Best climbing recovery tips: Foods, posture and prevention

Best Climbing Recovery Tips

We’ve all been there – a quick boulder followed by the pub, or a big day out on the hill followed by cramped hours of driving, scoffing whatever comes to hand – both leading to not feeling great the next day. We’ve asked Elspeth Yates of Onsight Nutrition to put together this starter pack of best climbing recovery tips to help beat the next day blues.

When approached us with the idea of a blog on recovery we jumped at the chance, not just because our products are designed specifically for climbers and recovery but because people get it wrong so often.

Recovery is just as important as your physical training and is regularly forgotten until it’s too late and injury or exhaustion take over. So what do you need to recover? Maybe a beer and pizza in front of the TV before crawling into bed late at night, or heading straight from the gym to the pub, because…you can eat later right!?
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Back to the recovery topic in hand: This might be OK once in a while but if this is your regular pattern you are going to rapidly see your performance deteriorate and the day after a climb or training session you’ll feel achy and tired. The best thing about recovery is it’s actually really easy, you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment and you still get to eat!

Best climbing recovery tips


Best climbing recovery tips: Rest and sleep

Why rest and sleep? Our bodies are complex machines and different processes happen during waking rest and sleep, both being important for our recovery post exercise. If we spent all our waking hours exercising and only ‘rested’ during sleep, we would quickly become less mentally capable and our muscles would begin to break down as our bodies became deficient in many of the hormones and nutrients it needs to rebuild the damaged muscle.

Sleep is vitally important to recovery no matter if you exercise once a week or you are pro-athlete. While we sleep our bodies release hormones which enable and encourage tissue growth, we need this to continue repairing the ‘damage’ done by exercise. Lack of sleep can further deplete our already exercise-depleted glycogen stores and increase the stress hormone cortisol which can leave us fatigued.

Ever wondered why you catch more colds and get more illnesses when you haven’t slept enough? Well it’s largely due to the fact that during sleep we make more white blood cells and in turn these attack the bacteria and viruses that make us unwell. We all know that training, climbing or competing is much harder if you are ill, so get some decent Z’s and enjoy illness free exercise.

Best climbing recovery tips: Nutrition

This is a huge topic and cannot be answered simply however there are some important principles to remember. The first and most important is that if you are thinking of making a major change to your diet then consult a professional, don’t just trust what the internet says. What works for a professional athlete may not be ideal for your average office worker and vice versa. The following however are points which everyone can implement no matter what your level of training and/or exercise and are easy to do if you are not already.

Protein synthesis is key to improving strength however poor nutrition can hinder this process and lead to your muscles becoming weakened from exercise rather than strengthened. If poor quality, or insufficient protein is consumed post exercise this protein breakdown can continue. Ideally you want to be eating eggs or drinking a whey protein shake within 30mins of finishing exercising, you can even drink this while doing your stretching…….more on this shortly.

Best climbing recovery tips: Water/Hydration

Our bodies are made up of A LOT (on average 60%) of water and maintaining this level is essential not just to performance whilst exercising but also to recovery. The water in our system is essential to maintaining blood volume, regulating body temperature and allows muscle contractions to take place.

Dehydration can easily occur during exercise and gradually leads to a reduction in physical and mental performance. It is therefore important to consume plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Water is suitable for low intensity and short duration activity but if you are climbing or training heavily then you may need to consume a drink with added electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Best Climbing Recovery Tips


Best climbing recovery tips: Foods to eat as a regular part of your diet for efficient recovery.

We need Vitamin C and Manganese to build collagen which is a major protein in our connective tissues. You don’t need a supplement for this and can instead eat foods such as bell peppers, kale, kiwi, oranges and grapefruit for Vitamin C and Clams, nuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach and pineapple for manganese.

We can aid the formation of amino acids (crucial for the synthesis of protein and therefore repairing and building muscle) by consuming foods rich in B6 and B12 such as chickpeas, salmon, trout, turkey, bananas, eggs and fortified cereals.

Best Climbing Recovery Tips


Best climbing recovery tips: Self-massage and rolling

You may have noticed people at the climbing wall or gym rolling around on foam cylinders or wriggling up and down a blank wall with a tennis ball. This is to encourage blood flow, break down any scar tissue and release tight spots. This is essentially a free deep tissue massage, if you have a really bad spot or are concerned you have injured yourself then book yourself in with a professional but otherwise save your pennies for your next trip and get rolling! You can buy a foam roller and various other self massage tools online or at your local physiotherapy/sports therapy centre – here’s a video to give you a flavour of the various roller positions you can use:


Best climbing recovery tips: Cross training and posture

Bad posture is particularly prevalent in climbing and you will often see groups of cave man like climbers hunched at the bottom of a problem with rolled shoulders and bent backs. Why do we care? Bad posture can lead to injury. As climbers we often overwork certain muscle groups and forget to strengthen the opposing muscles which over time results in this hunched appearance.

When we have opposing muscles with very different strengths and usages we can become misaligned. Although this may seem like a separate topic, the point here is to minimise strain in the first place through preventative training. This will enormously aid recovery times in the longer term. 

Best Climbing Recovery Tips


Best climbing recovery tips: Supplements

Supplements are a great aid if you feel you can’t get all the vitamins and minerals you need through your diet. However, apart from a select few supplements most of us will be able to recover without added pills and potions.

As mentioned earlier, Whey Protein powder is one of the best ways to get your necessary protein into your body within the required time frame so this is a must in your recovery arsenal. Key things to look for in your whey protein are; a complete whey (not one that has been broken down into isolate and hydrolysed whey), low sugar or sweetener content and high BCAAs, Arginine and Glutamic Acid. All powders will contain a thickener such as xanthan gum as without this the texture is pretty unpleasant. So long as you have these and preferably no other added ingredients you have found yourself a good quality whey and shouldn’t have any side effects. If the ingredients list looks very long or has things you haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce, likelihood is it’s not the best protein out there. As for how often to take your protein this depends on how often you are exercising but as a general rule take it every time after you exercise.

It’s worth considering a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement as without a slightly crazy diet you won’t be getting your RDA of these. If you aren’t good with tablets then an option such as Onsight Nutrition’s Shield capsules can be broken and the powder within added to your protein shake or your morning yoghurt, just remember that with a supplement like this you need to be taking it every day to get the most benefit.

There are many other potentially excellent supplements for people training hard and regularly and for people with deficiencies, but this list is a good starting point for recovery for all climbers and people training for any sport.

Onsight Nutrition is a Sheffield based climbing nutrition company, which makes supplements specifically designed to make you climb better. They sponsor Llanberis-based climbing coach Emma Twyford and Russian competition climber Gelmanov Rustam.