You know how climbing is: less about how hard you pull than how long you can last. The climber having the most fun is the one still cranking at sunset, yet the formula for sustaining energy levels during a prolonged day can be elusive. It’s common to find yourself flagging, especially if you are on a trip and climbing several days in a row. Yet you can maximize productivity for a long day’s bouldering or sport climbing.
As a trip approaches, try to extend your training sessions so you acclimatize to climbing for longer periods. If you lack the time for long workouts, haul yourself out of bed for a quick early morning hangboard hit, and train again at lunchtime or in the evening. This effort will help your body adjust to the rhythm of longer days and also to warming up after long breaks. Both options are effective, so a good approach is to alternate, starting at least three weeks before a trip. Gear your sessions toward the type of climbing you’ll encounter. Train strength on pockets before the Frankenjura, and endurance on steep walls with jugs before Rodellar or the Red.
The classic error is to rush your warm-up at the crag because you’re so psyched to get on harder stuff. If anything, take longer than usual. Do some loosening-up exercises even if you feel more self-conscious out at the crag than in the gym. Also rest longer between each warm-up than you would in the gym. For sport climbing, make sure the pump fully clears between each warm-up route. We may only rest five or six minutes between warm-up routes at the gym, but should rest three times longer at the crag. For bouldering, take your shoes off for five minutes after every third or fourth warm-up problem.
Resting between climbs
Rest much longer between attempts on hard routes or boulder problems on rock than indoors. Active rest such as toproping or re-leading your warm-up is better than passive rest, as easy climbing will clear a solid pump faster than sitting around and letting it stagnate. This is also a good strategy to cope with cooling down after an enforced stretch of belaying. Similarly, after a long rest while bouldering, re-climb a warm-up, then pull one or two hard moves from a harder problem for strength recruitment. For rest stints longer than 45 minutes, especially on cold days, jog around for a cardio warm-up before redoing the warm-up.
Views on nutrition vary dramatically; experiment with different strategies to find out what works best for you. Most climbers will be familiar with conventional regimes that rely predominantly on carbohydrates as a fuel source; however, there are alternatives, the most significant being “ketogenic” diets, which minimize carb consumption and utilize healthy fats as a fuel source.
> Before the Crag / Eat an average- sized amount for your meal the night before and for breakfast. Before a big day at the crag we may be tempted to load up excessively, but that would only make you feel heavy and sluggish.
> At the Crag / The well- documented approach is to use energy/recovery gels with carbs and protein in a ratio of 4:1, combined with water.
The alternative ketogenic approach is to rely on quality omega fats in combination with small quantities of carbs with a low glycemic index, to control cravings and prevent highs and lows. Such fats would include avocado, nuts or oily fish such as mackerel, and carbs would include quinoa or sweet potato or legumes such as chickpeas. I like grazing all day on small quantities of a homemade “super salad” containing these ingredients. I have conducted this experiment enough times to know that I climb two or three grades harder when I cut down massively on simple sugars and refined carbs.
> Boosters / Caffeine and sugar hits should be seen as last-resort tactics to bail you out of low spots. If you’re relying on either as a continuous energy source, you will never last the distance.
The importance of hydration goes without saying. There are a lot of factors to consider here—the temperature, your climbing volume, the length of the approach and so on. In a recent article on rockandice. com, Richard Portman advised: “Our GI tract can only absorb about 36 ounces of fluid per hour. If you are fully hydrated before you start your climb(s), top off by drinking 16-20 ounces.” He advised that water be consumed with a carb/protein energy drink mix: “As a general guideline, consume 100 to 120 calories of a carbohydrate/protein sports drink in the priming stage.” However, if you wish to reduce carb consumption, drink only salt and electrolyte replacements on very hot days. And forget the nonsense that water makes you heavy. If you drink immediately after each climb, you should need a pee just before the next one!
Post-climbing nutrition and recovery
Consuming a meal, snack or recovery drink containing both carbohydrates and protein (in a ratio of approximately 4:1) within 45 minutes of warming down is one of the best things you can do to ensure your chances of climbing well the following day. In addition, try using a nearby stream as an “ice bath” for your forearms, followed by a hot shower and then a session on a foam roller.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice 231