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Ketogenic diet for rock climbers – pros and cons – review

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Ketogenic diet for rock climbers - Introduction

Climbing is a sport where the strength-to-weight and power-to-weight ratios are critical for success. Therefore, climbers understandably strive to minimize their weight while maintaining lean muscle mass, high performance, and overall well-being. Doctors initially used the ketogenic diet (KD) in the 1920s for treating epilepsy. However, recently it has been gaining a lot of attention in sports for its efficacy in controlling weight. It has also been reported to increase energy levels and recovery rates. Nonetheless, of late, it has been mainly studied from the weight/fat loss angle and its impact on glucose and fat metabolism. Still, as far as the effect on sports performance is concerned, the ketogenic diet is yet to be thoroughly analyzed 1.

My first encounter with the ketogenic diet

I first heard about the keto diet in the climbing training context when I listened to the TrainingBeta podcast interview with Neil Gresham in 2016 2. Neil claimed that the ketogenic diet did wonders for him in terms of his climbing improvement. Among the many benefits Neil mentioned:

  • feeling stronger, lighter, and more energized
  • eating healthier stuff - his palate was rewired toward vegetables
  • no sugar cravings
  • improved recovery rate - eating less pro-inflammatory foods, including gluten
  • lost 15 lbs of weight in a month without ever feeling hungry or low on energy
  • feeling mentally sharper and better mood

He said that after changing his way of eating, he'd improved from struggling on 8a+ routes to sending 8c within a year. If that doesn't spark your interest, I don't know what does! That all sounded too good to be true, but I immediately felt I needed to give it a try!

No single thing has ever made such a big difference in my climbing as this diet.

The matter was more complex, though. After doing a little more research into the topic, I realized that the evidence was conflicting and that many sources, including Neely Quinn, the podcast's author, reported experiencing several adverse effects 3. The more I explored the topic, the more I learned how vital for hard climbing carbs were 45. But I could also find encouraging voices from keto diet enthusiasts, such as Dave Macleod himself 6. I needed to get to the bottom of this, so over three years, I ran a series of experiments where I compared my climbing test results on keto and mixed diets and documented the results to get my perspective.

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References

  1. Paoli, A., Bianco, A., Grimaldi, K.A., 2015. The Ketogenic Diet and Sport. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.[]
  2. N. Quinn, Neil Gresham on Training for 5.11 and 5.12, Trainingbeta Podcast 048, Mar. 24th, 2016. (link)[]
  3. N. Quinn, Ketogenic Diet and Climbers, Trainingbeta Podcast 043, Feb. 09, 2016. (link)[]
  4. M. Michael, Keto diet for climbers, nutritionforclimbers.com (link)[]
  5. M. Michael, Why The Keto Diet Will Hurt Your Climbing, climbing.com, May 16, 2022. (link)[]
  6. D. Macleod, The ketogenic diet in sport performance - 6 years of experiments and scientific evidence, www.davemacleod.com, Oct. 01, 2021. (link)[]
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