What your going to eat before, during and after any expedition is really going to affect your physical performance. Everything you're eating is going to be stored as glucose and be used for energy when respirating, so it's important to figure out what exact food or food category is necessarry.
Mountaineers are typically light, flexible and agile, but still very strong at the same time (having both muscular and aerobic endurance). Overloading on food is definately not recommended and eating meat is not always the essential source for protiens. Before getting started, I wanna give you some background information on what food actually is, in order to put everything into context. If you already feel confident with this subject, feel free to skip ahead.
Basics of Nutrition
Nutrients are sources of nourishment that supply the body with calories (energy), in order to provide your body with factors such as: cellular growth, immune function, and overall cell repair. It is important to balance macronutrients for optimum health and wellness. A healthy diet consists of a good balance between the 3 essential macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein). There are also two additional micronutrients, called vitamins and minerals, which provide the body with tissue repair, growth and other cell function for the body.
All of the facts that I am about the lie before you (in the inforgraphic below) about the basics of nutrition are from the website veryWellFIT. The article was medically reviewed as well on May 13, 2019 by Richard N. Fogoros (retired professor of medicine and board-certified internal medicine physician and cardiologist). He has also practiced and taught clinical cardiology and general internal medicine (20 years). The article was written by Laura Dolson who has been developing health and education websites since 1999. Her education consists of a bachelor’s degree of Science in physical therapy (University of Vermont), a master's degree in clinical psychology (California School of Professional Psychology - San Diego) and several years of doctoral work in clinical psychology, too.
They are usually referred to as the body’s most prevalent and preferred fuel source. They can be broken down by the body into sugars (glucose) and can provide the body with energy more easily compared to other macronutrients such as proteins (meat) and fats (cheese or butter) that take longer to process to digest.
"Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel. Carbs are borken down into sugar (gulcose) in the body and either provide immediate energy or are stored for later use.", says Laura Dolson (carbohydrates section of article).
There are two types of sugars that are referred to:
Simple sugars (table sugar, honey, syrup, milk, soda, fruit-juice, etc.) can be broken down by the body relatively fast, thus rising blood sugar levels quickly and then gradually drop down (a quick and fleeting impact on the body; like a sugar rush).
Complex sugars (vegetables, beans, whole grains, cereal, rice and pasta) are made up of longer chains of sugar units (thousands of them: polysaccharides) compared to simple sugars (1 - 2 units: monosaccharides and disaccharides) and take longer for the body to break down (where they are then stored for later use). They also have a longer lasting effect of providing energy for the body but at lower doses: “Complex carbs have a more steady impact on blood glucose levels.”, says Laura Dolson. Complex sugars like fiber (nuts, beans, potatoes, oatmeal, etc.) can help the body with better digestive function and control cholesterol levels.
Image from: VivaDifferences
Fats (aka: lipids) can /are:
Long term source of fuel for the body.
Provide insulation (warmth for the body)
Protection for vital organs.
On the day before an expedition, it would be a very good idea to load up on fats the night before, as they will provide long term energy for you throughout the climb. Fats even help with absorbing vitamins.
But I though fat makes you fat, right?
Well, no. Not exactly. When fat enters your body it's not just immedaitly stored as fat. Obesity and heart disease are actually caused by sugar. When you eat more sugar than your liver can normally process, it's actually stored as fat. Nowadays, the misconception has been debunked and now we know that sugar is both linked to heart disease and weight gain.
Lipids are composed of molecules dubbed "fatty acids". There are typically 2 types of fat that are reffered to:
Saturated Fats: they consist of single bonds of fatty acids. They are bad for you at excess, as they can raise cholesteral levels and lead to a stroke . Examples of saturated fats are: beef, poultry skin, cheese, ice-cream or wholse milk (3.8% fat).
Unsaturated Fats: they consist of one or more double bonds of fatty acids. Most unsaturated fats (olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, avocados or salmon) are very good for you; lower your risk of heart disease, strokes and high cholesteral levels
The cell structure of proteins are amino acids. Proteins provide:
Work in the immune system
There are a countless number of different amino acids but to simplify, there are two main types of protien:
Complete proteins: provides the 9 amino acids appropriate amounts required for building/repairing muscle. The most common are: poultry (chicken, goose, turkey), meats, seafood, eggs and milk.
Incomplete proteins: do not provide all amino acids and are usually consumed in mixed quantities (complementary proteins like salads). Typical examples: nuts and legumes (various vegetables).
The meal scheduel I complied from various mountaineering and climbing asscociations and why!
