Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Fast and Light" Plant Based Nutrition for Mountaineering

Keeping up on nutrition is an essential part in maintaining a peak physical and mental state.   Unfortunately while alpine climbing or skiing you cant just open the fridge and make a salad in fact there are times where if you stop moving you will simply die.  We are very vulnerable out there and that's why its important to have the best gear but also the best food!
Fueling up on a living foods bar en route to Mt. Robsons NF
Through out the years I have tried meat/dairy I have tried taking that one Super duper duper food but through trial and error its become very clear to me that a well balanced plant based diet works best on the mountain.  Ultimately its not the ideal diet however when light and fast are the highest priority's there are some sacrifices to be made but with the right combination these sacrifices can be minimized.

These foods are instant to prepare, high in calories and nutrition but low in weight.  They pack a punch helping achieve sustained energy, mental clarity and overall nutrition on the mountain.

Carbohydrates - replacing the glycogen reserves - 4cal/gram

Lets start with Couscous, it packs easy, is more nutritious then pasta and prepares instantly making it a corner stone carbohydrate for replacing glycogen reserves in the muscles.  When on longer trips where variety is important or with people who are gluten intolerant/celiac steamed quinoa and millet also work but are more expensive and not as readily available.  Western couscous variety's are pre steamed so you just need to add hot water and wait 5 min.  Casbah sells flavored variety's in 7 oz (200g) bags/box's with flavors like, Lemon Spinach, Wild Forest Mushroom, Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil or Nuts, Currants and Spice.  These are organic, simple but healthy meals that you can purchase for under 5 dollars and all that is lacking when compared to freeze dried packaged dinners is a bunch of ingredients that you cant pronounce plus the extra dollars.  Its no wonder Conrad Ankor said couscous, couscous, cousous and more couscous when asked what he was eating for dinner on there 12 day assault of the sharks fin on Meru Central's (6310m) massive east face wall.  Put simply it works....  Add organic freeze dried packages of mashed potatoes for variety and difference in consistency.

*note: King Soba's Organic Buckwheat noodles work great for a gluten free alternative to couscous or to just switch it up (I personally prefer these over couscous).  Many flavors to try and they are affordable add a boulioun cube for a great soup.
Meru Central's (6310m) E face "sharks fin" in red.

Now your probably wondering... right just eat couscous with some potatoes and you will be prancing up the mountain.  Well to be honest you have 1/3 of what you need and are missing complete proteins, certain fats and vital minerals and vitamins.  Like an orchestra you need all your members in order to realize the magic. 
Ian Gale on an early Wapta speed attempt. High RPM Carbs at work

Proteins - rebuilding and sustained energy 4cal/gram

All the food mentioned in this blog post will contain a certain amount of protein but to ensure complete proteins and enough to aid in recovery I like to fix up a special bag.  Garden of life makes an exceptional organic Raw sprouted protein that with its natural enzymes makes its very easy to digest.  Also added are sprouts, cereal grass juices, fruits, spirulina, chlorella along with probiotics, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.  This makes it a very special bag that supports your nutrition in many ways while remaining extremely light.  To bulk it up a little I sometimes add hemp seeds which are also high in complete proteins.
Recovery mode on.  Ian gale, Jeff Colvin and Julie Matteau after skiing the N. twin

Fats 9cal/gram

Fat is vital to our survival and is the highest calorie to weight food component so its definitely a key part of the package.  During a bout of low intensity exercise of long duration fatty acid oxidation can contribute 50per cent of the energy expenditure.  The rest of the energy must come from carbs and the higher the intensity the more carbs are needed.  Luckily a large part of mountaineering is low intensity and high fat foods can be readily utilized.
Topping out on Robson at sunset via NF fatty acid oxidation in full swing
Jeff on the upper reaches of Mt. Sir Arthur Meagan long spring day.
My go to fat is nuts and I like to take a variety of organic nuts to take advantage of each unique nutrient profile.  Filling a ziplock bag with brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, and filberts you have a quick and easy fat source.  Because most nuts are high in omega 6 fatty acids (inflammatory)  I like to balance it out with chia seeds which are in turn very high in omega 3 ( anti inflammatory). Chia seeds are normally added to my " special bag".  Another fat that I take along is coconut oil to add to my soups and dinners improving the taste and aroma while adding a few extra calories.

Vitamins and Minerals - minimal weight maximum results

I love making hot soup and taking a pack of 6 organic veggie bouillon cubs it supplies you with a tone of minerals.  Add some spinach couscous and coconut oil improving texture and more flavor.  I also like to take rock salt to add to food and water for improved hydration and taste. 

