You will never catch me eating a candy bar in town or at my house! I can promise you that. However, with a typical alpine mountaineering start, a good chocolate candy bar around midnight will get my body going. I always joke around with climbers that this is the only time in their life they will eat a candy bar before the sun comes up and not feel weird about it.
What we put in our bodies directly translates to the energy output for the day. We expect our bodies to act like high performance machines in the mountains. Similar to a Formula 1 race car, our bodies need the best possible energy compound to perform. Over a decade of climbing and guiding in the mountains, I’ve found some secrets to keep me going on hard, long, demanding mountaineering days.
Today “mountaineering” is a broad term for climbing in the mountains, but there are many ways to personally achieve your mountain objective. A single push alpinist approach to climbing Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier, WA requires different food than climbing the same route in a four to five day approach. Either way, eating healthy and having the correct, balanced diet helps give your body the fuel energy it requires while we are expecting high performance results.
Food is such an essential part of any mountaineering trip and it can either make it or break it for a climber. Bringing too much food can weigh a climber down. Bringing too little doesn’t allow the individual to replace their burned fuel. Each one of us varies greatly from one another with how much we eat while pushing ourselves physically.
A key step is finding out about how many calories your body requires for you to perform at the top level. Most climbers burn between 3,000-5,000 calories on a big alpine day. The next step is to find food that you love and will eat in any condition. Too many times, I see climbers come on a trip and have 12 PowerBars of the same flavor. I ask, “Oh is that your favorite flavor of bar?” They answer, “No. I just didn’t know what else to get.”
Having food variety can help set your body up for success. When you are at home you certainly don’t eat the same thing all day long. We vary what we put in our bodies, and we need to do the same in the mountains. Having a balance of protein, carbohydrates, salts, and sugar can help your body perform while driving yourself physically.
Here is a quick list of what you might find in my backpack on a big summit day:
2 Gu (power gels)
2 Traditional mountaineering bars (ProBar)
3 candy bars
1 small can of Pringles
5 hard candies
4oz of salted cashews
2 pieces of naan bread
4oz of salami or turkey.
Remember that lunch in the mountains starts when breakfast ends, finishing only when dinner begins!