Being light doesn't just come from the body itself, but also the weight you carry with it from your rucksack (in particular: food). Mountaineering is a process of planning, taking action and ultimately reflecting on how you could do better next time. Becoming large and bulky isn't necessary and loading up on protien isn't gonna help with that either. In fact, some climbers and mountaineers are vegeterian as well, which goes to show that you can pull a variety of macronutrients from different foods (ex. protiens can be found in various types of beans, not just meat!). You can about packing food in my Skills & Knowledge page, that includes more visuals.
1. SUPPER (night before):
On the night before, it is important to load up on carbohydrates and lots of fat. Fat can actually be stored in the body as sugar and be used as a long term source. Mountaineering is a cardio sport, so large amounts of fat are going to be burned during exercise (making you lighter and healthier).
Hot Meal: Lentil soup with baked beans and potatos. These are all whole-grain products that contain fiber, which are very high in healhty, unsaturated fats. The beans will also act as a source of protien for extra cell function and help in the immune system. Fibers will also support digestive function. Your meal should also consist of 40% protien MAXIMUM (about 1.2 - 1.4 grams of protien per kg of bodyweight), in the form of tofu, fish or poultry, as this boosts your overall cell function and muscle growth. Other unsaturated fats (in smaller quantaties; like a side dish) for instance berries, nuts (almonds or unsalted peanuts) or fish (salmon or sardines) are all rich sources of fat that can help facilatize carbohydrate consumption; this way, you'll be getting the most out of your food.
Dessert: Dates, bananas or nectarines are great sources of carbohydrates as they are rich in sugar (polysaccharides) and can be stored for later use (since the sugar chains are longer).
Beverages: Be sure not to eat too fast or overload on too much food that you can't handle. Just don't go to bed on an empty stomach. Water must be drinked often to maintain body fluids and proper digestion (as well as to prevent dehydration). You can end the night off with a warm cup of tea of your choice, which will improve warmth in your core and overall improve your well - being (calm sleep).
2. BREAKFAST (before heading out): Wait 1 h of digestion before ascent
After getting 8 hours of sleep (minimum), the purpose of breakfast is to give energy for the start and half-way point of your climb. You need to consume a lot of energy (including keeping the digestive system light). Since you will already have consumed fibers the previous night (which help with facilitizing carbs), you now need to load up on lots of carbs (but no heavy meals).
Cereal: warm porridge (which provides warmth for the core) or oatmeal, are a good mix between extra fibers and a diverse mix of carbohydrates in the form of berries, like: raspberry, blueberry or cranberry.
Carbs: fruits and yoghurt. Think of oranges, apples, blueberries and all sorts of other fruits rich in sugar that you can throw into your oatmeal.
Hot Meal: Eggs and some beef and some other fruits on the side (cucumber or tomato slices)
are examples of food combinations that are both high in protien and balanced out with vitamins. No more than one meal. Two eggs is just the right amount, since you don't want to overload.
Beverages: try and stay moderate when consuming fluids. Two cups of coffee or tea is more than enough to get you warmed up. Water will be more important later on, as you will be losing lots of water when respirating. What's important is not to overload on too many drinks, as the bathroom won't be located at the piek.
After you're done eating, this is your last chance to go to the bathroom! Believe me, relieving yourself during the expedition can cut down lots of your precious time (especially with toilet paper). Your mountain guide will coach and observe whether or not there is enough time to ascend and descend from the mountain safely, but don't make their lives hard. If your going on an expedition with a group, you might slow them down as well. Communication is key in that regadard!
3. SNACK/LUNCH (breaks during ascent; sometimes none during descent):
Find yourself a lunchbox that seals well and it in moderate size. This is actually my favourite part of the packing, as it is catered towards your needs and customizations in flavours.
Power Bars: Pick out some of your favourite energy bars (preferably, at least 50% made up of carbs). Powerbars or outmeal bars typically contain a lot of fiber and sugar that are great to consume for short pit stops where you need energy (easily accessible). This will provide nourishment and some short term energy during the phases of the ascent.
Rice Cakes/Crackers: Addionally, crackers are also high in fiber and are relavtively light, so I would recommend taking a small pack or two with. Rice cakes are also very high in carbohyrates and can provide sufficient energy during your climb (take them with in moderate sizes/quantaties).
Power Gel: These energy packs may taste disgusting, but they're very compact and effective sources of instantaneous short term energy bursts. They are composed of very short chains of sugar that the body can digest very quickly, so that the body is powered. Olympic cyclers typically use these around their belts when driving, since they are quick to consume
I know this may seem logical or simple, but clean up after yourself. A part of being a mountaineer is not only being aware of yourself and others needs, but also the environment around you (be mindful and dispose of plastic properly, in order not to harm the nature or habitat of the mountain for other animals).
