It is easy to feel overwhelmed with questions about how to fuel for performance. Whether you are moving in the mountains and covering lots of terrain for hours and hours, giving redpoint attempts on your bouldering project for 30 seconds at a time, training in the gym, or anything in between, proper pre, during and post nutrition is critical for getting the most out of your hard work and recovering for your next efforts.
I AM NOT A NUTRITIONIST. But, I have spent enough time “going hard” as a professional athlete to know there is a difference in my performance between when I am properly fueled and when I am not. My ability to recover from my efforts is directly correlated with my choice of fuel immediately after my session. Likewise, the consistency in my energy levels is impacted by my pre-workout food and supplementation.
So, food. Eat it; it helps.
I am not about to launch into a diatribe about what new fangled diet you should commit yourself to. My philosophy around nutrition is pretty simple, and for my performance it has proven to be sound - Food is both my fuel and a creative outlet.
I like to fuel my body with real food that I’ve prepared. I enjoy this process and take pride in it. For me, eating animal protein and other satiating foods containing good fats and nutrients feels both important and satisfying. I like green vegetables. I try and find slightly healthier sources for my carbs, like sweet potatoes. But, you will also find me eating cookies and drinking an IPA when the mood strikes. That said, if I don’t have to open a wrapper to eat my food I consider it a win.
Sometimes, circumstantially, this lofty goal is simply not possible. When I do have to resort to bars or otherwise processed nutrition, my personal rule is the shorter the ingredient list, the better. If there are words I have never heard of in the list, I get skeptical quickly.
Is it realistic?
Let's be honest. Your ability to eat enough “real food” while you are deep in the mountains, deep on the trail, deep into a session at the cliff or deep into the squat rack can be virtually impossible. There’s a whole slew of obstacles, whether it is an issue of space in your pack, life logistics, or simply forgetting to get to the store. Similarly, your appetite before, during and after your sport can vary. Maybe you’re the type of person who gets so psyched you forget to eat for 6 hours. I’ve seen this work for plenty of strong athletes, but I have also seen those same people hit the wall and totally tank.
Maybe you are more like me and you are constantly hungry when you are out going for it, or even when thinking about being active. Either way, the best thing we can do during training or performing is to have fuel on-hand and to use it regularly. The best way I work around not always being able to sit down to a delicious and nutritious meal is with high quality supplements.
What supplements should you use?
My favorite supplement company is Gnarly Nutrition.
Yes, I am an ambassador for Gnarly, but the only reason I got involved with the company is because I was already using their products and I wholeheartedly believed in what the company is about. Gnarly is making sports supplements designed for mountain and outdoor athletes, not just people looking to get “swole" in the gym. Their products have short, high-quality ingredient lists. They come in powder forms that are low in sugar and taste good. I use these powders regularly, and I have found that having something in my water that tastes good and is nutritious is a highly effective way for me to get ready, keep going, and recover.
I am not saying that supplements should replace food. By definition, “supplements” should help enhance your real-food diet, not control it. And, not all Gnarly products will work for everyone. Through trial and error I have found a several Gnarly products that work well for me.
When I am in hard training mode, I start with “Gnarly Pre-Workout”. It has both caffeine and creatine. That’s right, I take creatine. The amount of creatine in a serving of “Gnarly Pre” is enough to to provide more energy for those high intensity anaerobic movements (i.e. power movements), but not enough to cause bulk, water retention or weight gain. Some time ago, creatine got a really bad rap because it was associated with steroids. However, creatine is not a performance enhancing drug.
We all have creatine in our body, and our body uses our stores while we are trying hard. Supplementing with creatine enhances the body’s ability to perform high-intensity work, and thus aids in muscle growth. I found it helps me to train harder and longer and recover better, and thats all before I even start my workout.
During my workout I opt for “Gnarly BCAA’s” (branch chain amino acids). the amount and ratio of BCAA’s in this product was selected to support energy levels, muscle function and health. There is a small amount of caffeine in this product as well, and the flavor helps me stay hydrated way better than if I was just drinking water.
The moment I finish working out is when I start my recovery. I want to train again as soon as my body is ready, and to accelerate recovery I turn to “Gnarly Whey”. “Gnarly Whey” is high quality, minimally processed and contains naturally occurring Glutamine. It is a concentrate as opposed to an isolate, meaning less processing. Less processing is important because more of the nutrients and enzymes in the protein are present and absorbable, but it also means it is not lactose free. At first this concerned me. I do NOT do well with dairy. However, Gnarly incorporates prebiotics, probiotics and a digestive enzyme blend into their whey, which helps make lactose more digestible. I can honestly say I have never had an issue with digesting this product. I have a serving after every session in the gym or day out at the rock, and sometimes I have another serving before bed if I feel like I didn’t get enough protein in my day.
I am not saying you need to get every Gnarly product out there to be able to go and try your best. And if you have the time and energy, you may be able to get by with real foods alone. I’m offering up what I have tried and what works for me as a highly active athlete who relies on strength, energy and recovery to maintain my career. I do encourage everyone to think about your nutrition when you are doing your sport, and not to be scared of trying supplements to support the foundation of real food in your diet for healthy nutrition as athletes and people.