Photo Credit: Jason Stuckey Collection
Steve House’s Summit Day Nutrition Plan
Steve House is best known as a climber. He’s also a husband, a father, a mountain guide and an author of two books. Most recently, he co-founded Uphill Athlete, a platform for openly sharing proven training knowledge in the sports of alpinism, mountaineering, and more. House coaches alpinists to achieve their highest level of fitness so they can achieve their own goals. We sat down with Steve to outline his nutrition strategy for a big-mountain summit day.
What do you eat the night before a summit push?
Steve House (SH): This is typically determined by the logistics of a particular climb, but my go-to bivouac meal is dehydrated mashed potatoes with butter and some soup mix for flavoring. The emphasis here is weight and simplicity of preparation over nutritional needs (there is almost no protein in this meal). Dry roasted/unsalted nuts and chocolate are typical pre- and post- “dinner” supplements which add valuable calories. A package of the GU Chocolate Recovery Drink, mixed with water (no milk up there) is great for the extra Amino Acids* and the 10g of protein for recovery; if I can make it happen logistically. Most commonly I don’t pack a cup or bowl to mix a recovery drink in. So, sometimes the recovery drink often gets left out simply because there is no way to make it.
*These are the building blocks of protein.
- Steve’s Tip: “Cook” the mashed potatoes in a double layer of gallon-freezer-Ziploc bags. Hydrate the mixture, seal the bag, and squeeze/shake it around to mix it before putting it inside your jacket to stay warm while re-hydrating. The added benefit? Your potatoes will keep you warm!
What do you eat the morning of your summit day push?
SH: I typically have one or two GU Stroopwafels and a caffeinated GU Energy Gel. These are consumed with my warm (not hot as it takes too much fuel) morning liquids.
- Steve’s Tip: Keep the GU products you will have with breakfast in an inner pocked of your jacket overnight to keep them warm.
What do you eat on your way to the summit?
SH: Depending on the temperature, my pace, and the amount of water I have, I like to eat Energy Stroopwafels and Energy Gels. I try to stick to 100 calories an hour as long as I can.* Often, due to either exertion or altitude (or both), my appetite leaves me and I struggle to keep this pace of oral intakes. But, when I can be disciplined about this, everything in relation to the climb and descent goes better.
*You can’t eat and climb the same way you can eat while running, and you are often limited by how much you can carry, but if you can, GU recommends shooting for 200 calories an hour.
Do you eat anything on the summit?
SH: It depends on the weather, but most often I’ll eat a GU Energy Gel. If it’s a mellow day or a day-climb and the weather is good, I’ll often bring a sandwich for the summit which helps me feel sated and feeling good (this is more the exception than the rule). When weight and simplicity are the priority, I rely heavily on the Stroopwafels and Gels. Sometimes I’ll bring Energy Chews as a treat.
How about on the way down?
SH: I try hard to stick to the something-down-every-hour rule with Stroopwafels and Gels. Often on big climbs the descent, and doing it safely, is the crux. People are tired, conditions (snow and ice) are typically worse in the afternoon than in the morning, so it’s important to keep fueling the brain just as much as the body. A lot of critical decisions and important judgements have to be made while working one’s way down the mountain.
What do you eat the evening after a summit push?
SH: My typical bivy or high-camp routine starts with unsalted roasted almonds and cashews, a soup (mostly for the electrolytes and liquids, not the calories), followed by one of three typical meals: a freeze-dried dinner, dehydrated mashed potatoes with butter, olive oil or some soup mix for flavoring, or instant-style stuffing with butter (all cooked in Ziploc bags or in the freeze-dried pouches). Proteins are typically too heavy to take on my climbs. These climbs tend to be very technical, and the extra weight just makes this more difficult as I have to carry everything myself. Again, Recovery Drink Mix is always a good idea if you have something to make it in.
What do you eat the following day?
SH: My joke for the day after is ‘fast and light’ which really means ‘cold and hungry’. Breakfast tends to be whatever is left, and then lunch is truly whatever, if anything is left after that. My typical calculations are to include exactly enough food for a best-case scenario schedule (and yes, I’ve gone days without food as a result), but what is more critical especially in winter and high-altitude mountaineering, are the fluids which must come from stove-fuel. So, a typical big alpine route might look like 3 days food, 5 days fuel. You never, ever, want to run out of fuel to melt snow into water.
- Steve’s favorite Stroopwafel flavor: Hot Chocolate in the morning and Gingerade after that.
- Steve’s favorite Gel flavor: My favorite flavor is variety, I like to mix and match. Best new flavor is a tie between Cola Me-Happy and Gingerade!
If you are interested in learning more about Steve House or proper training to achieve your big-mountain goals, visit House at www.uphillathlete.com.
Photo Credit: Jason Stuckey Collection