Nutrition For Mountaineers

Posted by: | May 05, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

There are several schools of thought on the best nutrition plan for mountaineers. Serious mountain climbers need to focus on endurance while hobbyists have a bit more room to formulate their nutritional needs based on many factors. It is important that mountaineers plan their nutrition differently depending on whether they are about to start training, are currently training, climbing or recovering. The most important factors to consider are your energy needs and adequate hydration.

It is advised to start on your training diet a few days before actually starting to train. The reason is because carbohydrates are the best source of fuel for training and are stored as glycogen molecules in the muscles. A carbohydrate loaded meal the day of training will not provide the energy stores needed to reach peak performance. Therefore a carbohydrate-rich diet should be started at least a few days before beginning training.

Training nutrition should focus on muscle building. Many people think that protein is all that is needed to build muscles, but carbohydrates are the energy needed to make it happen. Therefore a combination protein and carbohydrate-rich diet is essential for training. Some healthy foods that can bulk up the daily carbohydrate content in your diet include: whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads and fruits. Make sure to eat vegetables since they are needed for cell repair for a body under stress. Also, to get some extra protein, eat more meat, dairy and beans, if you are not a meat, dairy or bean enthusiast try a whey protein powder shake daily. For strength training you need about 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. And don’t forget fats. Fat is a necessity since it can enhance your performance. Try mega doses of healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil on salads and use coconut oil for frying and sautéing.

Remember that the nutritional needs of athletes in training must be met daily and not just on actual training days in order to ensure sufficient energy storage. On training days some people like to use sugar to enhance endurance. Sugar just prior to training may provide some additional energy but this depends on the athlete. Each athlete would do well to experiment with this strategy to gauge their blood sugar reaction. Sugar can be a quick source of energy immediately before training, but for some people it can cause a real energy drain if it wears off in the middle of the training session.

For climbs, there are plenty of well-balanced pre-packed meals to ensure you get adequate nutrition. Protein is especially important for athletes to optimize the benefits of carbohydrate storage and to repair muscle tissue broken down during mountain climbing. Endurance athletes have a daily protein requirement of 0.6 to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. It is vital to athletic performance to remember the importance of quality protein. For example protein from fish, chicken, milk and peanut butter will serve you well. And of course for a climb, increase your carbohydrate intake to get adequate energy; try rice, pasta, bread and fruits. Staying well hydrated will provide a little extra energy, so keep drinking. A study shows that drinking tea will not dehydrate a climber but can improve their mood, so try taking some tea on your next climb.

Recovery nutrition is often the most overlooked aspect of mountaineering. When you finish climbing and no longer need the extra energy, it is still not time to let up on eating correctly. Immediately after the climb your body needs to replenish its energy stores and repair muscles. So go back to your pre-training diet for a few days after a climb. Since recovery nutrition keeps you prepared for the next climb, after those first few days keep on with your balanced nutrition plan and stay hydrated to maintain muscle strength.

The love of mountaineering can be enhanced when the body has all the necessary tools to thrive. Finding the right combination for your body may require a little experimentation to find just the right nutritional plan for you. Be sure to incorporate a balance of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Most of all, don’t forget to stay hydrated.


Read the Q&A with Dietician Sally Hara about nutrition for mountaineering training…


Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!


This post was written in collaboration with Whittaker Mountaineering.
Relevant Studies:

- Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient Timing. 2008;5:17.
- Major GC, Doucet E. Energy intake during a typical Himalayan trek. High Altitude Medicine & Biology. 2004;5(3):355-63.
- Montain SJ, Shippee RL, Tharion WJ. Carbohydrate-electrolyte solution effects on physical performance of military tasks. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine. 1997;68(5):384-91.
- Westerterp KR. Limits to sustainable human metabolic rate. Journal of Experimental Biology. 2001;204(Pt 18):3183-7.
- Zamboni M, Armellini F, Turcato E, Robbi R, Micciolo R, Todesco T, Mandragona R, Angelini G, Bosello O. Effect of altitude on body composition during mountaineering expeditions: interrelationships with changes in dietary habits. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 1996;40(6):315-24.

Caroline George prepares a snack at Vinson Base Camp (Jake Norton / FA).

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