Eating for Everest

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I love a cup of tea and a bar (or two!) of chocolate...

Apart from training and kit the other rather large area that I’m focusing on is my diet.  Hmmm food – now here’s a sensitive subject!

I think I have been lucky in my life that I’ve always been pretty active and in general can get away with eating what I like, staying healthy and not putting on too much weight.  That said, a few years ago I went travelling around the world or perhaps more accurately I ate my way around the world!  I wasn’t doing a lot of exercise, I was eating everything and I put on rather a lot of weight.

This was my first experience of feeling that I wanted and needed to go on a ‘diet’.  I didn’t like my body, I didn’t like how it looked or felt and I wanted to lose weight.  I went down the sensible eating route, it worked for about 15mins.  The thing was I was on ‘a diet’ so all I was thinking about was, guess what?  Food!  And as a result I was just eating, eating, eating!… so for me, it was the exercise route that was going to help solve this problem.

I ran, I cycled, I swam (a little bit) and I found that when I was exercising, without thinking about it, my diet kind of fell into place too.

I was eating what I wanted, I wasn’t over eating and because of the exercise I had ‘a balance’.  I’m laughing as I’m writing this because ‘a balance’ was a ridiculous thing to write.  The truth is I was either gaining weight or losing it but only within a kilo or two so I had ‘a good average weight over all’.

Having done Biology A-Level and generally being interested in the whole food thing I had a fairly good knowledge of different food groups, what I should be eating and what I needed to eat more specifically for the sport I was doing.  I needed ‘a balance’!…  I needed to be getting plently of carbs, a good amount of protein and some fats – good fats, that’s chocolate, right?!  And obviously I needed to make sure I was getting all the right vitamins and minerals.

A bit like with my whole training and fitness theories I’m the same with my food thinking.  I’m not too specific about it but I have built up my knowledge over the years and I have a good idea of what works for me.

I had a very interesting experience with food when I climbed Cho Oyu in 2008.  I was a vegetarian.  In the months before I climbed the mountain I had been getting the right amount of protein from milk, eggs, cheese and chocolate!… during the expedition, with limited food options (no fresh food available) I was getting a good amount of calories but couldn’t ensure I was getting a good ‘balance’ of the things I needed.

{Little science bit – When you get above a certain height (around 6,500m ish – very ish) your body starts to work in a different way.  Digestion becomes an issue.  Without going into too much detail, very basically, your body finds it easier to break down your muscles to get the energy from their protein.  As a result you quickly begin to lose muscle mass which is one of the reasons why once you get above a certain height you are on limited time to stay up there and it’s not ideal. }

So I had been on the mountain for over three weeks, we were at about 7000m and I could actually see myself losing weight!  Each day I was pulling the waist strap on my back pack tighter and tighter.  I was in a tent with one of the climbing Sherpa’s and he had a sealed pack of chicken – it looked pretty gross, red bits and bones included urghhhh!  Anyway he opened the sealed pack and I, like some kind of starving animal, leapt over to where he was and pretty much inhaled the chicken.  I was totally over whelmed by my desire to eat the chicken, I smelt it and every conscious thought I had was overridden with this huge desire, complete instinct to get myself some protein.  Never before in my life have I experienced my body telling me what I needed.

I think most of us are so used to having a routine with food.  We have three meals a day, we get used to eating certain foods, we choose what we like and what we don’t like – not necessarily based on what we need, generally based on taste or mono sodium glutamate!  And we don’t really experience hunger, not real hunger.  Why would we?

This experience changed the way I thought about food and my relationship with food.  On a mountain food isn’t a luxury, something we choose from a menu or an enjoyable past time.  It’s another job to do.  The calories must go in and you must get what you need.

Since this experience when I’m preparing for or I’m on an expedition I’ve really tried to be more aware of what I need, what my body wants and it’s for this reason that I’m not a vegetarian anymore.  When I’m doing a lot of training I feel a huge benefit when I eat meat.  So I do.  I don’t particularly enjoy it but I know I feel better for it.

So what am I eating now to prepare for Everest?  Loads!  I’m eating to fuel my body for the training I’m doing now and I’m also eating to put on weight.  It’s handy on mountains to have a few kilos to keep you warm and to have some excess to lose when you do the 9000calories a day burning when you’re high up!

I’m literally eating everything and a good variety so I know I’m covering all areas and food groups. I’m trying to listen to my body.  For example, if I’m tired hiking, I’ll eat more carbs, if I crave a steak I’ll have one and as per usual I’m always satisfying my desire for chocolate!

A typical days food at the moment would be –

Breakfast – A bowl of fruit, yogurt and honey followed by about 3 slices of toast or a couple of croissants. (and/or a pan au chocolate!)

Lunch – A large (sun dried preferably!) tomato and cheese baguette.  Maybe some kind of biscuit/cake/crisp/chocolate combo too.

Dinner 1 – Potatoes, veg and/or salad sometimes with meat (about twice a week I’ll try and eat steak/chicken). Sometimes pudding.

Dinner 2 – Yep, dinner two! Dinner one is usually about 6pm and then I’m having a second sitting about 8/9pm.  This might be a pizza or soup or just another chocolate feast!

I’m drinking loads of water and about 10cups of tea a day too.

I do love a cup of tea, with a chocolate bar obviously!

My favourite lunch!