Tom

14th Dec 2007

Question:

I've read in your bio that you have been a vegetarian for a long time. It's really inspiring to see that this doesn't keep one from performing at the cutting edge.

As I've been a vegetarian myself for most of my climbing life I was wondering if you have any nutrition advice for veggie climbers, e.g. to optimize climbing performance and recovery?

From time to time there are articles stating that a carnivorous diet allows you to have better training gains (especially in power and power endurance.)

Are these the usual 'meat makes you strong' myths forgetting the power of the mighty chickpea or may there be something to it? (Not that it would make me change my diet anyway ;), but I'm just curious if it makes a difference.

 

Answer:

 

Tom, a great question with issues close to my heart.

I am not the most scientific person when it comes to nutrition and sport but I can talk from personal experience and what I know other top climbers have experimented with.

Again, with any diet or training regime, you have to find what works for you. There will be principles you can apply but you need to be flexible enough to modify them to suit your constitution.

Before I became vegetarian, I hated meat and pretty much refused to eat it, so my body got used to a lower than average protein diet from a young age. But during my twenties when I had been vegetarian for a few years, I wasn’t very good at making sure I was taking on board enough protein. Consequently my body suffered. I was aware of pulses and non-meat sources of protein but I was quite poor and couldn’t afford to buy fancy foodstuffs and I was also experimenting with different diets.

I was probably over exercising too. I was tired a lot and my body tried to shut down to protect itself, so I was battling this which was hard work.

The key with anything in life is balance.

I was so into my climbing that I was trying to remain super fit, eat a low fat/calorie diet and race around the place working etc.

I now eat a lot more than I used to and my body/metabolism responds to this and everything remains constant.

With regards protein, I try to make sure I eat a balance but I’m sure I eat a lot less than meat eaters. When I have been training weights, I have experimented with taking protein powder as a supplement but to be honest I’m not sure how much of a difference it made to me.

I know people who have taken creatin supplements. This seemed to work, build muscle and power but really seemed to have a detrimental effect on endurance. It depends what you are trying to achieve.

I have found carbs are very important and as a climber you don’t need pounds of protein because we are not looking to build big muscles. Talking to a top body builder, she said you can build stronger muscles through training but the size of the muscle doesn’t need to change.

It’s more about using your musculature effectively and making sure your muscles know what you are asking them to do. Warming up effectively is a priority. If you are doing a bouldering session, you have to make sure you warm up for power and that your muscles are ready to pull.

Another top UK climber who is a long term vegetarian- Sam Whittaker, hard grit master. He is a mesomorph/ endomorph and has no problems with gaining big muscles. And he doesn’t take anything weird or wacky, he just trains hard.

So to conclude. If you are training hard for your climbing you need to make sure you have a balanced diet and that you are taking on board the correct vitamins and minerals. These are very important for recovery and health, especially minerals which are easy to neglect. Taking a multi vit/min daily supplement can help to cover this, alternatively eat organic, fresh food. Not always easy with our frenetic modern lifestyles.

Protein intake is obviously important and needs to be monitored but certainly shouldn’t override the importance of all the other food groups.

Take care and eat well!