GOAL: To give rock climbers practical sport nutrition for at the gym or at the crag.


E-mail your questions and comments to: onsitenutrition@gmail.com

Sep 10, 2009

Mini Nutrition Guide

Mini Nutrition Guide to Albarracín Spain

As mentioned in the last posting, here is the mini nutrition guide for the Albarracín Spain climbing area. Here you will find information on shopping, food culture, and food and meal ideas when climbing in this area.

Because I like to use photos and tables to make the information easier to read, the mini guide has been made into a pdf format. You can download it for free by CLICKING HERE.

Comments and questions are welcome at onsitenutrition@gmail.com.



Aug 21, 2009

Mini Nutrition Guides

Mini Nutrition Guides for the Traveling Climber

Just this spring, I spent 68 days traveling, climbing, and taking in the food culture throughout Europe.  I figured, while I was there, that I take notes on the food and culture that may help a traveling climber’s nutrition when abroad.

A recent research survey I did showed that on climbing trips, we climbers tend to choose less foods from all the food groups.  Instead of consuming available whole foods, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, and energy, we rely mostly on trail mix and protein bars for energy and nutrition.  This shows that our nutrition on climbing trips is lacking.

When we’re outdoors and active all day, our nutrition can help make our climbing day more successful, no matter what our level.  Knowing what foods are available at our favourite outdoor crags might help us make better food choices, and improve our nutrition on trips.

A future goal of mine is to one day offer detailed nutrition guides to popular climbing destinations world wide.  But, for now, this is my novice attempt.  On my recent 68-day long trip, I visited and compiled information for Albarracín Spain, Magic Woods Switzerland, and Fontainebleau France.  In the blog posts to come, you will find mini nutrition guides for these places that will include information on local foods and eating (gastronomy), eating out tips, supermarket and farmer’s markets, currency, language, stove fuels, potable water sources and camping recipes.

Although I take a sport nutrition approach to these mini nutrition guides, I also want to emphasize the love of food!!  Trying new foods is also a part of experiencing the culture of the areas we visit.  I hope for you to get the most out of your travels.

Because this is my first attempt, I would like to hear back from you.  Tell me what about these guides are useful, and what sucks.  I welcome any constructive criticism on these guides so that in the future, I can make them better.  Plus, the more criticism I get, the more reason for me to return to these European climbing spots (and what a shame that would be, lol).

The country specific posts are to come.  First, some general traveling tips.


General Nutrition Traveling Tips

Checklist for the traveling climber

Here’s a list of food prep-related items to pack (Table 1):

Table 1. Traveling checklist.

r    Camping pots


r    Camping stove

A multi-fuel stove is ideal.  Some countries use different fuels, or certain fuels may be more economical.

r    Extra fuel bottles

Make sure they are empty when in transit.

r    Can opener


r    Lighters or strike-anywhere matches


r    Bowl

Can be used to mix ingredients and eat from.

r    Spork or Foon

Any form of spoon-fork hybrid.

r    A good knife and sharpener


r    Your favourite spices

Pack these in small containers or plastic bags.

r    Flaxseed

Only a few teaspoons per day are needed to help maintain bowel movements.

r    Enough dry food for 2 meals

This is so that when you arrive at your destination, you have a meal ready.  You may arrive when the stores are closed.

r    About $200 cash

In case you arrive and banks are closed.

r    Dromedary bag and water bottles

Empty if traveling by plane.

r    Gatorade or juice powder

These may be hard to find at some destinations.

r    Favourite sports/cereal/granola bars

These may not be available at some destinations.

r    Ziploc or other plastic bags

Good for packing leftovers and storing food from ripped store packaging.

r    Towels

To wash, dry, and handle hot pots.

r    Mug


r    Mini cutting board


r    Garbage bag


r    Hand sanitizer or wet naps


r    Bottle opener

For sampling local beer and wines J

Nutrition During Travel

Whether by plane, train or automobile, the pressurized cabins and the air conditioning can dehydrate you.  Dehydration en route can give you headaches, tiredness, and poor bowel movements.  Stay hydrated by drinking at least 1 cup of fluid every hour.  Water, juice, sport drinks, tea, and coffee all count.  This may make you pee more, but this encourages you to get up and stretch.  Moving and stretching is especially more important on long trips, when your muscles can become cramped or stiff.

