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

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