Sports Nutrition and Rock Climbing

Rock climbing woman

Thought I’d put together a short-list of ergogenic aids (supplements) that are actually useful for climbing.

Firstly, unless you are at the top of the game, a supplement with a 1 or 2% increase in performance is not going to be noticeable. That’s because, if you are climbing a 50m route, that supplement may get you 1m higher. There are many easier ways to achieve that than taking an exact amount of a supplement for many weeks that may have adverse side effects and can be expensive.

This post won’t go into the biochemistry of why the sports nutrition supplement can help your rock climbing performance. But that can be looked up in many textbooks or as information that I provide as part of my performance sports nutrition coaching programs.

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Author on Over the Moon, LPT

So, here is my list, kind of in order of importance, of things that would have a meaningful performance nutrition benefit on rock climbing and bouldering:

  • Carbohydrates:

These are the preferred fuel for your muscles. It can be stored locally in the muscle in the form of glycogen for easy and fast usage during climbing. Carbohydrate molecules contain oxygen, which can be used in oxidation for ATP creation. During training/climbing/bouldering blood glucose (carbohydrates) comes from the gut, which comes from eating carbohydrate. In this state, your muscles will preferentially use glucose over fats even at low heart rates. Carbs cause an increase in insulin (anabolic hormone) and reduce the circulation of glucagon (a fat/muscle breakdown hormone). If you are in the business of building muscle as part of adaptations to training stimulus, then insulin is a very valuable anabolic hormone.

My thesis for my Master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science focused on the fuels used during Bouldering competitions. I found that the average RER during a 5-minute bout of bouldering at max level as about 1.0. This means that on average the body was burning carbohydrate. At the start of the round, realistically it would have been a blend of fats and carbs (RER = 0.85), then very quickly raising to pure carbs in the active muscles (RER = 1.0), then in max performance, the forearms will have been using phosphocreatine too (RER = 1.10).

How much to eat and when?

I tend to advise that people eat about 1.0-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Each gram of protein is worth 4 kcals. Once I have calculated the protein intake, I divide the remaining intake of calories for the day by 2. That’s how many carbs I suggest. Therefore a 70kg person, training hard and climbing every day, requires the nutrition of about 100g protein, which is 400 kcal. If they are aiming to eat 2500 kcal per day, then 2100 kcal remain for fats and carbs, I suggest 1050g for carbohydrates, which is about 265g per day. That would leave 115g for fats. This is obviously flexible, and for someone training hard, I may up the carbs and lower the fats. For someone in a very sedentary job, I would lower the calories and protein.

During intensive exercise, ie road biking, a person’s body can absorb about 60g glucose and a further 12g fructose per hour. That’s 280 kcal per hour from carbohydrates. Any more than this cannot be absorbed and therefore passes lower into your gut and can cause big problems with the bacteria, leaky-gut syndrome, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. This is often found by people smashing energy gels on an empty stomach, they are high in fructose and pass quickly through the gut.

So, before and during climbing it makes sense to have a ready supply of blood glucose for the muscles to continue to utilise once the local sources of glycogen are depleted. I, therefore, advise regularly eating at the crag or boulders throughout the session.


The enzymes that breakdown and buildup glycogen in the muscles are activated during muscle usage and at certain temperatures with the blood flow. For climbing the forearm flexors are the ones to power-out after a few attempts at a redpoint, or after a campus session, or an hour of training. This lack of ability to continue putting out power has a multitude of reasons, but a lack of local energy supply is a key reason. To recover from this, it is best to take the opportunity to use the enzymes that are still active to rebuild and replenish the used glycogen (and intramuscular lipids too). The enzymes stay active for about 45-60 minutes after exercise. Absorption of carbs takes about 15 minutes. Therefore, I would encourage clients to eat carbohydrate immediately after training for about 45 minutes, aiming to eat about 70g throughout that period. This could be honey, Haribo, bananas, dried fruits, or a sugary sports drink. Your muscles don’t care where the glucose/fructose molecules started out.

If you get the recovery carbs in within about an hour, it is sometimes possible to completely recover the muscle glycogen within 24 hours. If you wait longer, it can take up to 5 days to recover that glycogen back to the original state.