4. Dinner (recovery/reward):
After the descent (approximately 8 hours of mountaineering throughout), you've earned yourself a well-deserved break. Before eating anything, I would recommend showering everything off (hot water preferably to loosen the muscles) and stretching (see agility & flexibility page). Depending on your age and weight, I always like to take a magnesium pill (400 g) with a cup of water, as this provides muscles function and cant prevent delayed onset mucles soreness the next morning.
Surpirsingly enough, it's very likely that you're going to get hungry even after all of that eating. All of the fat you will previously have consumed will be stored as carbs that get absorbed very quickly. Eat as much as you have to, until your full again. Recommended dinners for workout recovery are a mix of all three macros and it is important to consume both carbs and protien in equal amounts.
Ideal Dinner: A warm meal of meat, eggs, milk, veggies and fruits
Porteins from the meat will help your body regenerate muscles, whereas the vegitables and fruits will provide cell function and energy (along with growth as well, if you're still in your teens).
le some are great sources of energy. Reflect with your mountain guide or group and then go to bed. You've earned yourself a goodnight's rest (9 hours). "When you wake up, the exhaustion will be left in your bed", climbbigmountains article linked below.
Some examples of what NOT to eat:
Hot meals during the climb: steak and pork (they'll make you heavy and peform worse; can interuppt digestive function because your exercising right after
Sandwitch: it may seem like a nice snack right? But it's not the best idea. Although some of the break could contain necesarry fibers, sandwitches contain a lot of nutrients that are either unecessary or dangerous. Eating too much (in between breaks) can lead to interrutpion with digestion (as fluids will be shacking around the intesntines) and painful stomach aches; along with rampant breathing.
Saturated fats: fries, burgers, candy/sweets, soda; these are all terrible food choices, as they consist of fluids like soda that add too much weight to the bag and only last as short bursts of energy (dissacharides). Saturated fats(junkfood) like burgers or fires have also been proven to lead to obesity and cannot be digested by the liver properly during the expedition (thus interrupting digestion.
Milk and Sodas (unecessary fluids during the climb): milk (although a good source of fat) isn't supposed to be consumed during exercise generally. It is a great recovery fluid that provides calcium which is good for your teeth and bone developement, but is not a necessary fat source as you will already have loaded up on fats the night before. Sodas like Coca Cola should generally not be drinked before and after any expedition as this will also just add more unecessary weight to your already heavy backpack and only acts as a short term energy source that has a short lasting effect (composed of mono and dissacharides). Sugars inside sodas are also not a good idea, as this contributes to weight gain which you are trying to prevent (stay light and agile).
By showing you the diet of a mountaineer, I hope you can see what the physical benefits are of adopting these eating habits for an expedition. Not only will you learn displine when packing food (along with the teamwork that comes along with it; mountain guide or expedition group), but you will also be preparing your body to perform as effectively and efficiently as possible when performing during the ascent and descent (thus improving the overall workout and experience of you climb to exert maximal effort). Food not only makes you aware of your limitaions and needs, but you're also aware of other's needs too (true mountaineering really is a team sport). Furthermore, mountaineering will also force you to act more displined when planning the packing for the next day and also being mindful of the environemnt around you when disposing of waste (plastic or excrement).
From my personal experiences, it's always been beneficial to pack properly to gain independence and just overall get a feel for the equipment. Buying the right amount of food (no too heavy or too less) and eating the right amounts the night before as well as breakfast, really helps you perform well whilst traversing across terrain and overall boost your energy. Making the most out the food you eat in the right combination will bring you to even greater physical health than ever before.
So, good luck. Don't overload on meat, DRINK A LOT and have a snack of nuts from time to time, ; )
The Cool Food Links that helped me out: MLA 8
Anonymous. “Nutrition for Climbers.” Touchstoneclimbing.com, Touchstone Climbing, 1 Apr. 2012,
Hawkins, Mike. “Food Planning for Mountaineering, Part I: Strategy - Alpine Ascents International Blog.” Alpineascents.com, Alpine Ascents International, 6 Dec. 2018,
John, Ahmad. “MOUNTAINEERING TRAINING | NUTRITION FOR MOUNTAINEERING TRAINING.” Rmguides.com, RMI Expeditions, 5 Nov. 2012, https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/2012/11/05/mountaineering_training_nutrition_for_mountaineering_training
Pugh, Dr.Grifflth. “THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION IN MOUNTAINEERING.” Theuiaa.org, International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, 21 Apr. 2017, https://www.theuiaa.org/mountaineering/the-importance-of-nutrition-in-mountaineering/