One thing you might not know about the leader of the Metal Made Fitness page is he had a shady past, much like the loner in all those bad horror films like Disturbing Behavior and The Blob (KEVIN DILLION FOR THE WIN) where he is called upon to save the day, mostly because the whole police force of the town and the popular high school quarterback have no idea what they’re doing. But moving along, in our past, or my past, depending on first to third person perspective, we ran marathons.
“The hell you did! I read you were a male stripper you liar!” you might be saying now. But it’s true. We ran quite a few marathons. From the Vancouver B.C. BMO to the Victoria B.C. Marathon to various smaller half and full races, we did well and hit all of our goals in the process. From a sub 4-hour full to a 90 minute half race, we broke the idea that a muscular compact guy like Dru (aka me) could do so well in a sport that is mostly dominated by slender and quick folks. I guess you could just call me the “Steve Jobs of compact muscular guys trying to run marathons” and boy, does that sound egotistical.
Aside from training our ass off, properly understanding nutrition on race day and how to apply it was as vital as metal itself. So why bring this up? Well being that we scale mountains and difficult trails constantly now, knowing what to bring on a mountain is super important. And really, climbing mountains is just as much as an endurance based effort as running a race, or anything from the realm of endurance sports.
So what to eat? And why?
RACE DAY FUEL
Well first lets start with the elephant in the room, hydration. Applying this to running a race, you’d be surprised how many runners actually OVER hydrate or UNDER hydrate, which is known as hyponatremia (low blood sodium), which works differently with the same results. Excess water consumption causes what is known as dilutional hyponatremia, or an overly diluted level of sodium and electrolytes in the blood. Over-hydrating can be just as bad as under-hydrating in regards to increased potential for muscular cramping, but has the added disadvantages of stomach cramping , and needing to piss a lot. And sometimes, excess hydration can lead to severe physiological circumstances, including death. Have you ever died on a trail or during a race due to this? I hope not. Mainly because I’d have to wonder how you’re reading this.
Drinking around between 500-750 milliliters/ hr (about 17-25 fluid ounces/hr) in MOST situations is ideal. This of course, is not taking into account if you’re climbing a mountain. But I’ll address elevation in a moment. But learning the hydration balance is just as important as learning the solid food balance as well.
In addition to this bit of info, electrolytes are tied into the hydration bit due to how they are normally delivered into the system of the athlete or “vessel” for lack of a less hilarious word. And no, Brawndo isn’t what I’m talking about, we’re talking about the science of it. Electrolytes produce the electrical impulses in the body and they’re mucho importante to a number of biochemical processeses including blood chemistry and the function of muscles, nerves and the heart. Think of them as the background app that makes your computer processor talk to your programs. With zero Windows updates.
And you lose them while sweating like you lost that one girl in high school you still think of. But unlike Lindsay, you can get them back. So if you’re getting the hang of water intake while being active, adding in vital electrolytes will help the cause. Now while you don’t want EXCESS sodium during exercise you do need to make sure your sodium chloride levels are balanced at all times. Sure, you may eat a ton of sodium in your diet (usually more than you need, which we can explain here) but even after running 13 miles, you need to get those back.
What to do? Well don’t constantly chug Gatorade while running, as you should stick to clear water for the most part. But taking an electrolyte tab or pill can help during and after. We do it, and we’re pretty spot on with our game day nutrition.
During a marathon we would often have our fluid belt full of Skratch Labs drink, and just drink the water at the drink stations. This way we would get the electrolytes while running when needed but 75% of the time, stick to the water so we wouldn’t be overdoing it. So for every 2 shots of water, we’d take a few sips of our own hydration mix. It worked perfectly and made sure we wouldn’t go overboard in either direction during performance. Learning more about this requires you to check out this article we think sums it up nicely.
So as far as consuming something, here are the basics. During exercise your body uses two primary fuel sources. Fats and carbs. Fat is normally always available since your body is always producing it, but it’s broken down into usable energy slowly, making it an ineffective fuel source when you’re running at your steady marathon pace. So that’s why you need carbs as your first primary fuel source. The faster you go, the more your body looks to carbs for a source of gas. But like nuts in the cheeks of a squirrel or pornstar, you can only store so much glycogen (carbs) in your muscles, even after loading up before hand. Muscles can store around 90 minutes of glycogen when running at a half marathon pace, 2 hours worth for a full. So unless you’re Usain Bolt level elite, you’ll probably run out long before you finish. Sorry about your damn luck son!
