Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Some notes on food

What to eat?  I am always interested in what people eat and bring climbing.  So here in no specific order are some food observations for those doing long days in the mountains.

First, diet should basically focus on three main most important aspects: adequate calories for your day, not too much sugar or simple carbs (otherwise you get carb crashes aka bonking), and good post-hoc recovery food which should have protein, good fats and complex carbs.  Oh and water.

Second, diet, in terms of training, is not that important. As Will Gadd puts it, a guy eating McDonald's and training 30 hours a week is going to kick the ass of a guy who trains 5 hours a week and eats strict organic Paleo or whatever.  The world's best runners-- Kenyans-- eat basically everything, and they drink gallons of sugary tea, and that long-distance nut-job runner Dean Karnazes (sp?) orders pizza and burgers during his 200 km epics.

  • Vegetarians-- awesome-- but big prob is, you guys need low-glycemic-index food (food that turns to blood sugar SLOWLY) and outside of nuts and cheese there is very little such in the vegetarian world.  The shit that I see vegetarians bring on big days-- bars-- generally fry them; man cannot live on carbs alone.
  • The energy you have today is what you ate yesterday.  Stuff yourself at dinner.
  • I think bars and gels are a massive rip-off.  In terms of cents per calorie they are crappy (best deal is still IMHO Sesame Snaps). 
  • The single best food I have ever taken into the alpine are Landjäger-style pork sausage.  Easy to stick in pocket, no wrapping, plus they have masses of fat, which is a slow-burner and loaded with calories.
  • In terms of diet, the only two I have ever seen that had results worth focusing on (ie they give you long-term stable energy, are healthy, and are do-able) are The Zone and ketogenic.  The Zone is great but a pain in the ass because you have to balance out carbs fat protein etc into "blocks." Ketogenic diets-- where about 85% of calories come from fat-- are the holy grail of good eating for climbers because getting your energy from ketone bodies instead of glucose means much more, and much more stable, energy.  
My brother, despite a stress-free and happy life, some years ago developed insomnia, and after a ton of tests pills and other whatnot, long story short, he discovered he basically couldn't tolerate simple carbs.  This led him to the ketogenic diet, which stabilised his sleep immediately but which had two unanticipated side effects: (a) he lost a bunch of weight and (b) his energy level and consistency of energy level went through the roof.  His wife and kid went "on keto," and then my sister, but the most surprising thing was my nephew.  He had always managed to easily gain and keep weight on, to the point where at 5'10" he weighed around 250.  When I saw him at Christmas I didn't recognise him: he was down to 170, this despite being an Engineering (read: no life) student. Secret? Keto.

I personally don't need keto-- I'm skinny as a rail and I have no sleep etc issues-- but if you are the kind of person who gains weight easily, check it out.  The best resource I have found (explaining the science, and adding a few recipes, plus some fascinating anthropology), is This book.  Note that keto is not the Atkins diet.

  • Water.  Without it, nothing else works.  Your heart slows, your brain slows, your muscle seize, you cramp...Bring more, and either drink and then piss more, or dump it.  Alpinists set their watches to force themselves to drink every 15 minutes.  A good guide is, if you are operating at 70% of max heart rate at sea level at 18 degrees Celsius, you need one litre of water per hour (cycling data).  If your piss is not clear, you are dehydrated.  Those "hydration bladder" thingies are great BUT I have never yet seen one that didn't explode so I'd bring 2 extra bottles and periodically refill the bladder.  If the bladder blows you still have water.
  • The worst food is an all-day supply of bars. You WILL bonk at some point.
  • Back in the day alpinists liked sausages, and also shots of olive oil (and dried red peppers): yummy, fatty, dense in calories...
  • For recovery, the most important things are water, complex carbs and PROTEIN if the day has been hard on muscles.
  • If you are vegan, good luck in the mountains.
  • There is a lot to be said for introspection re: diet.  Add or cut something out for a week, and see how it feels.
  • If whatever you do re: food in mountains or in normal life makes you miserable, hungry, craving-filled, etc, it's a bad idea in short term and unsustainable in long term.
  • Any "diet"-- system of eating for any specific purpose-- should focus ONLY on your comfort and performance.  If you are dieting for weight loss, you are going to have problems long-term.  Why do we do-- and stick with-- things in the long term? Because they make us feel good.  And we feel good when we can DO stuff.  If you are out climbing, hking, walking, playing tennis, whatever, and it's making you sweat, and it's fun, and you can do it with a buddy, you'll want to go back to it.  Your "diet" should be designed to enable you to do that fun stuff.  All other reasons-- unless you have a medical condition-- are bogus.
  • One should not IMHO skimp on the fun stuff. Peter Croft's coffee consumption is LEGENDARY, as is his ability to scarf pie after epic trad days.  Will Gadd likes Scotch post-send. I know a few sponsored climber types who love an occasional cigarette. Most people would basically pre-sell their future or current children for good chocolate.   People in keto will avoid sugary stuff (and after awhile won't want any anyway), but generally I would say, eat it! 

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