It seems like everyone is talking about macro splits these days. But does this work for fueling to maximize climbing performance?
My Answer, TLDR Style
1. Because carbohydrate and protein needs are based on grams/kilogram of body weight and vary tremendously based on many factors, macro percents don’t make the most sense.
2. A registered dietitian (like myself) can help you determine your specific macro needs depending on your personal situation.
3. Once you have those needs, tracking in an app like MyFitnessPal can be helpful to see how you hit your targets in the short term. I do NOT recommend tracking long term.
4. In the meantime, focus on consuming adequate calories and a balance of carbs, protein, and fat throughout the day.
Read on for the longer answer!
First Off, What are Macro Splits or Percentages?
So a macro percentage is simple the perfect of total calories that come from that macro.
For example, I a climber eats 2000 calories a day and 1000 of those calories are from carbs, their diet is 50% carbs. Simple enough right?
But how do we get these numbers? Each macro (carbs, protein, and fat) have a certain number of calories per gram.
- Carbs: 4 calories/gram
- Protein: 4 calories/gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
Fun fact: while not technically a macro, alcohol does contribute energy (aka calories) and has 7 calories per gram.
Before I give you an example, here are the Aceptable Macronutrient Distrubution Ranges (AMDRs) for average humans (set by the Food and Nutrition Board and Institute of Medicine).
- Carbs: 45-65% of total calories
- Protein: 10-35% of total calories
- Fat: 20-35% of total calories
Now here’s an example: let’s say you were trying to achieve a 50-25-25 split (these are random numbers by the way, not my recommendation) and eating 2000 calories a day. Here’s how you’d figure that out:
- Carbs: 2000 x .5 = 1000 calories / 4 = 250 grams
- Protein: 2000 x .25 = 500 calories / 4 = 125 grams
- Fat: 2000 x .25 = 500 calories / 9 = 56 grams
So the math is actually pretty simple, but here’s why I wouldn’t suggest trying to apply it to climbing.
Taking it Macro by Macro
Below are the macro recommendations for athletes based on grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Remember enough total CALORIES with appropriate timing is key.
- Carbohydrates: generally 3-10 g/kg/d
- Protein: 1-2.0 g/kg/d
- Fat: this is the only macro that is still represented as a percent range of total calories – 20-35%.
Now, depending on your specific situation (gender, age, height, weight, body composition goals, intensity, duration, and frequency of training, etc) there can be SO much variety in your macro needs compared to another climber who needs the same amount of calories as you.
Let’s Use Me as an Example
Based on all those other factors I listed above my BMR (base metabolic rate) is ~1300 calories/day and with an activity factor, my total estimated needs are 1900-2000 calories.
Now looking just at carbs, at this level of activity, I likely need ~285 g of carbs per day which breaks down to 57% of my total calories.
But if I upped my physical activity I‘d need up to 399 g of carbs/day and my calorie needs are now ~2300. This is now 69% of calories coming from carbs—very different from 57%.
So it’s just not a simple as standard macro percentages.
This is Where I Come in
Working with a dietitian can help you figure out what your specific needs are based on your personal situation.
At that point, it is not necessary but can be helpful to track your macros/calorie intake to see how well you hit those targets.
But I do NOT recommend calorie/macro counting long term if at all to preserve a positive relationship with food. It’s also can be really time-consuming and over complicated.
Instead of having you track, I prefer to teach you how to balance your meals and determine what 45g of carb for example looks like in food so you can estimate that way!
3 Take Aways for You:
1. Make sure you’re getting in enough total calories! Even if you eat enough protein, if you’re lacking in total calories your body will have to use it for energy which is not ideal. So if you’re hungry, you should eat something!
2. Watch your timing. Your body can utilize carbs and especially protein better with several small meals/snacks throughout the day versus one or two big meals.
Don’t go into a session hungry and try to eat within 3 or 4 hours pre-workout and 2 hours post-workout (you don’t have to add in extra pre- and post-workout meals if you aren’t hungry for them but try to keep meal timing in mind when you’re scheduling your meals and training sessions).
3. Focus on balancing your meals and include carbohydrate, protein, and fat*. One way to do this is using MyPlate (the new food pyramid) for athletes:
- Easy training/rest day: 1/4 plate carbs, 1/4 plate protein, 1/2 plate fruit/veg
- Moderate training day: 1/3 plate carbs, 1/4 plate protein, 1/3 plate fruit/veg
- Hard training day: 1/2 plate carbs, 1/4 plate protein, 1/4 plate fruit/veg
*Your protein may include fat if it is animal based—if not add some nuts, oil, avocado etc.