frequently asked questions
Your questions answered by Uphill Athlete
Q: What are the ideal foods, and food combinations, to provide you the nutrition, macro and micro-nutrient requirements, and calories you need to perform, in a low weight package? And what foods work best at altitude?
A: As you likely know, nutrition is a big area, and difficult to capture in a nutshell. It also has so much conflicting information surrounding it, that it’s often impossible to find a single “right” answer to questions like these, that is right for all people, across the board. Many of the studies that appear to set a gold standard in nutrition are later contradicted by another study. Then, when you add in special needs of athletes, and altitude, the ground under any argument can become quite shaky. Beyond all that, there are urban myths based on pseudo-science, as well as fads that sweep through on a regular basis and muddy the waters.
For these reasons, we have talked about nutrition almost purely anecdotally. Neither of us is a nutritionist, nor have we spent enough time as laymen reading and investigating to be able to corroborate our findings. We are simply interested in sharing what has worked for us, and the athletes we work with.
One of the principle lessons we have learned is that we can exist quite happily on a broad dietary range. We see people not just functioning, but functioning at a very high athletic level, on everything from a vegan diet (Scott Jurek, Ethan Pringle), to Ugali (Kenyan runners), to strict Paleo, raw meats and everything in between. Our take away is that one can adapt and adjust to operate at a high level on many diets.
There probably is no one diet that is best for everyone. This same holds true for climbers at altitude. What is magic for one person can act like poison for another. All that said, with some hesitation, and the necessary caveat “THESE ARE NOT TRIED AND TRUE RULES, ONLY ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE”, here’s what we would recommend:
1) Eat simply; avoid highly processed food as much as possible.
2) Eat lots of raw vegetables.
3) Get plenty of protein, preferably from animal sources.
4) Become fat adapted through a combo of dietary manipulation, and aerobic training in a fasted state. This shows tangible benefits to all endurance athletes.
5) Keep it simple, and don’t get too caught up in “diet wars”! This has always worked for us.
Q: What I struggle with the most is finding fitness plans that I can do during the week to plan for playing on the weekend. There don’t seem to be many plans or articles for this. It seems like it’s either “how to train like a pro climber/mountaineer”, or “do this core workout to look HAWT at the gym”. There are no workout ideas for the weekend warrior who can hit the gym during the week to lift and run but cannot go out until the weekend.
A: Fitting training around work and other commitments is always a challenge. We sell several training plan options and are constantly cranking out new ones. Maybe one of these could fit the bill for you.
They are, of course, generic, and have to be tweaked to fit your personal circumstances. We also offer a personal coaching service where we work one on one with you to help you achieve your goals. Info on that service is available here. Training, in order to be effective needs to be: continuous, gradually progressive, and modulating in load. So, your mid week sessions and weekend “play” needs to be coordinated into a coherent structure. This is what most weekend warriors struggle with.
Q: I’m a retired fighter pilot in Montana, now in my 50’s, who got a pretty late start in life with all this ‘uphill’ business. Nonetheless, I dedicated the decade of my 50’s to climbing and your book came into my life at exactly the right moment. Now in my third year of systematic training, it is hard to describe just how great I feel. I feel I owe much to you, so thank you! My input for content on your new site is simple – don’t forget about us old guys (you’ll be here some day too). Our metabolisms change, max heart rates decrease, etc, as we age and it would be interesting to read what the experts have to say about training and the aging climber.
A: I (Scott speaking) think I am qualified to address your questions of aging and training. I am 62 years old and have quite a lot of residual damage to my carcass, so I have had to learn to adapt as I age. While you are correct that the max HR drops, believe it or not, our metabolism does not change. The reason you think your metabolism changes is that your work capacity drops so you can’t do as much work in an hour as you did in your 20s or 30s. So you don’t burn as many calories as you did when young. You still produce energy via the same metabolic pathways. Go for an hour run now at 10 minutes/mile and you will run 6 miles. Go for a run when you were 25 at 6minutes/mile and you ran 10 miles. Both took an hour but now you are using about half the calories for that hour run that you did when younger. But we eat as much, normally as we did in our youth. I still get after it pretty well for an old guy so I intend to address some of the age/training issues ,like injury prevention etc on the website. Keep training though. At our age we can not afford to stop.