If traveling by plane, remember to bring an EMPTY water bottle, and fill it once you’ve passed through security checks.  Any bottle containing liquids will be thrown out at the security check.

Check to see if your flights offer a meal service, or if your trains have a cafeteria on board.  You may want to pack your own snacks and meals on long traveling days.  You will be getting better nutrition packing food yourself when choosing foods from all the food groups.  Packing your own food also ensures that the food available to you won’t make you sick.

Tips for Safe Food so you don’t get sick

Some people may not tolerate foreign food well.  Follow these tips if you are concerned about getting sick from food.

If concerned about water:

·      Use bottled water for drinking, mixing sport drinks, rinsing cooking equipment, and brushing teeth.  Be aware that this may become costly.

·      You can boil water for 10 minutes, or purchase a water filter.

·      Be aware of ice cubes and ice drinks.  These may not be made from boiled or filtered water.

Inspect food products before purchase:

·      Make sure food and drink seals are unbroken before consuming contents.

·      Dents in cans may weaken the seal.

·      Avoid fruit with damaged skin.

When eating out:

·      Meals should be sold to you either steaming hot or refrigerated.  Avoid lukewarm foods.

·      Avoid food sold by street vendors.  Public food is less safe when not kept at the right temperature, when raw and prepared foods are mixed, and when served without utensils.

Foods that are less likely to make you sick:

·      Foods that have been thoroughly cooked (steaming hot).

·      Raw foods that have been washed in safe water.

·      Foods that can be peeled.

Foods most likely to make you sick:

·      Pre-prepared salads, rare meats, hamburger meat, cream fillings, fish.

The easiest way to prevent food borne illness:

·      Wash your hands before preparing food!

Organize your food

Eating foods from all the food groups gives us the energy, nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy and climb hard all trip long.  When you return to your campsite from the grocery store, separate your food into bags based on the following food groups (Table 2).

Table 2.  Food groups, what they do for us, and examples.

Vegetables and Fruit



Milk and Alternatives

Meat and Alternatives

·       Vitamins and minerals from these help prevent sickness and may help against oxidative stress.

·       Their fibre keeps the intestines healthy and our BMs regular.


·       Huge source of energy for our muscles and our mind.

·       Helps muscle recovery.

·       Enriched varieties give us needed vitamins and minerals.

·       Source of calcium for our skeleton.

·       Source of good quality protein for muscle recovery.

·       Liquid varieties help us hydrate.

·       Long lasting energy.

·       Increases satiety.

·       Good source of protein for muscle recovery.

·       Give us minerals that are important for all athletes.

Zucchini, squash, carrots, cauliflower, bananas, grapes, strawberries

Potatoes, corn, pasta, rice, couscous, cereals, flour, bread

Cow’s milk, soymilk, yogurt, cheeses, puddings

Ham, eggs, chicken, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, navy beans, kidney beans


If you organize your food into four different bags (one for each food group), then you just need to make sure you choose foods from each bag every day.  This is an easy start to making sure you are getting balanced nutrition while you are away.

Good resource for worldly climbers:

Survival Around the World, Australian Institute of Sport, 2004

Apr 29, 2009

Nutrition Research Survey Results

Results from my nutrition research survey!

The first set of results is in! Thank you to all who participated in my nutrition research survey on rock climbers. I have been very busy compiling the first set of data, and have summarized it here for you to see! Much more statistical analysis is going to be done over the summer months so that this study can be published.

For now, here is a broad summary of my main preliminary results:

Why did I do this research survey?

  • In 2008, I published the very first rock climbing nutrition case study (link). In that study, I showed that rock climbers might have different issues in regards to food and nutrition, then other athletes.
  • In other sports, common issues that influence what foods athletes chose are pressures in the sport to have a certain body type or size, the belief that achieving a certain body weight or composition improves performance, purposely avoiding drinking fluids, and difficulties choosing or finding food when traveling. These issues may be based on false beliefs and may harm the athlete’s health.
  • As rock climbers, we know that our environment changes when we go climbing and camping to different outdoor areas – some foods available in Hueco may be different from those in Squamish. Plus, what foods we choose outdoors, and how we prepare them, may be different when on a climbing trip compared to when we are at home, or training on indoor walls.
  • As of now, nutrition issues are known for other sports, but not for rock climbing. By looking at what foods we choose, and why, we can find out the issues. This will help us create solutions so that we can eat like champs, both indoors and outdoors. This is important to help maintain our health so that we can climb at the best of our ability and enjoy our sport for years to come.

