Nutrition for Everest and for Judo / IJF.org
In judo and mountaineering, the goal is always to stay healthy and be properly fueled for the tasks, but the way to do it is totally different from one of these activities to another.
From altitude sickness to endless little problems, many things can stop expeditions to the extremes of Mount Everest. Without the right energy, you cannot move forward. “I forced myself to eat as much as I could at EBC, Camp 1 and Camp 2, but at Camp 3 it was almost impossible to eat well. At Camp 3 the boiling water has become harder, taking maybe 45 minutes for a pot and at this height, 7000m, taste and smell are reduced to almost nothing and all processes in the body slow down. It is absolutely essential to load the body with foods high in fats, carbohydrates and calories before this point.
Sabrina’s experience of reaching the summit of Everest is still very raw and her thoughts are full, still tied to her life before that point.
“When I get home, I don’t have days off, I’m always on the go, doing something. On Everest it is absolutely essential to take rest days, whole days of rest, just eat and allow the body to absorb nutrients, even when not hungry, which is difficult when everything works so slowly. I felt so lazy, like a pig, just lying down and eating but it had to be like that. It really takes a lot of patience. Sabrina spent 50 days at EBC as part of her acclimatization. “Getting it wrong can end an expedition. A simple lack of calories is enough to keep someone from reaching the top.”
Food isn’t the only problem, of course. Everest is complex, climbing it is not a normal task.
“Covid has also had an unexpected effect on EBC, with people having to stay together in tents. Cough is widespread, Khumbu cough is a real thing because it’s so cold. Things quickly spread to base camp, so last year 70% of expeditions ended up being canceled because Covid set in and the Sherpas were sick too. This year it hasn’t been a problem at all.
With Covid dealt with, only the normal challenges of climbing an 8000er remain.
“Up there, everything is in slow motion. Between camps 3 and 4, if you don’t use oxygen, the slowness is indescribable. It slows down again and again to the point where you barely move. The brain can no longer make lucid decisions. It all starts with nutrition and hydration, those basic needs.”
A bowl of snacks at EBC including Tibetan tsampa, a mountain staple made from roasted barley or wheat flour.
“Above side 3, there is no room for error to make bad decisions. Up there, you don’t just lose your toes, you lose your life! The difference between making a decision at the right time and making it a minute late brings the ultimate consequence and this is just one of the reasons why we can say that the Sherpas are the heroes of Everest. We entrust our lives to them and they don’t let us down.
Sabrina has spoken a lot about the Sherpa community and has the utmost respect for them and their way of life. 500 years ago, they emigrated from Tibet, their mountain culture remaining firmly rooted in them. Being a Sherpa is not simply the accomplishment of expected tasks, it is a birth rite, a line of inheritance. No one can become a Sherpa. Their skills are rooted from birth and their place in history is very specific.
“Sherpas save lives every day during the expedition season, doing little things like asking the right questions at the right time or insisting that we eat something or drink more. This is not a joke. They keep control of those basic things to keep people alive and their timing is impeccable.
Watching another of Sabrina’s many lives gives an entirely different perspective on the use of food. We spend years training our bodies to not only be the right weight, but to do so while protecting our organs. We train our kidneys by training ourselves to need less water. Sweating more than you drink in the last hours before a judo competition is not comparable to the unknowns of climbing Everest.
In judo, we train intensively, then we restrict a bit and continue to train, albeit differently. We get a little dehydrated sometimes and then we can weigh in, refuel and be back at the top of our game and this process is repeated and refined over many years.
What we do know is that on Everest there is no uchi-komi, that is, there is no accumulation of repeated practice. You can never fully prepare for the very first time, but in judo it all depends on this practice and the accumulation of experience, including how nutrition is handled.
“Also in judo your coaches are very close but on Everest they climb with you, right next to you. In judo my consequence is maybe injury or missing weight or losing a fight and with all this practice, I always get a second chance if I make a mistake On Everest, if I wear the down suit while climbing Lhotse Facing the Sun, I can’t stop to boil any water and rehydrate; I’ll just dehydrate and it can be catastrophic very quickly. No practice and massive consequences.”
The biggest similarity I can draw between these sports is that coaches and Sherpas are not responsible for my decisions. In every ‘game’, I always have to be honest and real about my feelings and my condition. It’s always my final decision whether to follow the advice of the coach or the Sherpa and it’s my decision to go ahead or rest. With all the experience and advice in the world, I still consider 100% of the responsibility mine.
Jigoro Kano said, “The purpose of studying judo is to improve oneself and contribute to society.” Sabrina’s work towards this goal seems absolute, committing to every goal and project with her whole being and learning everything she can along the way. She takes her personal education and incorporates it into development work in Nepal and Bhutan, such as her work helping to establish and develop the Everest Judo Club, which is to be inaugurated on Everest Day, May 29.