Nutrition – How to fuel up while training for the 7 summits?

In previous blogs I told you about the importance to train with a plan, now it is time to dive more into nutrition. Just like with training you want to eat with a clear purpose. Nutrition is the most important aspect in any sport and therefor also in alpine climbing.  Roughly said we believe 60% of your capacity is in what you eat and 40% comes from the exercise you do. Not to forget that the benefits of your training efforts highly depend on the nutrition you provide to your body to adapt.

To clear this out for you I want to break nutrition down into smaller pieces. If you have good understanding of all the pieces, then you can put the puzzle together. Keep in mind that this blog is about eating while training. In upcoming blogs I will tell you more about eating while on an expedition since this is very different.

Components of food.

When looking at nutrition we can divide it into 3 macro nutrient components: Carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Carbohydrates: Among carbohydrates are; pasta, bread, rice, potatoes etc. But also starchy vegetables and sugary foods such as fruit, corn, beans, chocolate, sweets and honey.

Your digestive system breaks all carbs down into glucose. Glucose is the simple sugar that fuels your brain, nervous system and most of your physical motion. You could say it is our number one energy supplier. 1 Gram of carbs contains 4 calories, the unity of energy. Carbohydrates vary widely in quality with regard to athletic performance. It is useful to understand that some carbs are considered sugars (sweets, soda, chocolate etc.) These “quick”  sugars give you a quick rush of energy and then subsequent low as they get used up. More complex carbs, the starchy ones are vegetables and whole grain such as brown pasta and rice. Starchy carbs give you a longer-lasting and more gradually source of energy.

Fats:Athletes frequently undervalue dietary fats as a contributor to health and performance. All fats contain 9 calories per 1 gram, more than twice as much as carbs and are therefor very interesting to implement into an endurance athlete’s diet. Fats are taking up more time and effort for your body to digest. This is why you only want to prioritize focus on fats in your diet when your goals are in the corner of endurance performances.  Besides a lot of energy fats also bring in protection, helps the absorption of vitamins and supports your immune system to fight unwanted intruders.

There are 3 types of fat: Saturated, unsaturated and trans.
The saturated fats include: Meat products, butter, coconut oil etc. Among unsaturated fats we find: Olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish avocado etc. Both are needed in the right ratio. Trans fatties are the ones you like to avoid. These are fats that are partially hardened industrially and include everything that can’t go beyond date such as sweets and frying fat etc. These fats have no nutritional value and are best to be kept out of your diet.

Protein:It is the major structural component of all cells in our body, especially muscle cells. Proteins contain 4 calories per gram You body breaks down protein into amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of new cells and very important for repairing damaged tissue and maintaining immune function. Often I find athletes to eat to little protein. Protein can be found in animal products such as meat, fish eggs and dairy. But also In plants such as legumes, seaweed, seeds, nuts, tofu and soy.

Let’s put the puzzle together – How to eat during the base period?

Now that we have more insights in the theory of the macro nutrients I like to give you some easy guidelines how to build a balanced diet with them to support your training effort.
As with training the first thing you want to do is to determine your goal. The next step is to have a close look at your training schedule and possible health issues that are important to consider.

At this moment Jur and Boris are at the start of the Base Period in the overall training planning. This period mainly consists a lot of volume at a reasonably low pace, a perfect match to the burning of fats. As soon as the high intensity comes in carbohydrates become more important. As said before it is very important for alpine climbers to become very good at using fats for fuel. When training in the aerobic zone (zone 1-2-3) is combined with low carb intake and high fat intake your body will become better and better in burning fats at a higher intensity and for a longer period. So their overall diet during this period is high in fats and low in carbs, meaning only 2 meals a day may contain carbohydrates (starchy) and the rest is filled up with fats and protein. A good portion of carbohydrates for these meals is as much as the size of 3 table spoons of rice, pasta etc. or 3 slices of bread 3 big potatoes etc. For woman this number is 2.

We know now that fats contain 9 calories per gram, a high energy density and we need to deal with it that way.  The body has the ability to store fats very effortless. A fit athlete can store as much a maximum of 2000 kcal of carbohydrates in comparison with around 1000,000 kcal of fat storage. (That is enough energy for a runner to run for 100 hours). The food bag in your back pack is heavy, yet we already carry lots of energy with us all the time. The trick is to train your body and eat strategically so that you learn to burn this energy source and need less food while on the mountain.
A good and easy guideline is to implement a healthy fat source to every meal. For example, add ½ avocado to your breakfast, take at least 2 table spoons of olive oil as a dressing to your lunch salad, take 2 small hands of mixed nuts every day and use coconut oil while cooking and in your smoothie.

Finally but maybe most important you want to implement loads protein into your diet. It is a good idea to take a portion of proteins as big as 1,5 times the size of your fist (for woman use the size of 1 fist) at every mail of the day. For example 2 scrambled eggs with 100 grams of salmon, 250- 300 grams chicken breast, 300 grams cottage cheese, a salad with 100 grams legumes and 150 grams of tuna etc.

Do it yourself!

You will see that changing your diet is more doable when you do it small steps at a time. This is why I gave you rough guidelines in the paragraph above. Nutrition is very personal and you really need to practice. So if you start to try to balance out these tree macro nutrients as explained above you have a good base to start from and to personalize it to what works best for you. While you experiment with this, it  can be valuable to write down what you experience. You will get better understanding of your body in relationship with nutrition and training which is super important when you are in the mountains!

Of course there is a big world out there to discover when entering the world of nutrition. I will guide you trough it step by step so you don’t lose track of it.

We challenge you to also refine your diet and to share your experiences with us! If you need any help, feel free to ask your questions in the comments below or sent me an email; [email protected]

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