A mountaineer eating a meal in the mountains

Special Diet for Climbers; A Mountaineering Essential

Time to read: 11 Mins | Published on December 2, 2020
Climbers need to have a special diet to prepare their bodies. Here you can find more about the essential nutrition for climbers.

Any climber knows the amount of pressure uninterrupted one-day mountaineering can put on the body.  Climbers should keep their bodies strong, flexible, and resistant to take such pressure. One of the main keys to gaining that is having a rich and healthy diet that provides nutrition for mountaineers properly. By having an appropriate food plan and absorbing enough water before, during, and after their climb, mountaineers can have a more pleasant ascend. Put differently, the type of food mountaineers eats, and its timing has a vital role in having a pleasant ascend. Following, you can find more information about the diet for mountaineers that can provide essential nutrition for climbers. This diet can be useful for Iran trekking tours.

General Facts About Diet for Climbers

Some of the climbers think a bag full of snacks is enough for mountaineering. Or even some might use an excessive amount of sweets and fats to keep their body ready for climbing. The fact is none of the above approaches can help keep your body prepared for an ascend. If a climber doesn’t consume an adequate amount of food, the body starts using its muscle protein.

A specific amount of different types of food should be present in a diet for mountaineers. The nutrition ratio in the diet for climbers should contain 60-70% carbs, 10-20% protein, and 20-30% fat. This means a climber needs more amount of carbs usual, especially when they are at heights. This includes complex (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) and simple carbs (sugar, chocolate, etc.). Because digesting fat is hard and might cause stomachache, it’s better to use low-fat food mainly.

Moreover, it’s better to increase the amount of protein (meat, eggs, milk, etc.) more than usual as well. There are two groups of nutrition. Macro nutrition includes carbs, fats, and proteins, and micronutrition contains minerals and vitamins. You can find them in meats, vegetables and fruits, dairy, and grains.

an infographic of The nutrition ratio in the diet for climbers

The nutrition ratio in the diet for climbers should contain 60-70% carbs, 10-20% protein, and 20-30% fat.

The Amount of Energy A Climber Needs

The daily amount of energy a woman with an office job needs is 1800-2000 kilocalories. And a man who works in an office needs 2000-2400 kilocalories per day. But, the amount of energy body needs increases in the mountains. It’s because we are more active in higher altitudes and also our metabolism increases in heights. Going to 3000 meters above the seas increases the metabolism to 25%. For assessing the amount of energy you have used, you can use sports watches that track your activity.

For each kilogram of body weight, a climber uses 1.5 kilocalories every 10 minutes. This means a 70 kg climber uses 630 kilocalories per hour. So, for 6 hours of climbing with considering 1500-3500 kilocalories for other activities, the body will need 5000-7000 kilocalories. Don’t forget the amount of energy we burn depends on the height, backpack’s weight, and climber’s weight. We can’t provide this amount of energy for our body in one day. So, we can take some extra food during lunch or dinner on the previous day on climbing that includes carbs.

Climbers should modify their diet depending on their climbing program. In higher altitudes, climbers should eat foods that need less water and oxygen to avoid digestion issues. Eating heavy foods in high altitudes causes nausea.

A group of climbers climbing Damavand peak

Don’t forget the amount of energy we burn depends on the height, backpack’s weight, and climber’s weight.

Carbs in The Diet for Climbers

Carbs are the first and most important source of energy in our body. The reason behind it is that it gets digested and absorbed in the body fast. The smaller a molecule of carbohydrates is, the less water and oxygen it needs for digestion and converting into energy. For instance, honey is a monosaccharide (carbs with the smallest molecule) type of carbs, and its absorption starts from the mouth. In our daily lives, we get 50% of our energy from carbs. This number increases to 70% at higher altitudes during all the stages of climbing (before, during, and after ascend).

Moreover, low blood sugar harms the climber’s speed and stamina.  It even may cause difficulties in your control over the muscles. So, climbers should continuously use a diverse type of sugar. The extra sugar in the body is stored in the liver as glycogen. Your body uses this glycogen in daily activities. The fast digestion of carbs makes it an excellent choice for the times when the climber is hungry or weak. So, the foods with sugar and starch are the most important part of the diet of a climber.

The main sources of carbs are sugar, chocolate, jam, and foods like rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, cereal, and, most importantly, bread. Raisins, dates, bananas, and potatoes are high carbohydrate vegetables.

Sources of carbs, rice, bread, potatoes

Carbs are the first and most important source of energy in our body.

Is Fat Important in the Diet of Mountaineers?

The body uses fat after using carbs. Fat frees energy in the body. But, to access the energy in fat takes a lot of water and oxygen. So, we do not recommend using it at altitudes higher than 4000 meters. But, it should make up 25% of the diet of climbers. Fat cannot be used as a fast source of energy because it takes 6-8 hours to release its energy. So, the best time for eating high-fat foods is before resting for a few hours. Fats are somehow hidden in the food we eat. For instance, milk has 4% fat, and yolk holds fat equal to its protein. Fats are the second source of energy. After 30-45 minutes of climbing, when the body has used 75% of its energy, it starts using fats.

Fats can release energy twice as much as sugars and proteins. Moreover, fats preserve body temperature and protect our body organs. Because of the significant number of calories that they release, fats are vital nutrition for mountaineers. But, because they are difficult to digest, they are used less than carbs in the diet of mountaineers.  In endurance exercises body starts using the stored carbs at first. After that, the body starts burning its fat and protein, which needs more oxygen. This is when panting starts. Using high-fat food, especially before climbing, can cause physical impairments. But, having fat a small amount of fat in your diet during cold and long climbing can make you more tolerant against the cold. It can also delay your hunger.

