For many climber the holy grail of train is their power to weight ratio. Having amped up their power through hard training they often feel the next step is to loose any excess weight. I can cite several recent case studies where the leading climber of our time have dropped their weigh in order to red-point the hardest routes. No one more publicly than Stevie Haston who after red-point 8c at 52, then went onto climb a 9a, in his own words he was down to consuming only 700 calories a day, which he himself described as ‘not healthy’.
It was however for him effective, however becoming totally obsessed by one weigh can have terrible consequences. Where someone might start to diet, they could lead onto to develop some form of disordered eating or in the worse case a full blown eating disorder. Some of the research I have seen that has looked at Gymnastics point to the fact that as a coach making weigh an ‘issue’ can dramatically increase the likelihood of an athlete developing an eating disorder. As such I personally don’t recommend encouraging or promoting weigh loss in young climbers in any way, shape or form.
However adults, are supposed to be grown up and responsible, so done responsibly weigh control might be a reasonable measure if you are planning on red-point or climbing a route at your very limit, if after all your hard training you need that extra edge. There are several things that you need to consider though.
Firstly if weight loss is needed for a red-point then, will a diet still give you enough energy to climb. After all we need fuel, however if you just reduce the amount of fuel you put into your system but still try and get just as much activity out of it then you will eventually become drained of energy. Inparticular if for instance you are still training hard, then there is a link between over-training syndrome and energy intake, therefore you might well loose the weight, but the cost could be chronic fatigue like symptoms.
The other alternative is to keep your food intake the same but increase your activity, in particular activity that utilises the fat that we are trying to burn off. This is best done as a low intensity aerobic activity like running, cycling or swimming, where the effort almost feels easy. This way you are simply trying to burn up any excess energy and start to break down the fat stored around your body. This activity ideally needs to last for 1 hour, and at the same time as burning fat you will also be increase you aerobic capacity.
Whilst I have yet to use a weigh loss programme, I have recently been training for a marathon, and have found that just the added aerobic exercise has made me loose weigh, to the extent that now I am actively trying to pile the fat back on for the marathon. Something that I am finding hard due to the amount of energy I can burn off, especially out on a long run.
Other strategies are to look at what you eat, so at the same time as concentrating on getting enough vitamins and minerals, you can shift what type of energy you take on by reducing the your fat intake and replacing it with simple carbohydrates.
The next issue is that even though you might be loosing fat from your body your weight might not be going down, as you might be build muscle to replace it. The only way to detect this is to know you % body fat. However, this is harder than you might think, as Body Mass Index calculators are notoriously inaccurate, even machine that use electrical impedance devices at gyms are also far from perfect. Even with there inaccuracies they might well help track the changes you are making. Interestingly in physiology papers even elite climbers still show a average % body fat of around 10%, obvious some lower and some higher.
There is of course so much more to losing weight than this however the key points are:
- Simply reducing calorie intake may lead to fatigue
- Additional exercise may help burn the excess fat, again too much and too little food = fatigue
- Changing the type of food from fat to carbohydrate
- How can you monitor the change in Body Composition