8 June 2010

Glycogen dumping (and why it probably won’t work for you)

Tim just did a new E10. Looks fantastic. He mentioned in his blog post about it that he used glycogen dumping to help him close the deal on this long term project of his. He had been asking me the previous week about strategies for making yourself a bit lighter for a hard redpoint such as dehydration. It’s really hard to get dehydration to do anything other than make you feel ill. But carrying less glycogen up your route is a strategy that is occasionally useful. Talk of this ‘new’ (it’s actually very old) strategy peaked some interest and various emails asking me to explain it. It’s really simple, so I’ll explain it in two sentences.
For each gram of muscle glycogen, the body has to store 3 or 4 grams of water. If you eat less the day before your big lead you can deplete the store, lose a few kgs and maybe get a small but crucial advantage.
The explanation of why it probably won’t work for most climbers needs more words, but is really worth reading, so you don’t waste your time, energy, food and chances of sending.
The first and biggest reason why it won’t work is that people will try to use it to replace ‘real’ preparation. The real reason why Emmett climbed his E10 is because he’s Emmett. This accounted for 99% of the success, the new strategy only making up the tiny difference which was crucial in this case as it sounded truly at his limit.
That 99% - ‘being Emmett’ - is what most people should really be concentrating on; learning how to go for it without hesitation, without fear of falling, with every shred of effort you can muster. It’s the tactics of learning to know your body, mind, strengths, weaknesses, equipment, conditions etc unspeakably well through endless consideration, planning and testing over years. It’s the boring old stuff - the hours of training, the getting over the excuses that get in the way of getting the hours in.
The second reason why it won’t work for most people is that their technique, especially foot work is not good enough for small differences in weight to make a noticeable difference.
The third reason is that it won’t work if you overuse it, or use it when you aren’t already really really close to success. This technique by it’s nature depletes your energy reserves for the session. So it’s good for one, maybe two all out redpoints in the day and then a good recovery. It causes a reactive glycogen loading afterwards (indeed it’s used for carbo loading by endurance athletes) so using regularly has the opposite effect. If you are still working the route and aren’t ready for a pure redpointing session, you’ll just burn out after a short session. Depleting the glycogen store to really low levels takes much longer to recover from.
If you are thinking I’m trying to put you off, you’d be right. Used well, it can be useful once or twice a year for your career best project, and only in addition to your very best in the real methods of preparation and good tactics. The trouble with tactics like glycogen dumping is that most people use them (subconsciously) to replace real effort, real thought, real preparation. It’s such an easy psychological trap to fall into, and most the time, we do fall in.