  • Creatine

I would recommend climbers to take about 0.035g per kilo lean body mass per day. Or about 0.03g per kilo per day. This amount has been shown to have some performance benefits without a significant increase in weight (from water retention). I would not advise doing a loading phase as prescribed on most sports nutrition creatine packaging. Creatine benefits are fairly complicated to explain, but basically, it boosts local reserves of creatine phosphate in the muscles which are used to donate a phosphate and make adenosine-triphosphate, energy for muscle contractions. This can potentially give a few per cent to max power style performance. Holding a sharp crimp, or pulling through a big move. This will not help endurance in any way. It is one of the most well researched performance-enhancing nutrition aids on the market, most high-level sportspeople use creatine.

  • Vitamin D

Most people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D at some point of the year. I wrote another blog on this to do with boosting the immune system. When Vitamin D deficiency is corrected there are huge neuro-muscular gains to be made, the scientific evidence comes from leg squat strength and 10m sprint times. Given that most climbers train indoors all year round, and don’t get out to crags during the winter, I recommend taking a Vit D supplement from September to April.

  • Caffeine

This is another very well studied performance-enhancing ‘drug’, that is legal. Most high performing athletes also take caffeine. If you can handle the side effects, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, stomach ache, jitters, then this is a very worthwhile aid. The best evidence suggests fairly high doses (3mg per kilo), about 45 minutes before exercise. I don’t think that’s a good idea for trad onsights of dangerous routes. I think your feet would be dancing all over the holds. But potentially for redpoints, hard boulders. The performance effects are actually very high (around 5%) for aerobic and anaerobic activities. Given the nature of climbing and an understanding of whether the athlete is caffeine tolerant or caffeine naive, dosages could vary from 50g to 300g before a performance or a training session, especially when you feel wasted.

  • BCAAs

Don’t take these. If you want to boost your amino-acid intake, then from a performance sports nutritionist, I can recommend taking complete 9-essential amino acids or a complete protein supplement. These will have long-term training effects. BCAAs and Protein does not have short term performance benefits. Plus, they taste absolutely rank.

  • Beta-Alanine

Maybe take this if you are performing to a very high level and need a bit more boost in the power-endurance / endurance areas. Dosing of this needs to happen for about 12 weeks to store in the muscles. The fizzing/tingling effect does not make a difference in performance. In fact, this supplement has no short term performance gain at all. The long-term effects are also quite small, so don’t go taking this for 12 weeks and expect to be an enduro warrior, we’re talking 2-3% performance improvements at most.

photo of daily medicine in a container

Photo by Anna Shvets on

  • Multi-vitamins and Minerals

Much performance sports nutrition comes down to micronutrients and deficiencies. You can’t evidently boost any of this past the recommended daily amounts to gain a benefit, but being below the RDA can have huge metabolic and neuromuscular effects. This is particularly important for vegetarians and vegans… or anyone choosing to follow a weird diet that excludes healthy foods. Iron, B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D are often deficient in the UK diet.

Eat more foods that look the same in the supermarket as it did on the tree/in the ground. Eat fewer foods that glow in the dark or take 5 weeks to go off. Whether your vegan or paleo or carbon-neutral, you probably have 80% the same foods nutritionally. You can argue about the nutrition of the remaining 20%, is it Tofu or is it grass-fed local cow, the important thing is all the micronutrients for the other 80% of vegetables and fruits and whole foods.

I hope this all makes sense. Ultimately, don’t be fooled by advertising and podcasts. Eat the right amount of carbohydrate, it won’t make you fat. Maybe take creatine, definitely if you boulder. And play with the usage of caffeine. The other things will all have a very small effect. If you need any more help regarding nutrition support for training,  performance sports nutrition, or weight loss coaching, then get in touch at my new company NutriBro.


Little and Big Tryfan


Today I was out with return clients Angie and Jareth, who arrived with enthusiasm in abundance, despite the overnight storm nearly blowing their tent away. Rich Gentry was also out working for me, with Keiran who is over from Cork, Ireland.

I headed to Little Tryfan to focus on leader placed protection and multipitch climbing skills. For instance, nut, cam, sling placements and building belays along with stance/rope management. This is a two day course making them competent to trad climb in the moutains on their own.

Rich headed for the utmost of classic routes ‘Grooved Arete‘ on Tryfan, guiding Kieran as part of my 1 day climbing courses listed on my website. A great decision based on the howling westerly winds, and they found almost complete solitude up there.

