I have a client who is climbing Mt. Shasta in three months. What should he be doing nutrition wise to prepare for the climb this far in advance, and what should he pack with him during the climb?
At over 14,000 feet, climbing Mt. Shasta (found in the Cascade range of Northern California) will be a physical challenge requiring pre-trip conditioning combined with a good solid sports nutrition program. Of course, a nutrition program that is designed individually for your client based on his physiology and conditioning program is the best strategy, but there are general principals that he should be following:
- His training diet should be made up primarily of whole foods, avoiding the temptation of meeting the extra caloric need with processed items. This is important because whole foods contain more nutrients that will keep your client healthy and energetic for the extra required training. There's nothing worse than a bad cold to derail a good training program!
- Because it’s likely he will be engaging in a great deal of cardiovascular training, its vitally important that enough total carbohydrates are provided in the diet. As a rough estimate, encourage him to consume about 60 percent of overall calories as carbohydrate with about 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Each training session should begin with a full tank of fuel.
- Every training session needs to be followed by a very good post-workout meal. This will allow his muscles to recover properly and become stronger for following training bouts. A good general guide is to aim for about 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and at least 15 grams of protein within the first hour or so after a high-intensity training session.
- Your client should not be experimenting with new foods during the climb. Therefore, he should test out any specific meals or sport nutrition products such as gels, drinks and bars beforehand to make sure they are well tolerated and liked.
- In the immediate days prior to the climb, I would encourage your client to bump up his carbohydrate intake or, in other words, “carboload” to ensure that his glycogen stores are at their absolute maximum capacity. I would suggest adding about 10 percent extra total calories. It is ok if some of this comes at the expense of fat and protein.
- During training, good hydration practices should be encouraged so that your client is used to drinking sufficient amounts of fluid. During the climb, his hydration requirements will likely be up to one litre per hour, so he should get used to this amount during training.
- During the climb, weight is always an issue so packing the most carbohydrate- and calorie-dense food as possible is very important. There are some good bars on the market now that pack a lot of calories in a small amount of food. I recommend ProBar as it has nearly 400 calories and is not overly processed like many other bars out there. Sugar crystals such as Gatorade would be a good thing to throw in any water bottles to help ensure that blood glucose levels don’t drop too significantly. Sugar drinks can also promote fluid intake.
- Depending on how long the climb is, all snacks and meals should be carefully planned out so that the necessary calories/carbohydrates are being consumed without carrying a lot of excess stuff. I would encourage eating 400-500 calories every two to three hours during the climbing.