Nutrition by Training Phase

Hi all! Curious how you think about tuning nutrition by training phase e.g. what might you change when moving from, say, strength to power? Open to any and all ideas whether it be macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat), supplements, vitamins, total caloric intake, etc.

In general I feel I have a reasonable base of knowledge when it comes to nutrition, but I’ve never really altered my diet by training phase except to cut a small amount of weight (3% BW) for performance. I tend to prefer whole foods, but I recognize supplements have their place.

No need to detail your nutritional plans in full, more just curious about the tweaks you make between phases. Some things happen without explicit planning (e.g. when you’re exercising less you may be naturally less hungry and thus reduce caloric intake), but I’m guessing there are also ideas out there that are less intuitive.

Also open to nutritionist recommendations! I live in the Seattle area but definitely open to remote.

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To me, strength and power are pretty similar nutritionally.

It is also a topic that, when explored, can quickly devolve into

There is a lot of knowledge to borrow from other sports communities. For instance, how training volume relates to carbohydrate needs.

However, I’d urge that rather than trying to learn about it in a theoretical sense where it becomes oh, so very easy to fret about what would be “optimal” instead focus on what’s “good” and in particular focus on what is good for you.

You are your own individual, with your own genetic make-up, and that will have the greatest impact on what you should eat. Let others supply ideas, sure, but listen to your own body first. And, if you do decide to go on a path where you very intentionally alter what you’d eat based on what you believe that’ll do for your performance do plan out to have a break from that behaviour lest it fester and become compulsive. I’d call it a “diet” break, or maybe a “deload”.

Before going into anything more specific, I for one would like to know who I’m talking to. Are you okay? Have you had problems with obsessing about food in the past? I realise this is an “open” forum and anything that we relate back and forth can be viewed by a person that has issues and I haven’t yet figured out how I want to deal with that.

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@Bolognafingers thanks for the perspective. I’ve experimented quite a bit over the last 4 years or so with diet. I’m definitely not focused on optimal. I do realize the specific nature of my examples (e.g. macronutrients) made it seem that way. My main goal here is learning - I’ll never have a “perfect” diet, but ideally I’m always gaining new insights and tweaking things around to fuel my body as best as possible (of course given other constraints).

In the past, through focusing on specific elements of my diet I’ve developed stronger intuition - e.g. I used to eat too little protein (for my specific needs). Through being explicit about eating more of it, the idea eventually became second nature to me. When bringing crag snacks, I automatically include high protein foods like bone broth (great cold weather bouldering snack!), instead of only packing, say, fruits.

I’ve also experimented in the past with supplements. I tried creatine for a strength building phase once based on some research. I learned this isn’t a great mechanism for me - the cost (bloating, needing to take a supplement everyday, weight gain, money) wasn’t worth the benefit, which was quite limited for me. But I wouldn’t have known all this had I not tried. Creatine works well for plenty of climbers!

Anyway, interested in experimentation I can do to learn more about what works for me. Things like “I’ve found I recover better when I have an electrolyte drink for my longer gym sessions”. That insight I can say is at least true for me (though my experimentation wasn’t super rigorous so I can’t say definitively). Anyone else have insights like this?

I don’t know if that was a red flag for me specifically. Given that I’ve had and continue to have a problematic relationship with food I think I worry when someone raises the topic. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on performance, and fall out of touch with having food be something that is enjoyable, nourishing, sociable, etcetera. and regrettably allow it to become a source of anxiety.

Eating things that agree with oneself, and that results in a well-functioning body is all well and good but if it becomes impossible something that one is craving regardless of how others would categorize that food item then that’s unfortunate. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, and I wouldn’t like others to have to walk down that path. Especially not as a consequence of how I communicate with them.

Outside of specifics such as bone broth, what else works for you? What food stuff do you thrive off of? What do you enjoy? Are you able to progress with your current nutrition and training? If yes, do you really need to change anything/do anything better as opposed to just riding out the gains you are still reaping?

Intuition is great, I’d court that as much as possible. Learn to read what your body wants, and provide it with ample variety. If you do that, supplements can still have a place but they’ll never be necessary.

Do you pack both now?

Which ones? Creatine and electrolytes? Any others? What/how does an experiment look for you? How long is a phase?

What do you mean? Indigestion? Or becoming more “blurry” and less defined? If it is the latter you might find that subsides over time as your body becomes accustomed to holding more water.

Rather than doing a loading phase, have you tried just taking 5g every day? That might make the transition less abrupt.

In what way does this discomfort you? Not wanting to rely on supplements? Remembering to take it?

