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What to Eat for Climbing Optimization, Part 2: Before & During Climbing

By Dr. Marieta Buse ND, CISSN

When it comes to decisions around food, and especially meal planning, it all comes down to goals. Are you trying to put on muscle to gain strength? Do you want to sustainably maintain your weight? Are you trying to get leaner to optimize the strength you already have?

It’s important to consider calories and macro ratios specific to your goals and body. My hope is that by going over my top 3 recommendations on essentials from last week’s post, and with the  upcoming posts on what to eat before, during, and after climbing, that your decisions around food can be made more intuitively.


Before Climbing


It’s a good idea to eat protein at least 15 to 60 min before your climbing session. Protein provides your body with raw materials that it needs to bump up muscle protein synthesis and suppresses muscle break down. The ideal quantity may vary person to person so do some research or ask a professional if you’re not sure.

One supplement I do consider important is protein powder. It is definitely possible to get all the protein you need through food; however, there are several reasons why I choose to supplement with protein:

Convenience and ease: you can take it on the go and having it as a liquid helps you hit your protein targets efficiently without feeling as stuffed

Accessibility: if you have dietary restrictions, there are several good options out there to help reach your protein targets within the bounds of your dietary restrictions

Affordable: in terms of price per gram of protein, especially when you’re trying to reach your protein target.



In order to improve performance and to last longer in your training, it’s ideal to consume 30-40g of carbs prior to climbing. This ensures your glycogen stores are topped up. Choose complex carbs from sources that do not break down too quickly and foods with a high fibre content such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes/yams, brown rice, butternut squash, beans, chickpeas, or quinoa.



During Climbing

The only time we really need to consider eating while climbing is if your climb lasts longer than 3 or 4 hours or if you tend to get hypoglycemic (lightheaded from low blood sugar) easily.

Carbs While Climbing

When we climb for longer, we need to consider fueling our muscles once our glycogen stores are used up. We want sources of carbs that are quick to digest. Some good examples of quick-digesting carbs are:

  • 1 Banana is 23g of carbs. Also, a source of potassium.
  • 1 Date is 7g of carbs. Also, a source of iron.
  • 1 Orange has 12g of carbs. Great for vitamin C.


Protein While Climbing

Next up is protein again – this is important, especially for long sessions and instances when you are not able to eat protein before your climbing session. If you don’t eat breakfast and you’re climbing first thing in the morning, then it’s important to offset muscle breakdown with protein while climbing. 

For long days of climbing outside, I like to make my own protein bars. I use a simple oatmeal protein bar recipe I found online, and mix in protein powder. If this is not accessible for you, there are many protein bar options in local grocery stores.


Supplement Considerations


One “supplement” I normally suggest here is electrolytes. You can pick up this supplement at a number of shops, but I honestly prefer to make my own at home. If that’s something you’d like to try,  check out the last post under Essentials #1: Water.


Creatine is an Olympic-approved, natural compound made up of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is an essential ingredient in the process of regenerating ATP*, and supplementing with it increases the amount of work that your muscles can do. Creatine improves the anaerobic capacity of our muscles and their resistance to fatigue. Combining climbing and/or with supplementation of creatine grows muscle tissue at a faster rate than exercise without creatine supplementation. It’s helpful for improving muscle strength beyond just increased muscle mass, especially in power-based sports like bouldering.

*ATP or adenosine triphosphate in Biochemistry: A compound consisting of an adenosine molecule bonded to three phosphate groups, present in all living tissue. The breakage of one phosphate linkage (to form adenosine diphosphate, ADP) provides energy for physiological processes such as muscular contraction. (source)

Caution with supplements:
  • Side effect: Creatine can increase water weight up 5 lbs and cause restlessness when supplemented less than an hour before falling asleep.
  • Pre and post-workout supplements tend to have ineffective doses of well-researched ingredients. In my field, we call it “fairy dusting.” Speak to health professional on which brands and doses would be effective for meeting your goals.



Stay tuned for part 3 coming up!


A word from the author

As a naturopathic doctor with a CISSN sports nutrition certification, much of what I do in my medical practice every day is to create meal plans for athletes to cover their nutrition and dietary needs and achieve their performance goals. If you are interested in a meal plan that is tailored to your individual needs, book in for a free 15 min Meet & Greet at:


Dr. Marieta Buse ND, CISSN
Practitioner for the National Network of Climbing Escalade Canada
Certifications in prescriptive authority, IVs, and advanced injections, including prolotherapy
MVMTLab (Gastown):
Vitae Health & Sport (North Vancouver):
Instagram: @inspiretheclimb