Here are some pictures of Angie and Jareth climbing their way up the gentle routes on Tryfan bach to get them leading on the rock with confidence.



And here are the pictures of Kieran having a blast of a day seconding Rich up 8 pitches of mountain classic. With the famous Knight’s Move on the chequered slab. And Kieran topping it off with a jump across Adam & Eve!


For any more information about the skills based climbing instruction myself and my freelance instructors provide, please visit my website

Life’s too short… A Summer roundup


That’s 8 fingers

  • Climbed F8a

After warming up and falling off Nightglue F7a+ in early May, and not being able to do more than 10 of the moves on Over The Moon Direct, I committed 15 sessions to Lower Pen Trwyn (LPT), and sent it. Pretty happy with that, considering minimal training and niggling elbow injuries. Hardest grade I’ve ever climbed and now I have a fingerboard in the alps, I should come back with a little more than zero strength in April, so 8a+ next.

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Mid Technical Crux – OTMD – 8a

  • Onsighted some E4s

I didn’t climb much trad this summer, but had a great day out being belayed by my girlfriend Jacqui, who then almost followed E4 clean having not climbed for probably 3 years. Effort.

Slate Climbing Sunset

Sunset after an evening climbing with my girlfriend

  • Bouldered f7B

This was an anticlimax really as I was trying to get Jerry’s Roof f7C done in the autumn, but a sore wrist put an end to specific power endurance training and therefore it never got done, despite the moves all feeling totally fine after about 4 sessions.

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Mid Crux – Jerry’s Roof – V9

  • Worked 3 days a week on average

My contract with the Military was 3 months late in coming through, so I was actually free to work with my own clients and therefore had a very successful Summer. I’m also grateful to the other instructors in North Wales who trust me enough to send work and clients my way. 3 days a week on average was a perfect compromise, I earned enough to pay the bills, and put a fair bit of time into climbing for myself.


Sea Cliff Climbing Course

  • Started a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science

I’ve enrolled in a Master’s program in the Clinical Sciences and Nutrition department of Chester University. The course is fairly intense as my background is not like the others on the course (medicine, physiotherapy, sports science, etc.). I’m currently writing a 4000 word assignment on the BioChemistry of Metabolism. Incredibly interesting stuff, and very useful for clients and personal training alike.


It’s easier to learn a 45 move climbing sequence

  • Development Climbing Coach Award

I’m currently going through the process of becoming a qualified development coach. Although I’ve been coaching in my instructional role for many years now, it’s nice to have an official ticket that represents a level of competence. The scheme is great and makes up for a lot of the soft skills that are lacking from the Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA).


Coaching at Castle Inn Quarry

Now to concentrate on the ski season, which kicks off on Saturday. The ever reliable Val d’Isere has come good again, looking like a huge number of slopes will be open and perfectly groomed for this weekend. Early season is some of the best piste skiing you’ll ever get.

How to cut / chop a climbing rope


After some mileage indoors or sport climbing, your rope may become fluffy, frayed and worn.  Generally about a meter infront of the tying in section of rope.  Look for signs on the outer sheath, and also test the core (bobbins strands) by feeling and bending the rope… it’s very unlikely any of these will have snapped, but they do become stretched/worn/twisted inside the sheath (mantle).


Fluffy section above


Tired core on the left

This kind of wear is very unlikely to happen on a trad climbing rope, because its caused by the repetitve resting or falling on to the quickdraws.  Though it is very possible to get a nick or cut in a trad rope, and the same process of cutting or chopping the rope may be necessary.

I start by feeling the rope and getting the section where it becomes ‘good’ again.  It’s not fluffy, bendy, and holds a nice loop as you pinch it together.  This is the safe part you’re looking for.

I then tape with good quality duct tape as tightly as possible around the section I am going to cut.

Heat up a sharp knife with either a few candles or lighters, or on a gas hob… take care not to burn yourself and do it either outside or near a few open windows, as this is smelly and gives off fumes.

Cut straight through the duct tape.  Then use a lighter to melt the duct tape into the shealth and into the core, so that it all welds together and won’t fray.  I then roll the still hot edges on some newspaper to round them off a bit and avoid any sharpness.


Be sure to clean all the black gunk off the knife before you put it back in the draw and your non-climber wife/girlfriend/mum finds it.

