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Outdoor alternatives: A vegan diet for climbing Denali

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By Chris Bangs Contributor

The days of training are blurring together as I’m getting psyched for my first climbing expedition to Denali in Alaska. At 20,320 feet, Denali is the highest peak on this continent, and the heart and soul of American mountaineering.

Together with my climbing partner, our objective will be the Cassin Ridge, one of the most sought after alpine routes in North America. This classic is 9,000 feet of vertical climbing. Varying from steep ice and rock, to beautiful and elegant snow ridges, it tops out just a few hundred meters from the main summit.

A demanding and technical route, the Cassin was first climbed by the famed Italian climber Riccardo Cassin in 1961. Cassin and his team took more than four weeks on their ascent, and secured thousands of feet of rope to the mountain in “siege style” tactics. Nowadays it takes the average party between three and seven days, and most climb in smaller independent teams, using a modern “alpine style” of not fixing ropes and moving quickly.

Our audacious plan is to climb the route “in a push,” meaning we will climb non-stop for 20 to 30 hours, carrying light packs, with no sleeping bags or tent and minimal gear. This style of climbing has become more popular, allowed by improvements in equipment, skills and fitness.

The regimen

Climbing has always taken a natural progression for me. Training for climbing translates to training for life. It’s very real to be in the mountains, and it feels good to get out and push my limits, while at the same time finding meaning and understanding in life.

To do the Cassin in a push is a big step in commitment level for me, and is a new realm of physical and mental challenges. My training has reflected that.

Mainly, I’ve added more yoga, because it allows me to work on developing a more evolved mental state. I’ve been learning to control my mind by focusing attention on my breath and clearing my mind.

The diet

Eating a vegan diet helped me overcome many problems: drug addiction, personal health and wellbeing, athletic motivation, belief in myself. Changing my diet changed my life.

For top-level endurance athletes, the key word in nutrition is efficiency—both for performance and for recovery. Basically, when your body can break down foods more easily, it has an easier time transforming into usable energy. This makes sense on a long run or climb, so let’s break down what’s happening in your body during a long work out and then afterwards, for recovery.

Plant based foods that are nutrient-dense, like spouted grains and seeds, and certain fruits, are the most easily assimilated foods for your body to digest. Your body can burn those foods immediately, turning them into usable energy in a matter of minutes. This actually trains your body to burn food when you are eating it.

Animal based proteins, on the other hand, need to be broken down much further and then stored as fat before they can be burned as usable energy. This creates more work and stress for you body and makes its processes less efficient. This is called nutritional stress.

Our bodies react to nutritional stress the same way as we react to physical or emotional stress. What this means in terms of athletic performance is huge, especially for recovery.

Recovering from an intense workout takes a combination of the right things. First, if your body is under too much stress, the production of the hormone cortisol is too high. That creates a domino effect in the body. Too much cortisol causes adrenal burnout, which affects sleep quality. Deep sleep is the time when the body can recover and repair cellular structure.

So, too much stress equals a less efficient body and slower recovery, thus poor performance.

Favorite foods

My favorite foods for performance and wellbeing are dates, spouted buckwheat (which is not wheat and is gluten free), green leafy vegetables and hemp seeds.

Dates – a simple sugar

Dates are almost pure glucose, and can easily be turned into glycogen and then used directly in the bloodstream. Dates are one of the best sources of natural carbohydrates.

Sprouted grains and seeds – nutrient dense

Buckwheat, for example, is high in protein and carbohydrates; the process of sprouting breaks the complex carbs down into usable sugars. I use sprouted buckwheat in both pre-workout and post-workout smoothies.

Green leafy vegetables – essential

High in iron, calcium, chlorophyll and vitamins.

Hemp seeds – superfood

One of the best complete sources for plant based proteins available, hemp seeds have great flavor to compliment any salad, granola, trail mix or energy bar.


Denali: 20,320 feet, highest peak in North America

Denali is a native Athabascan word meaning “The Great One”

The Cassin: 9,000 vertical feet

First climbed in 1961 by the famed Italian climber Riccardo Cassin.

Speed Record for climbing the Cassin: 14 hours, 40 minutes

Difficulty: Alaska Grade 5, 5.8 AI4

Homemade recipes for Denali expedition

Spouted Grains Raw Cereal

Spouted buckwheat

raw hemp seeds


coconut oil

spouted almonds

honey or brown rice syrup

Mix in large bowl, pack in bulk form

Made with warm (not boiling) water to preserve the raw digestive enzymes. High in protein, carbs and healthy fats.

Miso Seaweed Veggie Soup Mix

Brown Rice Miso (probiotics)

Seaweed (calcium, iron, minerals, hydrating)





Nutritional yeast (protein, B vitamins including B12)

Sea salt, black pepper

Spice to flavor

Top with coconut oil (best source of healthy fat)
Add hot water and serve

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