Carbs for Climbing

Dietician Louise Ferreira takes us through the science of carbohydrates...

As climbers, we put our bodies through a lot, and so it’s essential that we give them the right fuel. A great place to start is making sure you’re getting in all your macronutrients, i.e. fats, protein and carbohydrates. But not all food is created equal, and choosing the right nutrient sources is critical. Carbohydrates in particular offer excellent fuel for strenuous exercise, but they have become something of a controversial topic. To clear things up and explain some of the science behind the snacks, we’ve got dietician, Pilates instructor and fitness coach Louise Ferreira is taking us through the good, the bad and the ugly of carbohydrates…


Carbohydrates are good when they are packaged the way nature intended them to be.  We find them in fruit, some vegetables, dairy products and starches.  These foods are packed with nutrients essential for our body’s functioning.  The most feared of these is the starch food group and so we’ll focus on that in this article. Foods in this group are made from grains, and grains have three major components – the bran, the endosperm and the germ.  When left unprocessed, we call these products whole grains. 


Changes in the food industry over the years have brought about a rise in processed foods.  These are cheaper, tastier and more convenient to store and cook.  Processing whole grains turns then into refined carbohydrate products.  When a grain is refined, the bran and germ are removed and about 75% of the nutritional value of that food is lost.  We lose protein, fibre, essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, B vitamins and some minerals. This should ring alarm bells for us – if the main purpose of eating is to fuel the body for optimal functioning, then why are we choosing foods that have lost so many good things? One of the best things you can do for your body is choose whole grain products over processed food – it’s a small change, but it makes a big difference.  


The heat is turned up for people living with, or with a family history, of insulin resistance or diabetes. In addition to the deficit in nutrients, eating refined carbs actually adds to weight gain for this group of people.  By removing the germ and bran of grains, we increase their glycaemic index (i.e. the rate at which a food’s sugars are released into the blood stream). This quick release causes an insulin spike and the more resistant you are to insulin, the more insulin you’ll produce in order to bring your blood sugar levels down. High levels of circulating insulin cause hunger (often triggering a binge), fatigue and weight gain.  You can find out more about insulin resistance with the below video:

It’s clear that some carbs are good for our health, while others are less so… but picking the healthy option isn’t always easy. A great place to start is making a few swaps in your diet – for example, switch out white rice, pasta and bread for whole grain varieties. It’s also always a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet by sweetening meals with fruit rather than honey or sugar.  If you’re looking for a yummy crag snack that will give your body all the right stuff, consider one of the following options:

● Dried fruit and nuts (these are very energy dense, so you’ll get a sustained energy release without feeling full)
● Carrot and/or cucumber sticks with hummus and/or tzatziki (these are great low GI sources of protein and carbs – great for anyone looking to shed some weight)
● Egg mayo sandwiches on wholewheat bread
● Banana or apple with nut butter

You don’t have to be perfect from the get-go, but making an effort to change a few small things will make a very big difference to your health. Your body works so hard for you – fuel it well!