After chopping the rope 3 or 4 times, take a moment to consider the state or the middle section, the rope is probably quite tired, and could do with being retired.  For £150 the price per usage is negliable… check out V12 Outdoor shop in Llanberis for some great deal, and you get 15% off, if you are or have been on one of my Rock Climbing courses.

5 best “First E1s” in North Wales


Rock climbs that anyone would be proud of ticking, and that are particularly suitable for your first step into the grade.

For the ease: Bella Lugosi is Dead

I have coached many people through this route as their first E1 on my climbing courses.  It’s steady enough, with some small fiddly gear required, but your weight is always on your feet and the holds are obvious.  Run up the crack, placing tonnes of gear until it gets thin, then place some bomber micro wires or Brass Offsets, and do a couple of moves trusting smaller foot holds. At the top, the gear is very good again for some longer reaches. Job done.  Not the easiest here, but almost!

For the borderline HVS: Looning the Tube

This route is in my opinion at the very bottom of the E1 grade.  If you’re not very confident, maybe tie your belayer to something.  After a couple of very thin moves above the pipe, mostly protected by a good bolt, you clip a mega chain. Then fire in some cams and finish up the slightly awkward off balance split in the slab.  It might feel tricky, but it’s not.

For the technically footed: Precious Metal

Probably the most obvious section of rock to climb at this area of the Great Orme. Visibly from way off, it’s the diagonal ramp that entices you in.  Quite small feet and smears are required, but the gear is good. Maybe wear some newer shoes.

For the marathon climbers: Cemetary Gates

An absolute classic from Brown and Whillans.  Not the easiest here, but a proud E1 for anybodys first.  The gear is great and take loads, because you will place it. 35m of broken crack climbing and looking after your arms to avoid over pump.  It’s an incredible climb in an even better position.  One of my all time favourites.

For the jammers: The Grooves

Another outstanding climb from the Llanberis Pass.  This time a bit more hard work and slightly more bicep action… but it’s a safe as houses, plugging in cams and bomber nuts all the way.  If you’re up there, the E2 finish up the Overhanging Arete is unbelievable terrain at that grade.

Good Luck, and give me a shout if you need any help or check out my climbing courses page.

Rock Climbing belay

Just clip everything


Scrambling Course – Mont Blanc Prep


The stunning weather has continued in North Wales this weekend, and I was lucky to be working for Ibex Guides, a company run by friends of mine, IFMGA guides Rocio and Owen.  The basis was for six guys to be prepared for a guided ascent of Mont Blanc in a few months time.  So we aimed to cover the basics of ropework, and a large amount of ground, moving quickly and in good coordination with one another on the rope.

It was great to be working with somebody else in this terrain to share ideas and experiences. A new route on Tryfan for me which is very rare these days.

Day 1: we both headed to East Face Tryfan, to do Pinnacle Scramble (3+), which follows a fairly hard purely rock route up the central buttress, finishing on the Summit.


Mike, Olly, Gary and I got very cozy on a ledge, 1st pitch of First Pinnacle Rib!



It just keeps coming!  About 350m of Grade 3 scrambling


We chose to descend down the North Ridge (1). Where we practiced some roped lowers and stacked abseils.


On the Cannon Stone, Tryfan North Ridge.

Day 2: I think Rocio headed up the Seniors Direct Route, then Cneifion Arete.  While my team went up Idwal Buttress (2) and the Continuation Route (2), then I let them practice their lowers, short-roping and descent down the Idwal slabs exit gully.


Gary leading off, the photo of the day. Llyn Idwal in behind


Had to walk past this guy on the approach to the route. #scary


Olly rigging a 2 point belay, equalised, and running an italian hitch


Straddling the arete ‘sur cheval’


Cwm Idwal, North Wales



Mountaineering Course – wild camping


This week just gone I have been working for the Joint Services again, at their mountain training wing in Llanrwst, JSMTW (L).  The course was a Summer Mountaineering Foundation, which lays the foundations and gets some of the pre-requisites for the Mountain Leader Award.  I was joined by members of various Regements, from Royal Gurkha Rifles, to Army Air Core.

Day 1: Navigation basics, including bearings, contours, distances, pacings, timings, etc. For this we headed from Capel Curig, over Crimpiau and Craig Wen.  Perfect terrain with lots of features to attack.