Q: Winter is around the corner, and the new training circle for the 2017 season will start soon. I would like to learn more about the (non boring) implementation of the treadmill during winter training for mountain ultra running, when trails are blocked by snow and ice.
A: There are a couple of ways to break up the boredom of treadmill running in the winter months. It sounds like you live in a place with snow. So, how about Langlauf skiing? This is a very good way to mix in good training in the winter. You will build good strength for running and can train more volume with skiing a couple of days a week. If that is not possible then you might try some of the mini spikes to put on your shoes so you do not slip and fall on the ice outdoors. The winter should be the time to just build basic aerobic volume so the more you train the better.
The amount of time you spend training for endurance sports is closely related to the results you will get. So, staying mentally fresh and motivated is important. If you dread your training you will find excuses not to do it. The best we can do is to suggest you find some supplemental training for some winter days to make this season easier for you.
Q: I work in the financial markets and struggle with enough time to train, let alone climb. I think I could have 200 hours of training per year, at the most. I did train harder than any of my non-climbing friends when preparing for my last three expeditions (and I used your book a lot), but I always feel I am just barely breaking even with the objectives I set to accomplish. As a result, I have to take on painkillers and medicine to keep going at the end of my trips. So my 1 million dollar question is this: how can I maximize the time I have, and choose climbing objectives accordingly?
A: This is a great question, but, sadly, there is no good answer to it. If you can only train 200 hours per year, there is no special workout or magic way to pack more into those 200 hours. If you have been at 200 hours per year, for more than one to two years, then you have gotten about as fit as you can for that much time.
We are in the process of developing a training plan for people who are pressed for time, which we hope will be available before the end of 2016. It will be a compromise on our general recommendations for training, and we will be very clear about that when we produce it. But the fact is, there are many many people out there in the same situation as you, and we’d like to provide something helpful for all the “weekend warriors” out there. Keep an eye open for that. Hopefully it may help you.
In the meantime, it sounds like you are taking on too big of an objective if your body is breaking down near the end of the climb. Painkillers and NSAIDs should be a last resort to prevent further injury – not a crutch to help you achieve your goals. If you can’t complete an expedition without them, you probably need to bight off smaller goals.
Q: My passion is ski touring, and ski mountaineering. I am older (61 years old), and have one knee getting worse (knee replacement in the next few years). I can’t run with my knee, and I can only ski in resorts for about three hours without pain, but I can tour with descents all day. My doc said stop doing squats in training, so I have to work around that. What is the best course to pursue for optimal ski touring/mountaineering training when you have knee issues?
A: I (Scott) will field this one, since I had a total knee replacement 3 years ago. I am 63 years old, and a life long athlete. For several years, the functionality of my knee was on a steep, downhill slide. No, running, no BC skiing, I could barely go down stairs without a lot of pain. I couldn’t even XC ski. Seven surgeries over 35 years (most at Steadman’s clinic) after a bad climbing accident in AK in ’78 kept me patched together and able to run, ski, climb till the final 5 years.
Since my new knee I am running 1-2 hours daily. I just ran the Tour de Mt Blanc circuit (same course as the race). I can ski as well or better then ever, and have no pain or other issues with that knee. I would not hesitate to recommend getting a replacement for anyone like us who wants to be active.
Every year you wait, you become weaker and older so that recovering your previous levels of strength and fitness will take longer. I wish I hadn’t tried to limp along those past three years. Until you have a functional knee again, you will not be able to put enough load on that leg simply to maintain—let alone build—strength. If you are a candidate for replacement, then I assume all other remedial surgery options have been exhausted or ruled out. What are you waiting for? If it is done well, you’ll be happy and pain-free with 95% of original knee function. I was riding my bike 30 miles a day within a week of the surgery, and skiing 6 months out. Go for it.
Q: As a student in medical school, and a mountain athlete, I often find myself having to balance the stresses of training with the physiologic and psychological stresses of my work. For example, if I go ahead with a planned workout after an unexpected night shift or taxing day, I can find myself feeling very flat, and my training feels possibly unproductive or even harmful. I would appreciate your perspective on strategies for quantifying life stresses or recovery state to guide training volume in parallel to a busy life. Do you use heart rate variability? Is there any way to make good use of the ‘flat’ days, or should they be for recovery
A: As you are no doubt well aware, stress is stress, regardless of its cause. The effect of too much stress is to reduce our ability to handle more of it. You must consider the stress inherent in your school/work/family life before deciding to pile more on in the form of physical training.
