The alpenglow paints the western horizon. You arrive at the crag. The crisp air chills your lungs, but hot coffee is your saviour. You decide to celebrate its worthiness with a steaming cup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–and perhaps a few times in between. Before you climb you inhale something sweet, because why even bother with eating anything but sugar.
You’re exhausted, and need energy, FAST.
You start to climb. You suddenly feel like your forearms have turned into iron. The unbearable weight forces you to make erratic, thrashing movements. Frustration arises, while energy and performance stay at an all-time low.
After some embarrassing hang-dogging, you bail. You make it known to anyone within earshot that your “fingers are raw, they’re gonna burst” or you “ brought the wrong shoes today”. But the truth is, you’ve hit a wall.
It is only then do you realize that you’re tired. What does that even mean, and what are you going to do about it?
There are a multitude of reasons as to why our bodies hit a physical breaking point, and for outdoor or competition athletes, it is actually quite common. Nutritional deficiencies, drained adrenals, elements of stress, hormonal imbalances, and a poor night’s sleep are all culprits that can affect your performance and ability to climb hard day after day. Not to fret, there are some easy-to-apply foods and herbs that can help mitigate the symptoms of fatigue, and revitalize your daily energy, giving you the extra boost you need for send-ability!
Deficiencies in Iron and Vitamin B12
Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies among the U.S. population, and is imperative for athletes as it supports energy levels, metabolises proteins, and transports oxygen to and from our muscle cells. Without sufficient stores of iron, athletes may experience chronic fatigue, as well as muscle weakness, changes in appetite and weight, and trouble getting good sleep. Women typically need more iron in their diet than their male counterpart, especially around their monthly cycle.
Some of the best real food sources of iron include: grass-fed meats, pasture-raised eggs, free-range poultry, dark leafy greens, beans, and a few whole grains. To increase iron absorption, pair these foods with items high in Vitamin C, such as berries, cruciferous vegetables, bell peppers, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, and pineapple, to name a few.
For our vegan and vegetarian friends, acquiring enough iron is especially important, as non-heme iron absorption is roughly 17% iron intake. Vitamin C can help aid in the absorption of the plant-based non-heme irons. Other plant-based sources of iron include: dark chocolate (80% or higher), spirulina, nutritional yeast, organic soybeans, and sesame seeds.
Vitamin B12 is another nutrient essential for energy and mental clarity. It also supports a healthy mood, digestion, and heart health. Animal foods will be the highest sources of Vitamin B12, similar to the iron-rich foods mentioned above.
Again, for vegans/vegetarians, getting enough Vitamin B12 from foods can be a challenge. Nutritional yeast and blue green algae are some of the only plant-based sources of naturally occurring B12. For some, additional supplementation may be necessary.
If either iron or vitamin B12 may be a concern for you, consider getting a micronutrient test done to see where your levels are at, as well as incorporate more iron and vitamin B12 rich foods into your daily diet.
Too much caffeine
Let’s take a second and talk about coffee. Now before you slam your computer shut and smash it with your buddy’s #6 camalot that you borrowed for an O-dubb that literally made you cry, hear me out. Most of us are dependent upon coffee, and although it contains caffeine that can naturally give us a boost of energy (and it tastes oh, so good), it also stimulates the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone made by our adrenal glands, and it is the hormone that typically gets us out of bed in the morning.
When we over-demand our adrenal’s need to produce cortisol by drinking cup after cup of coffee, they can become tired and depleted, resulting in over-all decreased cortisol production. This leads to lower daily energy. Consider switching to matcha or green tea after one cup of coffee. Green tea is rich in antioxidants important for athletic recovery, and can also help regulate melatonin production, which can improve the quality of sleep. This will leave you feeling more rested, and naturally energized!
Incorporate adrenal-nourishing foods and nutrients can also help restore normal cortisol production. Adrenal-nourishing nutrients and foods include: Vitamin C, Magnesium, B-Vitamins, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, dark chocolate (80% or higher), bone broth, and mineral rich teas such as dandelion root, tulsi, and red clover.
Stress is a primary root cause connected to all conditions, and can directly impact our quality of sleep and energy levels throughout the day. When we are stressed, our bodies tend to stay in the sympathetic nervous system which we call ‘fight or flight’, versus the parasympathetic nervous system known as ‘rest and digest’. When we are constantly in a sympathetic state, we lower our ability to digest our food properly and assimilate the nutrients necessary for maintaining energy all day long.
Taking time to prioritize stress-reducing activities into your daily habits can be incredibly impactful in lowering stress, while improving energy and overall vitality. Yoga–for example–is a great way to reduce stress and improve circulation, which restores energy, and is an effective way to cross-train for climbing-specific activities.
Hormones–including estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin–are important chemical messengers that impact many aspects of overall health. When we are “out of balance” and our hormones are not completely in alignment, common symptoms are sluggishness and low energy. It may be worth considering getting your hormones tested to see which organs are not exactly functioning properly. Symptoms of hormone imbalance can be low energy, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Foods that support hormone metabolism are those from the cruciferous and sulfur-containing vegetable family, such as: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, brussels sprouts, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, etc. Omega-3 fatty acids also promote hormonal balance, heart health, and improved mental function.
Food sources include: wild caught cold-water fish (mackerel, halibut, salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout, etc), grass-fed beef, buffalo and lamb, pasture-raised eggs, and a variety of nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds).
Vegans should keep in mind that plant-based sources of omega-3’s must be converted into usable EPA/DHA. This conversion can be energetically expensive, and requires higher concentrations of the plant based sources of omegas.
There are also a number of adaptogenic herbs that can reduce stress, balance your hormones, and increase energy. Adaptogenic herbs help you to adapt, whether that is to stimulate or to relax. Long-term use of adaptogenic herbs can result in a consistent increase in energy and restoration, especially after athletic activities. Adaptogenic herbs include: ashwagandha, tulsi (holy basil), eleuthero, rhodiola, ginseng, astragalus, licorice root and cordycep mushrooms. You can find these in tinctures, herbs and teas, and in capsule form as well. For best results, use daily, and can be used long-term.
Now for the super obvious one: When we do not sleep well, we feel tired! It is simple. If we can improve our quality of sleep, then we will naturally feel more energized throughout the day. Consider limiting screen time before bed, doing gentle stretching or yoga prior to bedtime, do not eat within one to two hours of falling asleep, and try incorporating sleep promoting herbs and teas.
Teas with chamomile, valerian root, california poppy, and skullcap can help to relax and calm the mind. Magnesium before bed can also promote relaxation, particularly in overexerted muscles that are beat after a day of sending. If you are one of those people who tend to wake up during the night, incorporating 200-500mg of L-theanine can help you to fall back asleep.
So there you have it. Five solutions that will improve your ability to crush, and practical ways that you–and only you–can restore your daily energy and improve your life!