There is a mountain in Chile near the border of Argentina nestled in the Andes. Twenty-three thousand feet tall, give or take - Aconcagua. It is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
Meet physicist and mountaineer Eylene Pirez and tune into her mission to make science literacy a lifestyle, starting with her ascent of Aconcagua (watch the video below to learn more about the science series)
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of planning that goes into an expedition of this magnitude. One of the most significant factors being nutrition and how Eylene will survive the climb in terms of fuel and ensuring that her body is getting everything it needs to support her ascent. But what happens on the mountain is only one piece of the puzzle. The preparation phase leading into the climb is as, if not more important than the climb itself.
Eylene is tasked with accounting for every possible factor before the expedition even begins. On top of having to be technically prepared and capable, she needs to be adequately nourished and conditioned long before she steps foot at the base of Aconcagua.
We sat down with Eylene to talk about her upcoming journey, climbing the highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas, and what it takes to fuel her inspiring life.
Tell me a little bit about the physical preparation for this climb. How does someone ready their body for an expedition of this magnitude?
For an ascent to nearly 7,000m above sea level, the main focus is endurance.
Physically, I prepare using Training for the New Alpinism. It is the go-to for the new generation of mountaineers, designed by Steve House.
It takes into account new high altitude science and a long-term training plan. The goal of this training is to increase your Aerobic Threshold and to get you into the shape you need for any task in the mountains.
For Aconcagua, It is a lot of uphill water carries which involves hauling 30% of your body weight up ~3,000ft a couple of times a week. I work out six days a week for several hours a day. I also put on weight before the expedition which requires meticulous planning. Each day during an expedition, I eat about 1,500 calories which is nothing compared to my daily 5,000-6,000 calories burned on the mountain. This depends on the length of the expedition, of course.
I eat very little while on the mountains for two reasons. Once I'm above a certain altitude, I completely lose my appetite. It's hard to eat. Second, I can't carry 20+ days worth of food if I eat much more than that. That means every day I am dropping fat and muscle. If I start with little fat or little muscle, I'll wreck my body. The goal is to finish with my body in good enough shape to continue onto next adventures.
Is there a lot of trial and error in figuring out what works for you and what you need for something like this?
Every expedition is different and requires a lot of trial and error. This is why I also start training early. I try new things every season to try to better myself. I keep a close eye on my shortcomings and take close notes on my performance. Me and my trainer always focus on how to better myself by playing with my workout and nutrition.
What does it look like in this preparatory phase?
This preparatory phase is all about daily control. I calculate what I burned for the day and then eat 500 calories over my expenditure to put on weight. Right now, I am focusing on protein and fats and staying away from sugars and carbs as much as possible.
I am eating mainly healthy fats and protein. I put MCT powder in my coffee. Lots of almond milk with protein powder drinks.
What will it look like once you’re actually on the mountain?
On the mountain, I will eat very little. I will not get picky. I will need anything I can get. Sometimes to make the calories add up, I will drink Tang instead of water. I literally cannot think of Tang for months after expeditions. I get so sick of it.
My daily routine on the mountain is to prep oatmeal with Sneakz protein powder. I usually don't eat another meal till dinner. Often I'm tired and eat the same thing for dinner. I've gone weeks on oatmeal and protein powder!
What does an average day look like right now in terms of nutrition?
For breakfast, I have two go-tos: Oatmeal and protein or eggs and avocado with veggies.
For lunch and dinner: A bed of spinach, broccoli or other veggies, with a healthy serving of Chicken or Fish. I add cheese or a good oily dressing for fats.
Snacks: Right now I am digging unsweetened almond milk with a scoop of protein and a bit of MCT powder.
Every time I am hungry, I love a spoonful of peanut butter straight from the jar or a handful of spicy edamame beans.
Will your nutritional needs change as you ascend higher up the mountain?
Once I am above a certain height, any fuel is fuel. I become a lot less focused on nutrition. This is something I am trying to work on. I would like to have a better diet on the mountain but haven't found a reliable method. I am just so exhausted and focused on the task that everything else drops on my list of priority. In the mountains, I don't have an appetite, and I am not sleeping too well. I take care of my safety but not my well being, if that makes any sense.
I do much better with nutrition when I'm outdoors backpacking and such, but these peaks are so challenging that there's not a whole lot of room to focus on my daily nutrition.
How has Sneakz played a role in this journey?
I love Sneakz for several reasons. As I said, oatmeal and Sneakz is my jam all the time, in training and on the mountain. I love that it is so clean and has a lot of vitamins. Also, the way Sneakz dissolves is crucial to me. At high altitude, food doesn't dissolve well. I'm always eating crunchy dry food and dusty protein powder. Not with Sneakz! Sneakz dissolves right away, so it is my mountain go-to!
What’s your favorite product in the Sneakz lineup and how do you use it?
The Meal2Go Chocolate powder is delicious with oatmeal and almond milk. I also mix it with yogurt and goji berries. I've also been into the Cinnamon to go meal. I like to pour it into oatmeal as well. It gets me vitamins and amps up my calories.
Follow Eylene and her epic journey to Chile here, and keep following Sneakz as her story unfolds!