Inevitable when taking a supplement that impacts water retention. FWIW, maybe you’ll hold some more weight but unless you are in a peak performance phase maybe consider that weight to be “training weight”. If it affords you to train harder/recover better the trade-off might be worth it. Or what are your thoughts here? How do you view weight in this context? The 3% BW that you dropped, was that a permanent drop? Do you find that you have to actively work to suppress your body weight to stay at that weight?

Considering creatine is one of the cheapest supplements there is on the market I’d be remiss to suggest any other supplements if this is a barrier. Who is your supplier? Are you maybe purchasing something that is overpriced?

As far as supplements go, I consider creatine monohydrate to be “simple”. As long as the product is purely creatine monohydrate there is very little to differentiate an expensive option from a cheap option. I’d shop around until finding one that doesn’t cause gastric distress. Personally, I go for the most dirt-cheap option available to me that I’ve found and experience zero problems with it.

I have a concoction with me whenever I hit the weight room. Part of that is electrolytes.

If I’m climbing early morning (little to no breakfast) or doing a long-duration session I bring the same mix. It’s a blend of a few powders (stand-alone supplements), and I found that it was cheaper to buy the ingredients myself as opposed to buying ready-made blends. It doesn’t have everything that I’d desire but it is at a sweet spot for me between what I get out of it and how much it costs.

I train at least once per day, sometimes two or three times per day, and even though my calories reflect my output I cannot feasibly sustain the same amount of training stress if I omit intra-workout nutrition. That is to say that even if I take the calories and macronutrients that the intra-workout shake consists of and make up for it during the rest of the day I still cannot train at the same level.

@Bolognafingers thanks again for all the detail here. I’ll number my responses to the different parts of your post:

  1. Disordered eating - Absolutely agree that food is so much more than performance, and that relationships with food can be complex. I don’t profess to be any sort of expert in this space, so I’ll keep my response brief. For me personally I’ve found that starting from an intuitive eating plan and then making tweaks works a lot better than trying to construct a “perfect” diet from the ground up. Nutrition is so complex that any “perfect” diet is sure to be…imperfect. I try to leverage heuristics, many of which have become second nature. e.g. variety, local, in season, lots of plants, different colors, protein / carbs / fat in every meal, not eating right before sleep, etc. One aim of my original post is to discover news ones! The scope of the post was ideas specific to training phases, but I’m open to general knowledge too.

  2. Yes, I absolutely feel that I’m able to progress with my current nutrition and training. I’m intentionally trying to be proactive about discovering new mechanisms - maybe there are ones that work even better than the ones I’m currently using. Of course, like most things, it’s a balance. I’m not intending to change everything. But I’ve consistently learned in my climbing that what got what got me to milestone x is not exactly the same as what got me to milestone x+1 . At least training-wise, doing exactly the same thing over and over has lead to not only stalling gains, but also injury. Even if the new exercises aren’t “better” than the olds ones, I can learn through them making me more likely to find better ones the next time.

  3. In terms of what food I thrive off of, I mentioned a few principles I try to abide by in 1 - variety, local, in season, lots of plants, different colors, protein / carbs / fat in every meal, not eating right before sleep. I also try to not to eat heavily processed foods, both because of reason, and they tend to not be as satisfying. I think it’s really hard to isolate “reason” and intuition, though. I enjoy whole foods more than processed ones at least partially because I’ve conditioned myself to believe they are, on average, more nourishing. I don’t have strong preferences in general though. I don’t like any one fruit better than all the others, and I don’t have any dietary restrictions. I try to eat based on the situation - if I just had a long day at the crag I’ll eat a heavier dinner than I would on a rest day. I’ll eat a higher ratio of carbs to protein and less fat immediately before an RP effort.

  4. Yes, I pack both fruit and bone broth! I also bring rice crackers and sardines, maybe an avocado. Sometimes dried meat (I prefer biltong over jerky, due to the lesser amount of added refined sugars).

  5. Supplements - creatine, caffeine, preworkout blend. Creatine was my most “scientific” experiment if you can even call it that. I now forget exactly the specifics, but I did do a loading phase for I think 2 weeks and then continued to supplement for an additional 6. It’s impossible to have a comparison group when your sample size is 1, but at least by “feel” I didn’t notice being more powerful / strong, nor recovering faster. I gained about 4 pounds (183 → 187) over the course of the whole experiment. By bloating I mean physical bloating. My stomach was distended for an hour+ post supplementing. “Needing to take a supplement every day” takes on a negative connotation for me for a couple reasons. I don’t like having a dependency on something, and the time tested nature of most supplements is limited. Humans have been eating berries for a long time, and we seem to be ok. We haven’t been supplementing with creatine for that long. Lindy effect - Wikipedia - interesting read. “If it affords you to train harder/recover better the trade-off might be worth it” - absolutely, though I didn’t really notice the positive effects.