What was the purpose of this study?
  • The main purpose was to determine issues that affect nutrition in rock climbers. In other words: What are some reasons for why climbers may not be getting all the foods they need, to stay healthy and climb hard?
  • I also wanted to find out if the issues are different when living at home, compared to when on a climbing trip.
  • To clarify, this study was NOT to find the “magic climbing diet” – diets fail and they don’t always promote health. This study was designed to determine practical food and nutrition tips to help climbers at all levels of ability; even high-level climbers can benefit from nutrition information to improve their health so that they can climb at that level for longer. Keep in mind, no diet will automatically make you the best climber in the world, but choosing certain foods will help your muscles recover better, will keep your energy up over long climbing days, will help prevent injury, and will keep your body in tip top shape, so that you can climb for many years to come! This is all good for your performance and your health, regardless of how hard you climb.

The bottom line: no magic food or magic diet will be found here.

What did I find?

What foods climbers choose, and why they choose those foods, is different from indoors to outdoors.

What foods do climbers choose?
  • When on a climbing trip, climbers choose certain foods less often. These are: vegetables and fruit (fresh, canned or dried), starchy foods (grains, bread, pastas, rice), milk or alternatives (milk, cheese, yogurt), meat and added fats (oils, mayo, crèmes).
  • When outdoors, climbers choose more often some form of trail mix or granola, and…(this is my favourite stat of the study)…choose more alcohol!
  • Outdoors, we climbers also tend to stick to common staples such as oatmeal, apples and bananas. We also rely more on protein bars, instead of increasing the amount of vegetable or canned sources of meat, which are also convenient and don’t spoil.

Why do we choose the foods we do?
  • People choose certain foods for all sorts of reasons: price, mood, taste, convenience, for body weight, for natural content of the food, how the food affects our health, etc.
  • When living at home and training indoors, we climbers appear to choose food firstly based on reasons for health. It is next most important to us the natural content of the food, then price, then convenience.
  • Outdoors, the reasons we choose foods are ranked spoilage as the most important, then convenience, health, and price.
  • One interesting result is that choosing foods for body weight control was NOT important to us climbers. Good job us! Choosing foods for body weight, shape, or size is a common issue in other sports, and can lead to dangerous behaviours that hurt the athlete. Body shape, weight, and size don’t necessarily say anything about a person’s health. Focusing on HEALTH for food choice is much more important so that we can enjoy lots of different types of foods while enjoying our sport.

So what are the food and nutrition issues in rock climbing?

This study showed that when we go climbing and camping outdoors, a few issues arise that affect our food and nutrition:


1. We choose vegetables and fruit less often. Vegetables and fruit are packed with vitamins and minerals, and other good things. Vitamin and mineral requirements are higher in athletes.
2. We choose fewer carbohydrate foods and may not be getting enough energy. Not getting enough carbohydrate suggests not getting enough calories overall – in this study, it seemed that most climbers did not eat frequent snacks during days when climbing outdoors. When we don’t consume enough calories, it hurts our performance, and can cancel out benefits of training.
3. We choose less milk and milk alternatives. We all know that milk is good for our bones. On top of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, combined with low food energy intake and a slight body build, there is increased risk of bone stress fracture.
4. We choose fewer food items that are high in protein. We rely more on protein supplements, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, food sources of protein have other benefits, and can be a better source of iron. Low iron intake (even before deficiency) can cause fatigue and poor performance in athletes.
5. Spoilage and convenience of food influences our food choices most when outdoors. At home, HEALTH is the most important factor for us when it comes to what foods we eat. Health is still important to us climbers outdoors, but becomes relatively less important considering our environment. So what we climbers want is healthful food that also keeps well, and is easy to prepare.

