It’s been a while since I’ve actually done any climbing on “real” rock. This could be attributed to a variety of factors: distance from climbing, a nagging shoulder injury or a lack of time. The reality is that all of those played a role in keeping me grounded over the last several months and while it was hard for me be patient, it did give me the incentive to explore how I could leverage a more optimized diet and more accessible forms of outdoor exploration (read: running) to put me in a better place once I felt ready to get back after it.
This hiatus left a significant gap in my dietary analysis–knowing that my eating strategy works for running and hiking doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for climbing and if I can’t climb while on a diet, it’s a good bet that I won’t stick with it. I love the way the ketogenic diet worked for my blood sugar control but it felt like I might have my dreams shattered once I started putting it through its paces in the climbing arena.
Yesterday I took the risk went climbing. It wasn’t big or spectacular. I didn’t put up any groundbreaking numbers–but it still wasn’t a disappointment. Here’s why.
That’s what my blood sugar looked like over the last 24 hours, the leftmost portion of the graph hovering around the high alert (130 mg/dl) during the hour and change that I spent bouldering. If you’re rolling your eyes at the fact that I have my high alert set so low and think that this means that I am some kind of blood sugar fanatic, let me clarify: I believe that the purpose of these alerts are to identify problems before they are problems so we can treat proactively. Thus, I set my high alert at 130 mg/dl because I don’t want to wait until my blood sugar hits a level that is unacceptable to me before I start treating the rise. Once I see a rise happening, it’s likely going to go up 20-30 points in many cases. If I had my high alert set at 150 for example, I’d be topping out at 170-180 multiple times a day. It’s basically a strategy to keep me more proactive.
Good glycemic control is only half the battle though–so let’s take a look at the energy and recovery portion. I spent about an hour consistently working back and forth on a long traverse (not much fun to look at, but it crams a lot of mileage into a short rock formation!) that has a lot of solid 5.10 and low 5.11 moves. I was at about at 60% maximal effort most of the time with occasional 80% cruxes.
I realize that this is all anecdotal but coming into this from a predominately untrained state I wasn’t expecting much. I felt like I had more sustained energy which put me above a trained average performance. Typically I would experience what’s called “flash-pump” after going through 80% max effort moves unless I warmed up very gradually. A flash pump is basically when your forearms get so fatigued that they are unable to recover, even between burns. It’s incredibly frustrating because once you cross that metabolic threshold it can really compromise an entire climbing session.
Secondly I would usually see a spike in my blood sugar once I expended over 60% of my max effort as muscles began to dump glycogen to fuel the increased workload. These two anticipated issues did not arise which meant that I spent more time climbing and less time falling off. My blood sugar was 126 as I began and topped out at 141, returning to the 120s on the ride home. There were several challenging sections that I thought about bailing off in order to work through the moves but instead I climbed through them and actually surprised myself. It wasn’t a spectacular performance as I mentioned earlier–but it was significantly better than average without specific training and my recovery in the following days has also been great. If there is any significance to this, it means I’ve found a good starting point. As I add more time, training and focus into my climbing again I am hopeful that bigger goals will be achievable.
I want to add some specifics to this; namely the lunch I ate that fueled my session. I had beef broth with MCT oil (I may write about that specifically at another time), macadamia nuts, kippered herrings with mustard and cold cuts. I try to add the specifics where I can, not because I think they are applicable to everyone, but because they may help illustrate what is possible. I know some people legitimately need more carbs in their diet. I may need more at some point too.
I also think that it’s a lesser known fact that these types of results are possible with type 1 diabetes and a ketogenic diet. Many people believe that cutting down (out?) carbs is tantamount to low energy and diminished athletic performance. This certainly can be the case for some people and I don’t dispute that–but it may still be worth a try if you’re working through developing a dietary approach. I’ve done the Low Carb thing improperly before and failed–more recently I’ve done it with greater success. This is just one step in an ongoing process and there are still no guarantees that this will adapt to every level of climbing that I am going to pursue. Time will tell!
Meanwhile, a better than average climbing performance on a below average quality route still equates to a really high quality investment of time that promises to yield significant dividends down the road. Thanks to Stefanie for sharing the photos and to Lilo for graciously permitting the use of her image and likeness to promote our work.