What are some killer things to eat? While it could be hard to run 26.2 miles with a small kitchen on your back, you can stuff a few small items into a hydration belt. How? Well a lot of them have small pouches. And the two we’re going to say you should stuff in there are dates and dried cherries. Both are excellent sources of quick carbs and since your systems are running at a bare minimum, you can’t have foods that will take forever to break down. Eat light and smart so your body doesn’t spend excessive energy breaking the goods down.
So what about energy gels? Well they’re thought to be the Bernie Sanders of glycogen replacement during a race or activity. But much like the myth of a political savior in a broken system, they don’t provide a simple one-to-one replacement because the glycogen we consume from gels doesn’t always fastlane it’s way into the working muscles.
Why use them then? Since the brain “wakes up” because our brain only runs on the glucose stored in the blood. And the muscles start to absorb more blood glucose, the brain gets less and starts to get hazy (ever notice that during a run?). Gels work for immediate “MUCH PEP, WOW” but it’s not gonna save your legs necessarily from hitting a wall. So learning about WHEN to consume them while racing is important, but we cannot avoid one simple fact:
HAVING AN AWESOME DIET DURING TRAINING CAMP AND BEFORE RACE DAY IS YOUR BEST WEAPON. ALWAYS.
For the hikers reading this, some of the hydration tips do apply but what about when you start going “up”?
OVER THE MOUNTAIN
Well to know what to eat while hiking to not explode, vomit, or fall over into a pile of bear scat, is just as important as knowing how the body functions while trying to go up the side of a big ass mountain.
So the higher up you go, the less oxygen you get. Your heart will race, your brain will get foggy and more your less you start to break down slowly, like dying the same slow death from listening to Children of Bodom (yeah, I said it, fuck that band). If you haven’t trained HIIT style or pushed your body leading up to a climb heading towards 7,000 feet and further, you’ll probably have no idea what is happening to you. Less oxygen to the body means less to the blood means less to the brain. Rapid breathing means loss of moisture which means dehydration. Man, climbing mountains is suppose to be fun right? Well yeah of course, but human beings aren’t meant to be that high up for that long. Chipmunks do better than we do.
So short of pulling a Seth Brundle and becoming “Half chipmunk”, there are basic nutritional needs while going up the side of these beloved death traps. In normal temperatures, our bodies strain at high altitudes. Throw in climbing and cold, and it makes it even harder. So your body needs more energy. Bring on the carbs because your heart needs them to send blood around your body, while your muscles need it to contract and flex and do their job. If you’re kicking some scree up, 60-100 grams of carbs an hour is suggested. Metabolism is increased at high altitude so your body can burn through carbs faster than government spending on military. Also, while at high altitude, you’re gonna pee more. So it’s more important than ever to make sure you retain electrolytes. Often mountaineers will keep an electrolyte drink next to their sleeping bags to make sure they keep their potassium and sodium. Sure this might increase Mount Everest bed wetting but if it helps save your life, who cares if the rest of the group laughs at you. I’m sure Edmund Hillary wet his bed during his ascent .
More than anything, going up means a lot of the time that you’re gonna get cold, and when it’s cold, our bodies don’t alert us to drink like they do when it’s hot. However, studies have shown that we do indeed get dehydrated when it’s cold despite our core body temperature not rising. The combination of losing moisture through rapid breathing, the dry air, high altitude, and burning up of carbs dehydrates you and increases the need to fuel. The higher you go, the more you need to drink, and the more carbs you’ll need to eat. Also keep in mind that if you aren’t consuming the right snacks and meals while going up, your body will waste away it’s muscle. A few researches have been done showing that without glycogen in the muscles, your body will forgo body fat as a fuel source and go straight for the muscle at higher altitudes.
Above all else, if you’re going to be spending more than a day climbing and going up, climatizing is more important than anything. Allowing time for your body to adjust will have to happen. Even during a day hike, if you notice your heart rate going crazy and breathing getting shallow, take a break, slow your breathing down, drink and nibble on something and give yourself a minute. You’re not running a marathon to summit so if you or your group needs a minute to fuel up and calm the fuck down, do it. Because the main goal of climbing is to be able to avoid death, freezing to death, dying, starving, getting limbs hacked off due to frostbite, avoiding avalanches and not to fall off the summit falling to a horrible demise.