  6. 3% BW drop - no, I was able to maintain the weight pretty easily as I was climbing outside very often (I was on a trip). I’m slowly (2 lbs over the last 2 weeks) gaining the weight back as I just finished a rest cycle and am now starting a training cycle again.

  7. Money - yeah, not a very significant thing for me in terms of creatine cost. Just listing as a downside. Had I more obviously noticed positive effects, I wouldn’t think twice about this.

  8. “That is to say that even if I take the calories and macronutrients that the intra-workout shake consists of and make up for it during the rest of the day I still cannot train at the same level.” - I like this. I think intra session nutrition is important, and it’s an are I haven’t explored much. If you don’t mind sharing what do you find works for you in your shake? Have you also experimented with foods (e.g. eating a banana mid session)?

Good, I like the way you think here.

Gotcha, I understand your rationale and motivation.

Nothing wrong with not being reliant on processed foods. All depends on what the relationship to it is.

Sounds like an okay set. Do you make your own bone broth? I would maybe bring some slower carbs. I tend to be a hungry person, and have to have some stuff that is more satiating. Bread goes a long way for me. Biltong is great. An ex-coworker of mine used to bring it straight from South Africa to the office when he was visiting. Can’t really find quality biltong nearby where I’m at nor at a decent price.

I understand why you don’t want want to use it anymore! All I can say is that this doesn’t happen to me, and maybe you could find a brand that agrees better with you.

I respect that. But, since you tried creatine I guess this is a “soft” barrier?

Bodybuilders have been supplementing with creatine long enough for me not to be concerned but your point of comfort and mine may differ.

I can’t say that they are readily tangible. I don’t “feel” it in the gym, but overall my training can have a greater degree of intensity/volume/frequency.

Right now it consists of a bunch of scoops. Gram measurements are a range that I’ve found reconciles with the scoop in the pack.

  1. a scoop of creatine (3-5g)
  2. a scoop of beta-alanine (3-5g)
  3. a scoop of citrulline malate (3-5g)
  4. a scoop of EAA (10-14g)
  5. a scoop of highly-branched cyclic dextrin (30-40g)
  6. one to two scoops of electrolyte powder (1-2g)

if I have leucine I’ll have a scoop of that as well.

Creatine
Insofar as climbing goes it is doubtful that creatine helps directly with anything other than bouldering. Holding water in the cells probably helps with recovery overall. As far as I understand, creatine has a role to play in efforts that range from 20-40 seconds, possibly a minute. As far as my own training diet goes, creatine applies to bouldering and what I do in the weight room. For another climbing it might also have utility when campusing, or doing heavy sets of weighted pull-ups.

Beta-alanine
For other training modalities where the effort is measured in minutes (1-5 minutes) you want beta-alanine.

Soccer players, boxers, competitive rowers are some athletic populations that have seen performance increases from supplementing with beta-alanine and I see some overlap in my own training with theirs.

Citrulline
Appears to have benefits for recovery as well as allowing more sustained aerobic output.

EAA

This is flavoured, and makes the drink semi-palatable. Also, it’s protein, and I want amino acids present in my bloodstream when I’m training.

Highly-branched Cyclic Dextrin

This is essentially carbs, and while I’m sure Vitargo is familiar to most people HBCD might not be. It’s similar, but cheaper.

I go for about 30g, but have gone as high as 80g for weight-training sessions. I do not experience the same benefit with say a banana.

How much carbohydrates are necessary relates back to training volume. Here’s an example no longer available online but that I’ve marked down in the past,

CASE 1 – Marius is an Olympic lifter, each of his workouts last about 2 hours because he needs more mobility work, then he needs plenty of warm-up sets to work on his technique. When he gets to his work sets he does 5 sets of 2 on the snatch, 5 sets of 2 clean & jerks and 5 sets of 2 front squats. This is a total of about 30 work reps… maybe up to 60-70 reps when we count warm-ups. And none of the sets are longer than 10 seconds (this means that he never needs to rely on glycogen for fuel).

CASE 2 – Will is a powerlifter. His workout lasts about 90 minutes. He does one main lift (squat for example) for 5 sets of 3 reps, 2 main assistance exercises (let’s say front squat and goodmorning) for 5 sets of 5 each. He finishes off with some muscle building work, 3 sets of 8 leg curls and 3 sets of 8 leg extensions. He has a total volume of about 115 reps. 16 of his sets last a little over 10 seconds. So he does use a little more glycogen for fuel than Marius but doesn’t rely heavily on it.