Testing many brands I find it very important to find a multi vitamin that is raw with enzymes to allow maximum absorption.  GOL seems to put the most emphasis on maximum absorption and has a couple products that meet up to the test, Living Multi along with the perfect food greens formula.  I also like to take Wobenzum to help ensure joint health especially for those long descents with big packs.

Additional well balanced foods 60-70% carb, 15-20% fat, 15-20% protein.

For breakfast I turn to Oatmeal and to avoid starting the stove up in the morning I prepare it the night before and let it soak over night in a sealed container inside the bivi.  Containing 70% carbs 15% fat 15% protein it is well balanced but I like to add some special bag mix to it and let it all soak together for improved taste and nutrition.  Raisins and nuts are also a great addition.  

Lunch time doesn't really exist while on the mountain as it's important to fuel the body consistently through out the day.  I fill my chest pockets with GOL living food bars I like to eat about 1/2 a bar per hour.  Sweetened with honey they contain powerful antioxidants with antiseptic and antibacterial properties and along with many other organic wholesome ingredients (including Fiber) they make for a perfect go to bar that sits well in the stomach and keeps you regular.  When the opportunity arises to put the pack down I will eat some nuts and even whip up a quick batch of soup if there is enough time.  I always keep a couple emergency gels in my waist pocket on my pack. 
Out house at Mt. Alberta Hut

Finally for further hydration and immunity boost I like to brew up some echinacea tea with rock salt.

Now lets lay this all out on a table for you to see what I would take on a 3 day mission.

 It all fits nicely in a Dynafit skin bag weighing in at a competitive 2kg (4.4lbs)
List of what's inside,

2 Casbah packages of couscous
package freeze dried mashed potatoes
1 bag with a chunk of coconut oil
8-10 living food bars
2 gels
1 bag of Raw sprouted protein or meal (6 servings), chia and hemp seeds
1 bag of nuts 
1 bag of oat meal including raisens
 6 organic veggie boulioun cubs
small amount of rock salt
bag with Living Multi,  perfect food greens formula and Wobenzum.

 3 days of thriving, lets go climb a mountain!


  1. Thank you for this great advice. I'm preparing for a multi-day desert running race and this gives me some great ideas and new things to test.

  2. Thanks for reading! I'm sure the hydration will come into play. :) Hope it goes well!

  3. Great thoughts, Reiner! I struggle more to fuel myself in winter than in summer - but that's more of a hydration issue with freezing tubes and bottles and bladders and stuff. Still haven't figured it out. I figured out some great dry recipes in my kitchen last winter before heading out on the Pacific Crest Trail for 3.5 months. My dinner staples were couscous, rice and beans and instant mash potatoes. Couscous was my favorite and I made sure to add "embellishments" all of my recipes to bolster the nutritional content. I made sure to add a 1/2 cup of whatever nuts, had a flask of olive oil and put 3 heaping tablespoons of hemp seed in just about everything. I was also "stoveless" for 3.5 months - no hot water just cold. All of my recipes worked with cold water to rehydrate. I also made "beans and rice" you can buy bean flakes which rehydrate better with cold water. Instant rice (not something I never eat at home)is a good trail food as well because it's light. I made a delicious "magic rice" that was great fuel whenever: just add cold water to ziplock. Loaded with skim milk powder, chia, nuts, dried fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon, hemp it was flavorful, light and tasty. Some heavier foods that eventually made their way into my pack that were available at any old grocery store in America: I like some meat so foil pack tuna or salmon was a staple, as well as tortillas, avocado and string cheese. Heavier, but tasty.

  4. Wow 3.5 months!! :) Glad to see you approve of the couscous and thank you for your thoughts very interesting to see what other people pack when weight matters :)

  5. Hi,

    I enjoy and get a lot of stoke off your blog here. I was just curious about your thoughts on Wobenzym N, do you find it helps a lot and do you generally just take it during a tough climb? Or is it something you use daily?

    I have looked around about it online and couldnt find too much info on it, other than company stuff and people who sell it.


  6. Thanks Kyle,

    Personally I don't use Wobenzym N for my day to day activity's as I believe keeping to a natural alkaline diet is all one needs for good joint health. Its when I dont have access to fresh produce that I bring Wobenzym N as a supplement. Its made from plant based enzymes like pineapple and although it doesnt help to alkalize the body it reportedly does help with join health. I'm currently experimenting with ways to make the body more alkaline while out on the mountain and feel this is a very important aspect to be aware of.

  7. This is awesome Reiner, thanks for the tips!

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