One of my loves/hobbies besides climbing is nutrition. Specifically, the Paleo Diet. I know a lot of people think it’s a ‘fad’ diet, but I encourage people to try and be a bit more open-minded. Really ,what Paleo is about is eating real, whole foods. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that processed foods are no good right? So why would a diet composed of real and whole foods be just a ‘fad’?
I suppose some people stumble over the ‘no grains’ thing. These are usually the people saying ‘everything in moderation- including moderation!’ I don’t doubt and that’s why as much as I am a fan of the Paleo, I admit, I do like to kick back a beer every now and again (I mean, I am a climber!!) indulge in a chocolate chip cookie once in awhile and well, if I am at the Mountain Brauhaus, their pretzels are a little fluffy bite of heaven! To me, that is moderation. I can have those things occasional if I really want them, but I make most of my calories (and carb count) come from vegetables and fruit.
But I digress…Many people are also under the misimpression that Paleo is just the same as Atkins, that’s its a low carb diet filled with all the fat your heart desires and no carbs. That’s not true either. It’s about the right amount of carbs for your energy level and getting carbs from healthy sources, like fruits & vegetables. Also, Paleo is about eating meat from animals raised incongruence with their nature- cows raised on grass, chickens allowed free-range to eat bugs and grass, etc. Much different then processed and industrialized protein- & fat-free-for-all of Atkins. And no surprise, the healthier the animal, the healthier it is for us.
Given this interest of mine, I like to read and occasional check out related scientific nutrition articles. This one caught my idea as I think it would have significant bearing on climbers.
A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition studied 8* elite Italian male** gymnasts who tried an average of 30 hours per week. One group was placed on a very-low-carb, ketogenic diet (VLCKD) and the other ate a ‘typical’ diet. No caloric restrictions were imposed on either group, no was alcohol restricted for either group. Body composition, strength and explosive strength measurements were taken initially as a baseline and after 30 days on their respective diets.
The athletes on the VLCKD had statistically significant lower body weight and fat mass, while muscle mass remained the same after 30 days. The ‘typical’ diet group saw no difference in body compositions before or after the 30 days. There were no significant changes in performance measurements within the groups or even between them.
The authors suggest that a ketogenic diet be considered as a tool for athletes who need to lose weight for weight categories but who do not want to compromise athletic performance or risk losing muscle mass.
Since strength to weight ratio is a pretty important metric for climbers, it follows that climbers could also benefit from a diet that would reduce weight and fat mass, while maintaining strength and performance. It fact, I would say that is a damn near perfect deal for a climber!
*This is a really small sample size. I larger study would need to be done to really be any proof
**The participants were all male. There is some evidence that suggests that VLCKD can be harmful to thyroid function particularly in women. Again, a larger study with both men and women would need to be conducted for any credible conclusions to be drawn