Day 2: Mountain day and basic scrambling. We covered Y Gribin ridge from Llyn Idwal, then went over Gylder Fawr and down Devil’s Kitchen.  The day was North Wales tropical, but our friend from Brunei didn’t agree.IMG_0871.jpg

Day 3: A long day on Snowdon, working on more advanced navigation using mainly contour interpretation.  On 1:50k maps.  We travelled up from Pen y Pass, across Lliwedd, and down the Rhyd Ddu path.  I then found out the Gwynedd council had given me a parking fine of £25 at the Pen y Gwryd car park. Cheers


Carneddau Wild Ponies – Ffynnon Llugwy

Day 4: First day of expedition.  We travelled from Gwern gof uchaf to Carnedd Llewellyn.  Then descended the East side to camp in Cwm Eigiau.  We saw the plane wreck site of Canberra Wk129, a jet that crashed on the Summit in Dec 1957, the debris was spread about a mile across the hillside and on both sides of the impact ridge.  Truely an impressive site.  Many of the parts still remain there.


Eastern Spur of Carnedd Llewellyn


Day 5: It was one of the first times I can remember camping on a North East facing cwm, so I pitched my tent so that at 05:30AM, I could unzip my tent door and see sunrise.  A seriously cool way to wake up.  I put a brew on and enjoyed the hazy sunrise then went back to sleep.


Looking towards Colwyn Bay from 820m on the Carneddau at 05:30AM



Multi-pitch Rock Training Course


Last week I was out climbing with Graham and John, working for the Joint Services Mountain Training Centre at Indefatigable, Anglesey (JSTMC).

Day 1: Single Pitch Award Training, (SPA) at Holyhead mountain.


Graham acsending a rope, and self belaying back down.

Day 2: SPA training and an introduction to more advanced rescues, sport climbing and stripping out routes, at Dinorwig Slate quarries.


Me on a cold, windy day up on the Cromlech

Day 3: Multipitch Training, climbing uber-classic routes on Dinas Cromlech “Flying Buttress” and “Spiral Stairs” in the Llanberis Pass.


John and Graham about to second Pitch 4 off “Flying Buttress”

Day 4: Rock Lead Climbing training at Craig y Tonnau in the Moelwyns, to escape the weather. More advanced rescues and improvised solutions to multipitch problems.


Me coaching Graham a little on “Diane’s Approval”

Day 5: Little Tryfan for multipitch leading of routes.


Slalom – Enjoying my pastimes when they are also my job!


People often make the choice not to turn their hobbies into your work, for fear of losing the love.

For me, I just keep challenging myself and trying to get better at stuff.  Doing it as a job, just makes me better at the sport when it comes to higher levels of performance.  Days spent out with clients on Idwal slabs or East Face Tryfan all contribute to getting my eye in with gear placements, quick/fast ropework, and trusting my feet even in big boots or floppy comfy shoes.  So when I get on harder routes, I can worry about fighting the pump rather than faffing with nuts and cams.

With skiing, it’s exactly the same.  Whilst a client is following me down a blue run doing parallel turns, I always try to make my stance and balance as perfect as possible, this all contributes to the accuracy required, and the same movement patterns I use at much higher levels of skiing.

In terms of challenging myself, this Autumn I’ve tried my first few days of Slalom racing.  It is highly technical, fast, thrilling and a lot of fun.  I’ve taken a bit of a beating from missing gates with my pole and taking them to the face, chest, shoulders and thighs… but that’s all very motivational to make me get it right!   Here’s a short snippet.

North Wales Coastal Path – Bounty


Fortune definitely favours the brave.  We headed out for a walk today despite the massive rain showers that were pounding North Wales and were hugely well rewarded.

Field Mushrooms

Agaricus Campestris

We headed along between Penmaenmawr and Abergwyngregan, and came across a ring of mushrooms under a Scots Pine, clearly symbiotic with it.  I still can’t identify the large pale gilled fungus.  I think it’s lactarius something or other, and I’m pretty confident it’s not edible, so will be composting that one.

We picked a few of them, and left others.  Just enough for dinner, the rest can obviously go on acting as the fruit bodies of the organism to spread and grow stronger for future.

They were not our only bounty on this short trip…

Should make a fantastic house decoration when painted black.

Should make a fantastic house decoration when painted black.