What Food Should I Take Mountaineering on Summit Day?

Dried cranberries, walnuts, chocolate covered espresso beans, dates, Cheetos and dried mango offer a smorgasbord to the high altitude athlete.

 

 

What’s the best food to eat on high altitude treks, climbs or expeditions?

Perceived exercise effort is increased at altitude. There is a real decrease in exercise capacity above 5000 feet elevation (1) and exercise just feels harder. To make matters worse, usually sleep is compromised at high altitude as well. Eating enough calories and drinking enough can help you feel better.

On climb day, ascending to high altitude can cause a lack of appetite. So pack whatever food tastes the best to you and will be something you will want to eat regularly. During the climb at altitude the focus is on consuming enough calories, carbohydrates and fluids. As you ascend, eat often, and eat snacks that will maintain your glycogen levels to use as fuel.

During your training the food you eat in your meals and training sessions should be nutritious and antioxidant rich to promote recovery and performance. I recommend real foods.

Experiment During Training

To determine which foods fuel your body best, try different items on various training hikes to see how your body feels after consuming each snack. Also, keep in mind that some foods can cause GI upset. So this is best discovered before climb day.

Just Eat!

Climbing a mountain burns calories. Lots of them! Rising stress hormone levels place a higher demand for fuel on your body. As calorie needs increase, athletes need to add to their caloric intake.

Eat Carbohydrates

Moderately increasing carbohydrate intake is key in replacing glycogen stores in your body when climbing and compensating for the increased caloric demand at altitude.

Hydrate

Altitude makes water loss worse because at altitude you will breathe faster and more deeply. This is because the higher the altitude the lower the air pressure, so you take more breaths for the same amount of oxygen. This extra breathing leads to fluid losses. If you aren’t staying on top of your intake, dehydration may sneak up, and leave you feeling light-headed and nauseated.

When you are over 10,000 feet elevation drink 1 to 1.5 liters of water daily 3 to 5 liters of water plus 200-300 grams of carbohydrate. Monitor your urine color. It should be a light yellow. Sports beverage powder packs easily in a small ziplock bag to add to a water bottle.

Recommended sports beverages:

Gatorade Endurance, carbs

Fluid Performance Natural, carbs

Gatorade Thirst Quencher, carbs

GU Hydration Drink, carbs

Hammer HEED, carbs

Accelerade, carbs and whey protein

Powerbar Recovery, carbs and whey protein

Food Packing Considerations

When packing food for your upcoming climb it’s important to consider a few variables: calorie density, weight, durability, and enjoyment.

Food is important. Plan out your meals and snacks, pack them as well as you can in a way that will make them easy to eat on the upper mountain when you are cold and tired. Some foods come in a convenient packaging and others will need to be repacked in a Ziploc.

For day one, you can bring some fresh foods: meat sandwich, pita and cheese, string cheese, hardboiled eggs, fruit, carrot sticks, orange slices, broccoli, for instance. For perishable food, it is advisable not to keep them above 41F for longer than 2 hours.  Food-borne bacteria can multiply rapidly especially so in over 70F. It is better to be safe than sorry. Having the “runs” in the mountains would be a nightmare.

You can make a disposable ice pack by filling a sandwich size zip lock with water, squeeze the air out then put it in another zip lock bag and freeze.

Below are a few tips to consider:

  • Bring a variety of foods that you like.
  • Bring a mix of sweet, salty and savory.
  • Bring a mix of protein, quick burn and slow burn carbs.
  • Things get beat up in a backpack so consider durability (think bagels vs. bread and thick pretzels vs. thin ones).
  • Bring food you know and like and have experimented with on your training hikes.
  • Remember extra food is far better than not enough, but not too much. Food is heavy! That’s why it takes some careful planning so your pack isn’t too heavy.
  • Think about bringing no more than a pound per day.
  • You can and should eat every time you stop for a break. On a typical 3 day climb of Mt. Rainier, I recommend bringing about sixteen 200-400 calorie snacks (that gives you a little extra).
  • Keep some small snacks like cut up mangos, nuts, protein bars cut into bite-size in your pockets so they are easily accessible when you take a break. Keep bars that freeze in your inner coat pockets to keep them warm.
  • Test the food you are taking when it’s frozen to see if it’s still edible.

Food Suggestion Ideas:

Here are some foods to keep you powered up on your high altitude climb:

  1. Wehrlin JP, Hallén J. Linear decrease in .VO2max and performance with increasing altitude in endurance athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006 Mar;96(4):404-12. doi: 10.1007/s00421-005-0081-9. Epub 2005 Nov 26. PMID: 16311764.
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Real Food Refueling During Exercise

Maria leading a training hike to Camp Muir with the American Lung Association Climb for Clean Air 2004

Real Food Refueling During Exercise

Carbohydrate ingestion during exercise can reduce muscle glycogen breakdown. During a long hike, snowshoeing, or intense bike ride, replenishing energy stores is key. Some athletes rely only on sports energy gels that contain quick-digesting sugars to provide a burst of energy and top off glycogen stores as they fatigue during longer efforts.

However, some endurance athletes do not want to consume a gel, a sugary sports drink or a bar packed with synthetic ingredients and prefer real food refueling. Real foods can be just as effective as sports nutrition products. Although sports nutrition products can be a good choice, not to mention convenient, whole foods are a good choice because of the wide variety of nutrients in them, including antioxidants. Antioxidants in food can help reduce oxidative stress, promote recovery and improve performance.