Practical Information

Based on what I have found in this research study, there are a few practical tips I can give. Stay tuned! As I continue to do more analysis of the results, I’m sure to have more!

1. Bring more snacks to the crag! Trail mix is an obvious snack choice. Try adding different and more food items to it: dried mango, corn nuts, pumpkin seeds, dry cereal, croutons, dried vegetables, chocolate chunks, shaved coconut, oats, honey, etc. A snack can also be a can of tuna (you can get flavoured kinds too), a PB&J sandwich, edamame beans, crackers, pretzels, granola or protein bars, vegetable sticks, fruit, etc.

2. Consider non-perishable milk and alternatives. You can now get milk (or soymilk) in UHT packaging. These are heated to a high temperature during processing, so that they don’t spoil as quickly. In fact, UHT packaged products don’t need to be refrigerated until the package is opened, making them great for camping as you can get milk in juice box size. Also consider adding milk powder to oatmeal, trail mix or granola, and pasta sauces. Yogurt also doesn’t spoil as quickly because it is slightly acidic.

3. Consider food sources of protein. Vegetable sources of protein and canned meats don’t spoil as quickly. Try adding canned tuna, canned chicken, beans, lentils and chickpeas to pasta sauces, stir frys and soups. Mix peanut or other nut butter into breakfast oatmeal, mix seeds into stir frys. Adding milk powder to your meals also increases the protein content. Some grains are also high in protein: pot barley has 10 grams of protein in ½ cup.

Pot barley stir fry:

1 cup pot barley (20 grams protein)
1 cup lentils (44 grams protein)
Vegetable stock or bouillon cube
Variety of vegetables: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers
Balsamic vinegar and brown sugar
Almonds, pine nuts, or seeds

  1. Rinse barley in cold water. Boil in 3 cups of water with bouillon cube, or in 3 cups of vegetable stock.
  2. Rinse lentils. Boil in up to 5 cups of water.
  3. Chop and fry vegetables. Add balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, then mix.
  4. Top barley with lentils and vegetables. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on top.
  5. Enjoy!

This may serve about 3 people, providing 21 grams of protein per meal.

What do I still have to do with this study?

I still have more stats to run on the data. This will help me determine if there are other factors that influence food choice, and if there are differences in food choices and influences between guys and girls. Going through your responses and comments will also help me bring you more practical tips.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at onsitenutrition@gmail.com.


Krystal Merrells

Feb 25, 2009

Culinary Camping

New Recipes from the Desert

I just got back from an awesome trip to Hueco Tanks, Texas! I thought I’d share some of my new recipes with you.

In general, I think these recipes will feed 2 very hungry climbers, or 4 lazy climbers.

Feel free to switch up or add any other vegetables to the recipes. This past trip, we often grated carrots just with a knife and added them to many pastas, sauces, and stir frys.

Mark’s Favourite Desert Jambalaya
First of all, this isn’t exactly Jambalaya. Another climber at the campsite said that’s what our dinner looked like, so it stuck! This dinner creation came from needing to use leftover pasta sauce and rice.

Note the CACTUS in the recipe!!! Go to the Vista Mercado. Walk to the back of the produce section, and look on the refrigerated shelves of produce. You’ll find bags of local farmed cactus!!! They are pre-sliced and taste SO GOOD!!! Like cucumber and kiwi combined. You can eat them on their own (like fruit), or you can fry them up for dinner (like vegetables).

2 cups dry rice
Water to make the rice
½ can/jar of tomato sauce
1 can kidney or black beans
Bell peppers, sliced
Cayenne pepper
Cilantro (optional)
Cheese (optional)

1. Make rice in one pot.
2. In another pot, fry cactus and bell pepper until soft.
3. Add sauce to fried cactus and bell pepper.
4. Drain and add beans to sauce and add as much spices as you want. Heat covered until sauce bubbles.
5. Add cilantro to sauce just before eating.
6. Mix sauce and rice together.
7. Top with cheese for extra goodness!

Impressive Mushroom Pineapple Cream Sauce
This looks really impressive camping, but is really easy to make. Put it on top of rice or pasta.