Vegetable fats include coconut, nuts, corn, sesame, olives, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts. Animal fats include butter, meats, and oxtails. Also, cream, vegetable oil, and olive oil contain fat as well. We recommend using vegetable and olive oils because they have unsaturated fat.

Sources of fat, olive oil, nuts, fish

the best time for eating high-fat foods is before resting for a few hours.

Necessary Proteins for Climbers

When glucose and fat in the body finish, the body starts using muscles for producing energy. The importance of using proteins manifests itself more in multiple-day climbing. To prevent muscle loss, protein should be on the diet for climbers. Each protein releases 4 kilocalories energy, and it should make up 20% of the diet for mountaineers. Moreover, as releasing energy from proteins takes 4-6 hours, we recommend climbers to have it at night before resting.

The chemical interactions proteins cause in the brain increases consciousness. But, it’s better not to have bulky food or foods full of protein just before your climb. Another fact about protein is that digesting it takes more oxygen than carbs. This is why it’s better to have protein in your dinner when you are not going to have physical activity. This way, it can guarantee the energy the climber needs for the next day.

Not only protein produces energy, but it can also regulate body activity and help to recover muscle tissue, especially after doing sports. Also, it plays an essential role in producing hemoglobin and acclimatization. As there is less oxygen in higher altitudes having protein is even more critical in the higher mountain like climbing Damavand tours.

Furthermore, mountaineers experience intense activity, damage to the blood tissue, and minor injuries such as soreness, twisting and stretches. This is why they need more protein in their diet than others.

Proteins include plant protein such as beans, mushrooms, and animal proteins include meats and eggs. It’s better to eat meats, chicken, fish, and eggs with plant proteins.  White meat, eggs, mushrooms, beans, fish, nuts, lentils, peas, walnut, and corn are rich sources of protein.

Sources of protein, chicken, fish, eggs

The importance of using proteins manifests itself more in multiple-day climbing.

Vitamins Are Vital Too

Vitamins are another group that fastens the metabolism in the body. But, they are not made inside the body and are absorbed into the body through food. They are vital in the diet for climbers because they help the climbers with staying healthy and improving their performance. Generally, vitamins help with neutralizing Lactic acid. Moreover, it helps with healing the wounds, reinforcement of the immune system, cell damage recovery, and absorbing food. So, it’s a good idea to have salads, vegetables, bananas, carrot, peas, sesame, tomatoes, apple, lemon, and orange in your meals.

Some tips about vitamins for the climbers:

  • Have vitamins as fresh or dried fruits or multivitamins in your diet
  • Having high-acid foods such as lemon or plum is a must because they enhance the breathing system
  • Try using fresh or packed juices that are rich with sugar
Sources of vitamins, fruits

Generally, vitamins help with neutralizing Lactic acid.

Minerals and Salts

The body of a climber needs a mixture of minerals, salts, and vitamins to function well. Iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, and copper have an essential role in acid-base homeostasis, neuromuscular stimulation. For instance, iron and calcium deficiency can cause tiredness, fatigue, and lethargy. Also, the body needs iron to carry and store oxygen. Using enough salt (moderate) causes electrolyte homeostasis in the body and avoids muscle cramps. ORS powders are the best salt mixes available.

How Much Water Should a Climber Drink?

Water makes up 65-70% of the human body, and healthy adults drink 1-1/5 liters of water daily. Because the body of a climber is continuously active and sweating, a climber needs more water than normal. There should be at least 3 liters of water on the diet for climbers. As the body loses minerals and salts during climbing, it’s better to add salt, sugar, or fruit extract to your water. During the climbing, it’s better to drink water constantly during resting times than drinking a lot of water every few hours. Drinks such as tea and coffee cannot replace water because they cause urinating. In IranAmaze, we recommend gradual drinking 500ml of water from 3 hours before starting climbing.

In high altitudes, water can lower blood concentration and delay getting tired.

A male climber drinking water

There should be at least 3 liters of water on the diet for climbers.

Should Climbers Wait to Get Thirsty?

The thing about getting thirsty is that it shows us that the body has already lost a lot of water. In other words, your body might need water even if you don’t feel thirsty yet. So, the best thing you can do is not to wait for getting thirsty. Instead, you should drink water in short intervals. A mistake that some climbers make when mountaineering in winter is that they don’t drink enough water. The idea behind it is that they don’t sweat because it’s cold and therefore don’t need water which is a wrong idea. Remember that if the water loss is equal to 3% of our weight, it can cause impairments in attention and recognition. When the loss gets equal to 10% of our weight, it can be a severe threat to our health. If the water deprivation continues, it can even cause death.

Drinking from The Springs and The Snow

Having mountain snow is not recommended because it lacks minerals and can cause diarrhea and excessive kidney activity. In case of an emergency, boil the snow first and then add salt, sugar, or fruit extract to it. By having soup at night, you can compensate for the salt your body has lost. Also, not all the springs on the mountaineering routes are trustworthy. Some of them might be polluted without any sign. Therefore, you can drink from it by boiling it or using water purifying tablets. On an Iran tour, your guide can tell you about the safety of drinking from the springs on your way.

Special Diet for Climbers; A Mountaineering Essential

Saeid Mobaseri


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