Better Climbing Through Chemistry

Supplements are ubiquitous, but all we know about them is what our bros have told us. We know they are expensive, but do they really work?

By Rock and Ice | February 27th, 2012

Supplements are ubiquitous, but all we know about them is what our bros have told us. We know they are expensive, but do they really work?

Eating a clean diet and getting enough water, protein and energy throughout the day is the most important thing, says Eric Hörst, author of Training for Climbing whose past experience working in the supplement industry has made him an informed consumer.

A lot of misleading stuff goes on, says Hörst, even some outright fraud.

While supplements will not speed you to the land of elite climbing, they might help balance your diet, providing the necessary ingredients to enhance your climbing performance.  

However, if you are looking for Dave Graham’s crimping power in a pill, you are bound to be disappointed at best, an idiot at worst. As a global statement, says Hörst, taking supplements is a waste of money, unless you’re doing everything else right that is, training properly, eating right, and working on your mental and technical constraints.

Here is a list of common climber supplements with pros and cons and recommended doses, which will vary with body size and activity levels, do your research! Also included is an attempt to measure cost-to-benefit ratios for those who don’t want to drop a wad at Whole Foods.

Cost to benefits:

1 star: Don’t waste your money.
5 stars: Buy now!

 

GLUCOSAMINE
3 stars

THE PLUG

Research suggests glucosamine (often combined with chondroitin) plays a role in cartilage regeneration, and helps lubricate and enhance a joint’s shock-absorbing ability. In his book, Optimal Muscle Performance and Recovery Dr. Edmund Burke notes a study on athletes with cartilage damage in their knees in which glucosamine was associated with recovery in the majority of the athletes.  

 

UNPLUGGED

Glucosamine helps joints, not tendons. However, unless you’re in the golden era, you’ll likely not see much use for this elixir. It’s a good supplement for over-40 climbers with joint problems, says Hörst, probably a waste for younger climbers.

Common dose: 1,500 mg/day.

==
FISH OIL/OMEGA 3
5 stars

 

THE PLUG

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Physiology suggests fish oil could help athletes increase muscle mass. Fish oil contains essential fatty acids (EFA), namely the Omega 3s DHA and EPA. Its proven benefits include decreased muscle breakdown, reduced inflammation, increased muscle growth, faster recovery, and support of joint and connective-tissue health.

UNPLUGGED

Other than fishy breath and bad aftertaste, very few negative effects have been discovered. Not recommended in excess, it can thin blood and conflict with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Common dose: 560 mg of EPA and 310 mg of DHA.

 

MULTIVITAMIN

5 stars

 

THE PLUG

There’s growing evidence that many of us are suffering from micronutrient deficiency, writes Dr. Burke. A multivitamin might help our body obtain missing vitamins and minerals.

UNPLUGGED

Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in the body, and it is possible for them to become toxic if taken in excess. Also, check the labels: vitamins derived from whole foods are more easily absorbed, while multivitamins like Centrum are synthetically based.

Common dose: A one-a-day pill.

CREATINE
2 stars

 

THE PLUG

Studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say creatine boosts performance by helping muscles supply energy, increasing the time until fatigue, and increasing muscle mass.

UNPLUGGED

Two side effects, writes Hörst, are weight gain and cell volumizing. Creatine loading can have a negative impact on performance [in] sports that require a high strength-to-weight ratio. However, Hörst does feel that in small doses (never more than five grams) creatine may enhance recovery.

Common dose: 5 grams mixed with a high GI sports drink after a workout.

==
PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
5 stars

 

THE PLUG

Hörst says he drinks a glass of whey protein in skim milk first thing in the morning and right before bed. Lauded for quick recovery and energy enhancement, whey protein is believed to be an ideal source of muscle-building nutrients because it has a high content of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and glutamine.

 

UNPLUGGED

The relatively low cost of protein supplements makes them a good supplement for climbers. Beware of taking excess protein, your body will convert it to fat.

Common dose: 1.2 to 1.5 grams/kg body weight.

ELECTROLYTES
2 stars

 

THE PLUG

Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride are critical for body-fluid balance and  normal-cell and organ functions, and are lauded as aiding recovery.

UNPLUGGED

Electrolyte loss during exercise is quite slow, says Hörst, so even a full day of climbing won’t cause significant depletion.  In hot climates, electrolyte replacement drinks might be helpful.

Common dose: Hörst suggests powdered mixes with fructose as a main ingredient and a low glycemic index. [See page 46.]

B VITAMINS
3 stars

 

THE PLUG

Used to convert proteins and carbs into energy, B vitamins help maximize energy levels. Oregon State University research suggests athletes lacking in B vitamins have a decreased ability to repair muscles and are less likely to build muscle than those whose diets are rich in Bs.
==

UNPLUGGED

According to the study, Athletes who restrict calories or limit food groups like dairy or meat have an increased chance of deficiency. There are eight B vitamins in a B-complex supplement. Getting a balanced dose of all eight will help maintain your body’s energy levels.

Common dose: B-complex with all eight Bs (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, biotine and folic acid).

 

CONJUGATED LINOLEIC ACID (CLA)

2 stars

 

THE PLUG

Noted for its fat-burning properties, CLA has proven to increase lean muscle mass and boost the metabolism. [CLA] is a healthy oil to take for general health and fitness, says Hörst.

UNPLUGGED

Most research suggests that the side effects of CLA are minimal, restricted to mild gastrointestinal upsets. Though it’s proven to be effective, CLA is a fairly expensive supplement and it might not be worth the dime for the marginal benefits.

Common dose: 2 to 4 grams.

GLUTAMINE
3 stars

 

THE PLUG

As the most abundant amino acid, glutamine promotes the synthesis of muscle protein, increasing energy and maximizing recovery. Glutamine appears to be a wonder recovery substance.

UNPLUGGED

Hörst suggests taking glutamine after a workout, not before or during training. It breaks down and creates ammonia, he says, something that will slow recovery and perhaps degrade performance. Some protein supplements contain healthy doses of glutamine, and can cost less than glutamine by itself, which costs about $30 for eight ounces. You might be wise to kill two birds with one stone.

Common dose: 5 gm mixed with water or a high GI drink after training.

==

CAFFEINE

2 stars

 

THE PLUG

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science revealed that endurance time to exhaustion was significantly increased by caffeine, suggesting enhanced endurance performance. Many other studies have elicited similar results.

UNPLUGGED

While caffeine might give an athletic edge and boost mental awareness, be wary. Taken in excess, caffeine will give you the jitters.

Common dose: 2 mg/pound of body weight.

ANTIOXIDANTS
3 stars

 

THE PLUG

Exercise elicits a breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of free radicals. Hörstt says that vitamin C and E have both been shown to reduce muscle damage after training. C is required for your body to produce collagen for connective-tissue health.

UNPLUGGED

According to Dr. Mark A. Jenkins at Rice University, Very little is known about long-term consequences of megadoses, and antioxidants have not been shown to be useful as performance enhancers.

Common dose: 2 grams of vitamin C, and 400 to 800 International Unites (IU) of vitamin E daily. It is best to split into two doses.

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