Vegetable oil
Garlic cloves, minced
Small onion, chopped
1 can mushroom soup (condensed)
1 can pineapple chunks/tidbits
1 can of meat (tuna, chicken, etc)
Broccoli, chopped

1. Heat oil in pot and fry garlic and onions until the onions are soft.
2. Add can of mushroom soup.
3. Add just the pineapple juice (not the chunks) into the pot and mix.
4. Add can of meat and mix.
5. Add broccoli.
6. Heat until sauce is bubbling, stir often.
7. Eat pineapple chunks on the side or mix in right before eating.
8. Place on top of rice or pasta.

** This goes well with carrots on the side.

More then just Pasta and Cheese
If you like tomatoes and cheese, this pasta is for you.

Garlic cloves, minced
1 can (540 ml) diced tomatoes, drained
¼ cup (1 handful) of skim milk powder
¾ cup (or as much as you like) parmesan cheese

1. Prepare pasta in a pot. When pasta is almost ready, add in broccoli (broccoli only needs to boil for about 5 minutes).
2. Drain cooked pasta.
3. Add in all other ingredients, and mix well.

** This goes well with fried zucchini (or any other squash) on the side. We also fried canned chickpeas (until soft) with spices (basil, thyme), and had it with this pasta.

Vegetable Chicken Noodle Soup
I know you can buy a can of soup, but this tastes better and makes a lot.

2 cups (500 ml) water
1 can chicken broth
1 cup (8 oz) small pasta (macaroni, shells, etc.)
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 can chicken
1 can mixed vegetables, drained

1. In a pot, bring to boil water, broth, pasta and spices.
2. Add chicken and vegetables.
3. Ta Da! It’s done.

** This goes good with a potato and cheese. At the Hueco Rock Ranch, they have a microwave. Spear your potato a few times with a fork or knife before microwaving.

Double Stuffed Potato
Because the Hueco Rock Ranch has a microwave, I was able to make my favourite potatoes! They take extra effort, but I love them ☺

Vegetables, chopped

1. Microwave potato until soft on the inside (about 10 or more minutes).
2. Cut potato in half.
3. Scoop out the insides (leaving 2 potato skin shells). Careful, the potatoes will be hot on your worn fingertips!
4. In a bowl, mash the potato insides and add chopped vegetables, such as chopped broccoli, carrots or spinach.
5. Line the potato skin shells with cheese.
6. Fill the potato skin shells with the mashed mixture and top with more cheese.
7. Put back in microwave to melt the cheesy goodness.
8. Enjoy!

** At home, I do the same but bake them in the oven.

Hueco Lunch at the Boulders
At the Vista Mercado, you can buy avocados for cheap!! You can also buy fresh made whole-wheat tortillas. Here’s a delicious wrap to pack for a day in the park.

Whole-wheat tortilla
Dried apple

1. Line centre of tortilla with cheese.
2. Slice avocado centre into strips and line on top of cheese.
3. Add dried apple pieces on top (seriously, this tastes REALLY GOOD!)
4. Fold, pack, and go!

** You can also put these sandwich fixings on regular bread.
** Be sure to bring some fruit, snack bars, jerky, juice, and other snacks. You want to stay fueled during the day. Also, bring plenty of water! In the desert, the day may get hotter then you think!

On the Fly Sports Drink
When we got to the Vista Mercado, we could not find Gatorade powder. So, we made our own sports drink for our climbing days.

Fruit juice powder

1. Whatever the juice powder container says, put HALF of the powder measurement listed, in the same amount of water.
2. Add a pinch of salt (we found a salt shaker in the cooking shack at the Rock Ranch).
3. Shake and go.

** Note: the amount of juice powder you use may depend on your tolerance. Even some people can’t tolerate full strength Gatorade, and must dilute it.

Stay Tuned!!!

The first question I ever got on my Onsite Nutrition Facebook group page was about Protein Powders, and how much is too much. Since then, I have been searching and preparing a blog post on protein and climbing.

Just this January, new research was published on maximum amounts of protein needed for muscle! I contacted the researcher and now have more resources to use for the protein blog post.

Because protein is a large topic, another nutrition and rock climbing buddy of mine is helping me write the posts: there will be a series, of maybe 3 posts, coming in the near future.

So stay tuned!

Krystal Merrells