CASE 3 – Danko is a bodybuilder. His workout lasts about 60 minutes. He is in pre-contest mode and does supersets to have a higher caloric expenditure. He does three supersets: A1 Bench press + A2 Bent over row ; B1 Incline DB press + B2. Chin-ups ; C1 Weighted dips + C2 Seated cable row. He does 4 sets of 12 reps per exercise using a fairly slow tempo. His volume is around 290 reps and his sets all last longer than 20 seconds, relying heavily on glycogen for fuel.

CASE 4 – Taz is a Crossfiter. He does a WOD with a time cap of 30 minutes. During those 30 minutes he does 4 rounds of:

20 deadlift @ 225lbs

20 power clean @ 135lbs

20 push press @ 135lbs

20 KB swings @ 32lbs

20 burpees

Each round has 100 reps so his workout includes a total of 400 reps. He uses mostly glycogen for fuel since the 30 minutes are non-stop

The reason for its inclusion to me is to stimulate anabolism and counter-act catabolism. I train a lot, and training is inherently catabolic. One part of training that is catabolic is when the body has to release cortisol to release glycogen stored in muscles, and cortisol is inherently catabolic. I don’t want to break myself down to such a degree that I over-train and under-recover.

On your cells, muscle cells and fat cells alike, there are insulin receptors on the outside of the cell wall that when exposed to insulin allows for nutrients in the blood stream to enter the cell. Carbohydrates stimulates the release of the hormone that is insulin. Additionally, inside your muscle cells there are glucose transporters (GLUT-4) and they translocate to the cell wall when the muscles contract and then they allow glucose to exit the blood stream and enter the cell.

I’d love to write more, but I already did. And discourse couldn’t save the post. So I’ll leave this post as a bit of a hodge-podge and allow for more questions to come.

No, though this would likely be a cheaper alternative.

Yeah, I think I’m going to try again. Currently starting a strength building phase and am not really seeking to be in optimal performance mode until the spring.

Definitely. If the ROI is there.

Any specific elecrolyte powder you like? I’m using this one, but my guess is there may be a cheaper alternative that’s more of less equivalent. I don’t like all the sugar alcohol that’s in it either. Also anything specific you try to eat post session?

I go for this one. It doesn’t have feature parity with the one you opt for but it is a lot cheaper. It’s not flavoured though, nor is it neutral. You’ll want to hide it with something that is flavoured.

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I’ve only played this game once. Lost about 15lbs across 6-7 weeks of a power phase. Felt great!..for about 10 goes total per day and then I fell off a cliff. Havent tried it since because it was just too extreme of an approach, cost me a decent bit in my social life and marriage, and didn’t pay big enough returns. I feel like folks talk about how this approach during the power phase makes sense all the time and can totally be done but I always see these folks get injured while doing it. If you’re single play around with it but in my experience Significant Others aren’t ready for eating different stuff for dinner because you’re in a power phase. Keeping strength training in my regiment throughout has been a great way to know when I’m not eating enough, If the lifts feel desperate it usually means I haven’t eaten or rested enough and I’m not sure why I would think I can climb well when I’m nervous/weak under the bar.

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Not sure what 15 lbs is as a % of your BW, but that does sound pretty extreme! I cut 2-3% of my body weight (5 lbs and I’m 185) and even that wasn’t exactly easy. I did not experience a drain of energy though, and do think it improved my sport climbing performance (albeit in a moderate way…if it impacts your training negatively the benefit may not be worth it at all). I think my “fighting weight” for bouldering is a little higher though, closer to 185. Hard to say and probably depends on the nature of the bouldering. FWIW, my significant other was doing the same thing at the same time, so that made it easier.

I went from about 170 to 155 when I did it. I would definitely feel stronger for my initial attempts at boulders, but I had zero staying power for sessions longer than 90minutes. I’d feel light headed hiking out even when eating normally in the 3 weeks following this period. Its the only real period of disordered eating I’ve played around with. Since then I rarely check my weight and I’ve climbed harder at 170 than I did at 155 due to just getting stronger and better at climbing. There’s so much to obsess about in climbing and I can’t help but feel my time is better spent developing technique and strength rather than eating salads for lunch and dinner, telling myself carrots will have enough carbs to fuel a session, and eating a bunch of pickles because I’m starving but can only eat 100 more calories for the day.

Definitely, though I think nutrition can be much more than just cutting weight for performance. Maybe it means explicitly eating more than you think you need to in order to fuel a training session in which you develop strength. Or finding the right type of snack that you actually remember to eat even when in the midst of an hour-long rapid fire battle. Probably not highest on the list in terms of ROI for climbing performance for many people, but certainly another dimension to to play around with.