Swish and Spit: Hydration Hacks for Climbers

Swish and Spit: Hydration Hacks for Climbers
February 21, 2018 Marisa Michael

Do you ever think about your hydration when climbing?

Dehydration leads to loss of mental focus, fatigue, and loss of power. In a sport where mental acuity and physical prowess can mean life or death, staying hydrated is vital.


It’s tough to know how much to drink. A full, sloshy stomach can interfere with climbing technique. If you feel too heavy, it’s hard to climb well, especially if you have to fit into a crack or contort your body like a master yogi just to send your project.


On the flip side, it’s easy to become dehydrated. High altitude and hot/windy conditions means your body needs more fluid to stay hydrated. It’s also tempting to drink too little to avoid having to pee. Sometimesyou have to ration your fluids if you’re not near a water source. Cold conditions (like when ice climbing) decrease thirst, but the need for adequate fluid in your body is still there.


Over-hydration (also called hyponatremia) is a dangerous condition you want to avoid.

Symptoms include mental confusion, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headache, and muscle spasms or cramps. All of these things sound pretty crappy, especially when you’re 70 feet up on the wall. Oh, by the way, hyponatremia can be fatal and needs immediate medical attention. Ditto for dehydration.


Dehydration symptoms include dry mouth, dizziness, fatigue, rapid heartbeat/breathing, dark urine, and mental fogginess.


So how to you find that magical sweet spot of proper hydration? A general rule of thumb is to drink eight ounces every hour of a sports drink while actively climbing. If you’re taking a break to belay, eat lunch, or just chill out, you may need a little less. Be smart. If the conditions are hot, drink more. Pay attention to your urine color. If it’s light yellow, you’re good. If it’s dark yellow/brown (or you’re not producing urine) that’s a red flag. Drink more! Call it quits and get medical help if you experience any of these symptoms.


And finally, here’s a cool technique you can use if you are already adequately hydrated, but feel like you need a little extra boost.

It’s called the carbohydrate mouth rinse.

Basically, you swish some sports drink in your mouth, then spit it out. Why would someone do this? Because if you are hydrated and don’t need the extra fluids, you don’t want to actually drink—it’ll just make you feel heavy and full. BUT if you feel yourself fading, like you need an extra burst of energy, the mouth rinse sends a signal to your brain that basically says, “Energy is on the way!” Your brain responds by giving you some power.


Swish and spit is not researched in climbers, but it’s used with endurance athletes all the time. It has been shown to improve performance and mood. Nice benefits when you need a little special sauce to push through the crux.


Having a hydration plan can make all the difference in crushing the project or coming home defeated. Remember, drink eight ounces or so every hour, watch your urine color, and swish and spit as needed.

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    ~Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be medical advice. Consult your doctor before changing any diet or exercise routine.