Fuelling for climbing - long term energy
This article looks at the role of carbohydrate before and during climbing, and gives a top tip for climbers who suffer from cold fingers and toes in winter.

Fuelling for climbing - long term energy

Along with water and oxygen, you body's most constant and basic requirement is for energy. That energy is measured in kilocalories (often referred to as just 'calories' (cal), but look out for the metric equivalent, which is kilojoules (kJ)). The more energetic you are, the more calories you burn. However, eating for long-term energy is not as simple as just replacing calories. Your body can burn both carbohydrate and fat to provide calories, but the energy released from these fuels is very different.

Carbohydrate - the climber's jet fuel

Think of carbohydrate as jet fuel - quick to burn and provides instant energy. Your body uses mainly carbohydrate to fuel strenuous activities such as climbing, walking uphill or scrambling. Unfortunately, you only have a small reserve of carbohydrate (stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles), enough to fuel about two hours of hard exercise. Once your glycogen stores are depleted, fatigue sets in. Eating for long-term energy means that have to top up your glycogen store on a regular basis and the only way to do this is to eat carbohydrate foods.

Eating plan for long term energy

Think of carbohydrate as jet fuel - which is quick to burn and provides instant energy

Before you set off, make sure your carbohydrate (jet fuel tank) stores are full. Eat large portions of pasta or rice with tomato or vegetable sauce (rather than meat or cheese based sauces) the night before you go climbing. Top up your stores with more carbohydrate the next morning. There are plenty of high carbohydrate breakfast foods.
  • Wholemeal toast with honey, jam or marmalade
  • Bagels
  • Porridge cooked with raisins and banana to sweeten
  • Muslim (no added sugar - choose the varieties with dates, dried apricots for sweetness or add honey to sweeten, if you must)
  • Stewed apples and prunes with natural yoghurt
Eating on the move

Take some high carbohydrate foods to eat during the day such as banana and honey sandwiches, pasta, or home made potato salad to provide a mixture of fast and slow release carbohydrates. It may not always be possible to stop to eat, so foods such as fruitcake, malt loaf, dried apricots, figs and dates are ideal as easy snacks to eat on the move.
Winter fuel tip - Try organic ginger cordial or concentrated apple juice (with added fresh root ginger) diluted with hot water. If you suffer from poor circulation, ginger helps get blood to your fingers and toes.


Running out of fluid is just as likely as running out of carbohydrate fuel on a long challenge, so ensure that you have plenty of water with you, especially in hot conditions. In the winter, take hot fruit-based drinks in a flask. These will help to maintain your core body temperature, and provide fluid and sugars for energy.


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