If you do feel that you perform better with a sports beverage, here are some I like:

Recommended sports beverages:

Gatorade Endurance, carbs

Fluid Performance Natural, carbs

Gatorade Thirst Quencher, carbs

GU Hydration Drink, carbs

Hammer HEED, carbs

Accelerade, carbs and whey protein

Powerbar Recovery, carbs and whey protein

Fluids should always be consumed along with solid foods during training to aid in absorption of the carbohydrate. Read more on hydration.

Keep in mind that the real foods will take longer to absorb than a gel, and that the fiber content might be too much during races for those with sensitive stomachs. Some athletes have increased difficulty in digesting and absorbing food at high intensity. It might also take a bit of chewing. So, with all refueling regimens, practice and see what works best.

And utilize these guidelines along with optimal pre-exercise and post-exercise nutrition strategies.

The majority of athletes will perform better when they fuel properly according to these guidelines during workouts lasting longer than 75 minutes.

1:15 to 3 hours: 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

3+ hours: 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour

Use the table below to calculate how much you might need. The serving size of provides 25-35g of carbohydrate, which is the equivalent of most gels.

 

Type of food Serving size for 25-30g of carbs
Banana 7 oz. (31 g)
Raisins 2.5 oz box (35g)
Medjool Dates 1.5 dates (35g)
Small pitted dates 5 dates (40g)
Dried apricots 5-6 apricots (30-35g)
Dried pineapple 1.5 rings (30g)
Dried Mango, cut into bite size pieces 40 grams (34g)
Honey 1 Tbsp (28g)
Fig Bars 3 (33g)
Yoplait Original Yogurt Strawberry 2 gm fat 6 oz. (27g)
Boiled Potato 2 ½ “ diameter, 136 grams (28g)
Baked Sweet Potato 2 ½ “ diameter, 114 grams (24g)
Home Made Energy Balls

Maria Faires, RD is a mountaineering fitness and nutrition expert.

Sources

What Should I Eat before Exercise? Pre-Exercise Nutrition and the Response to Endurance Exercise: Current Prospective and Future Directions

Metabolic and Performance Effects of Raisins versus Sports Gel as Pre-Exercise Feedings in Cyclists

Carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise: effects on metabolism and performance

Performance Effects of Carbohydrate Ingestion between Bouts of Intense Aerobic Interval Exercise

Exercise and oxidative stress: potential effects of antioxidant dietary strategies in sport

 

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Mountaineering Training and Hiking Resources

What an adventure! This is me crossing an ice bridge on Mt. Rainier.

I am steadfastly here to support you and your fitness as you train for your mountain climb. I have put together here some resources on that you will find helpful.

Refer to my blogs and YouTube videos for information that will help you with your fitness and nutrition for the climb. I have compiled a helpful list of some of my blogs, workouts and videos for you to refer to below.

#ClimbForCleanAir registered climbers: I am available for complimentary 30 minute phone calls to answer your personal questions. Email me at ActiveNutrition@comcast.net to set up your appointment. If you have a quick question at any point during your training, reach out to me via email.

For the complete printable version of the climbing program go to this document:

7 Month Mountaineering Program For CFCA by Maria Faires, RD

And if you haven’t already, like my business page: Active Nutrition Fitness and Nutrition Consulting.

MY BLOG:

https://www.myactivenutrition.com/blog/

I suggest accessing my blog via your computer. Sadly, my blog is not mobile optimized and on your mobile phone you will not see the right hand column that contains links to topics.

SPECIFIC BLOG POSTS OF INTEREST:

Supplemental Iron for The Mountaineer

Fueling for Performance for Hiking and Mountaineering

Choosing a Sports Carbohydrate Replacement

Low Back Pain When Hiking, Backpacking and Trekking

What Food Should I Take Mountaineering on Summit Day?

Fueling Up to Maximize Muscle Growth and Recovery

Camp Muir Mt. Rainier 1 Day Glacier Trip Hike Pack List

Camp Muir Mt. Rainier Day Hike Tips

Healthy Hiking or Snowshoeing Lunch and Snacks

Maximize Your Post-Workout Recovery with the Best Exercise Recovery Techniques

Sports Nutrition for the Dancer

Progressive Hiking Schedule Snoqualmie Washington Region

Camp Muir Mt. Rainier Day Hike Trip Report

Hiking Snack: Processed versus Real Food

Last Minute Tips Before Your Mountain Climb

WORKOUTS YOU CAN DO AT HOME:

Even if you do not have access to a gym, there are plenty of other options for in-home and outdoor workouts.

One of my favorite options is the Xiser mini stepper machine. It folds to a flat 4-inch piece of metal to fit in your backpack, carry-on, under the desk, etc. The way the hydraulic system is made in Xiser products is totally different from other  steppers. this is the perfect machine for doing high intensity interval workouts!

Discount Promo Coupon Code for Xiser Stepper. Save $15 for each Portable Stepper purchased from Xiser

Follow this link to the retail site and use the discount coupon code maria35 in the shopping cart for a $15 dollar discount on each new Xiser Stepper you purchase from Xiser Industries.

If you do not have a TRX, I HIGHLY recommend it!

Full Body TRX Workout Video 

TRX Workout For a Strong Sculpted Body

Sailboat Workout (workout with minimal equipment)

Travel Vacation Home Workout No Equipment

Stair Training For Mountain Climbing or Backpacking 

Foam Roller Workout For Recovery 

Interval training workout: https://youtu.be/5wi6kARs7Us   Ignore his claim that you will lose 10 pounds in 1 week. Not true. But I enjoy doing his interval workout because I can just follow along! You can adapt this to walking, running, any piece of cardio equipment.

My YouTube channel with exercise demos:

Https://www.youtube.com/user/MyActiveNutrition

As always, I appreciate your Facebook likes, shares or comments.

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