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.