The reason professional athletes essentially just eat, sleep and train is so they can eliminate all excess forms of stress and maximize the training stress. This lets them make the most of their training. You are currently in a very demanding (inherently stressful) occupation. Given that fact, it would be very challenging for to train effectively while in med school. A healthy level of exercise may prove to be more beneficial to you both mentally and physically and mentally at this point in your life as opposed to trying to adhere to a strict training schedule which may leave you exhausted, less fit and frustrated.
A.) I got a fitness tracker earlier in the year and have been surprised how much walking I do in addition to my training – it works out to an extra 8-9 hours/week on average. Should I just treat this as active recovery? It’s obviously very easy, low HR exercise.
B.) Do you have suggestions for how the uphill athlete who’s confined to the flatlands can train? I’m 4 hours drive from anything beyond a 100m hill. I have suffered from ITBS in the past and have problems with this when doing high volumes of weighted box steps…but have no problems doing long days in the hills even when carrying a day pack.
C.) I would love to hear advice on dealing with ITBS. I’m surprised I got it (from running) as I have strong legs. Neither stretching nor strength training have helped.
A.) It is completely up to you whether, or how, to count these low HR hours. They certainly have a beneficial recovery effect. But since this is “your” training log, just be consistent with how you count the time spent. The lower the intensity the more volume you need to have much training effect. Keep in mind, short duration (under 30 min at a time), low intensity (less than 50% max HR) exercise will have minimal training effect for someone as fit as you must be.
B.) Try the following: stairmaster, treadmill set to 15% (some go even steeper), hiking the stairs in tall buildings. We’ve used all of these many times with folks in similar situations, who have gone on to climb some big mountains in good style.
C.) For your IT band, try rolling it with a hard ball. We’ve seen this many times and it can often be fixed with LOTS of rolling on a foam roller or ball. Stretching rarely works and strength training often makes it worse. We absolutely swear by the Rogue Fitness Mobility ball. It cured Scott’s IT band, and then Scott gave it away to several friends, who got instant relief, as well. Many of our clients have been cured by using this simple (but painful!) treatment.
Q: When the workload changes from week to week, are you taking into account the total for the week (e.g. climbing, strength, aerobic), or is it solely the workload in the cardio zones that changes week to week?
A: The volume progression is limited to the aerobic portion of the overall training load. Strength training is not well tracked with volume, whereas basic aerobic work is quite well monitored with volume alone. This is especially true when the strength workouts increase in weight rather then number of sets.
Q: I’ve read different training books, my focus being mountain running. What I miss from most material is specific instruction on how to get better. Take Zone 1 heart rate training, for example. There’s a big difference between doing work in the upper part of Zone 1 compared to the lower part. At least that’s what I’ve observed based on my experience. But I haven’t seen that covered except in Joe Friels “Total Heart Rate Training” and even there it’s only touched upon. What I’m looking for is specific programming, not “2 hours in zone 1” or “30 min total in Z3”, but rather “5-6 cruise intervals of 6min/1min first week followed by 3 cruise intervals of 10min/2min next week” etc. For me that is common sense now, but it took a while for it to really sink in as a beginner…
A: The reason you are struggling to find specificity in the literature is because specific training instructions are specific only to the individual they are meant for, and are not easily generalized to a broad population other than as very general guidelines. That’s why you see the more general recommendations such as two hours in Zone One. Anyone who tells you that there is a universally applicable, formulaic, approach to training is fooling you. Scott has coached at all levels right up to Olympic athletes and one thing you can be absolutely sure of is the individual nature of the training response. You can give ten athletes the exact same workout and you will see ten different responses based on their training history, genetics and recovery state.
There is an enormous individual component to proper planning. When we wrote our book we had space limitations, and we directed the material to climbers (most of whom have no experience with endurance training or any training for that matter). Hence we tried to explain the ‘WHY’ behind general training concepts, and aimed to steer clear of blanket prescriptions that might be appropriate for someone of your abilities, but would destroy a less well-trained person. On the website we will have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the ‘HOW’ of designing specific training plans, using the same methods we use with the athletes we coach.