Have you ever developed your solid nutritional regimen, trained really hard, and then come “game time” you go entirely off what you’ve done?
Sometimes even the simplest of things can really put us in a pickle. This was case for me February 2016 amidst a winter ascent of New Hampshire’s highest peak, Mount Washington. Far from a seasoned mountaineer, but with ascents of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo in Ecuador, tallying in at 19,347ft and 20,564ft respectively, Mount Washington at 6,289ft seemed like a breeze. Not to take it lightly as my partner and I initially intended to traverse the majority of the Presidential Range, I bumped up my normal training to get more sport specific in building tree trunks for legs and further my core stability. In all the trips, I’ve taken, I never felt more physically prepared.
On the ride up from the Mid-Atlantic, we started checking weather reports for North Conway, NH and of course the summit of Mount Washington. Things looked bleak for a traverse of the range as they were estimating gusts of up to 100mph across the ridge, and temps of lower than -40 F with windchill, so we made the call of going for a summit bid of Mount Washington every day of our planned trip rather than risk a night or two out in those conditions.
So after a hearty breakfast of eggs and hash browns (way out of my norm for powering up for endurance days and really not a breakfast I each much at all), we set out from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on snowshoes with our eyes on top of the White Mountain’s highest point. A little over halfway to the summit, we made the call to switch to crampons and ice axes and kept trekking. We hit the tree line, and I was starting to feel totally wiped. I kept thinking to myself of all the training, I had done leading up to this trip, which had got reduced to a little over a half day climb. We were only about three miles into an eight mile round trip day, and I was losing a lot of strength. The wind picked up as we continued to climb, visibility became minimal, only to the next highly stacked cairn, but we made the call to ascend…as long as we could see the next cairn we would keep pushing on. My legs felt heavier and heavier until we finally reached the summit!
After a quick photo op from the top, we made our way over to a small area protected from the wind. “Dude, it’s only been four freaking miles and 4,000 vertical feet. What’s going on?” I said to myself as I finally snuck away from the wind and kneeled down to grab a bar from my pack. Then it hit me. “Dummy, you’re a Certified Health Coach, working with people on their nutrition, and you made the mistake of providing absolutely no substance of carbs or sugar for hours, AND you ate a breakfast that was abnormal from your daily nutrient intake.” I ate the bar and within seconds felt like we were back on mile 1 of the climb. I ate a second bar and felt even better. I saved the last 2-3 bars for the rest of the descent because as well all know the best mountaineer is always the one that gets back home. And little did I know how thankful I’d be for this “epiphany,” as our trip back to the Visitor Center greeted us with 60+mph winds, a wind chill of -30F, and a temporary whiteout.
Pre-workout and mid-workout (especially in endurance sports) nutrition is crucial to performance. Fueling and maintaining high carbohydrate intake is associated with delayed onset of fatigue and increased muscle glycogen stores both leading to increased performance (1). Nutrition in the outdoor world can be tricky as you don’t have readily available resources and lightweight travel can be of the utmost importance. Trying out a few different forms of carbohydrate consumption when you’re in the front country can help to see what works best for YOUR body as everyone’s needs are unique.
(1) ***Source-National Center for Biotechnology Information, Sugar and exercise: its importance in athletes.