Knowing the basics about hiking nutrition will help you select the right hiking food for your day hike or backpacking trip. Understanding some basic nutrition tips will allow you to plan and make informed decisions about which foods to bring on the trail to maintain the energy level you’ll want to really enjoy your outings.
Hiking is rigorous exercise. Whether you’re on the trail for several hours or several days, you’re going to burn more calories than you do sitting at home browsing the Internet’s. If you’re hiking all day, you’ll burn two to three times as many calories as you normally do. Your body is going to need fuel to sustain the higher level of physical activity.
Hiking nutrition really boils down to a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. It also boils down to timing. When do you eat? It’s best to try and sustain a consistent energy level throughout the day with snacks and meals. Your calorie intake during the day won’t match your fuel burn, but your evening meal should make up the difference.If you don’t take in enough calories, you’ll start losing weight on the trail and losing much needed muscle mass.
Carbohydrates are the backbone of your diet and key to good hiking nutrition. Carbohydrates containing complex sugars such as pastas, oatmeal, wheat and rice are best. They contain a lot of calories per ounce, which is what you need. They are processed more slowly than simple sugars, helping you sustain your energy between snacks and meals. Fruit is another good source of carbs.
Be careful about simple sugars. Corn syrup as an ingredient is a sign of simple sugars. Candy bars will give your that quick hit of energy, but after that initial rush, it will leave you feeling tired. A nut filled candy bar tends to release energy more slowly and evenly.
Protein is essential in your diet for healing and building muscle tissue. Think about it. You’re hiking all day. Lugging that heavy backpack, you’ve given your muscles and tendons quite a workout. In order to repair and rejuvenate, they need protein. Nuts, beef jerky, tuna, beans, and peanut butter are very popular sources of protein for good hiking nutrition.
Fats have a bad rap, but not all fats are bad. I’m not going to turn this into a lesson on good fats and bad fats. Too much fat is bad, but fat does play an important role in maintaining a balanced diet. For a hiker, the most important role of fat is to provide an energy store. It also aids in development of cell membranes and absorbtion of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
I do not try to lower fat intake when hiking. It’s part of good hiking nutrition and keeping the body in tune for healthy hiking. Most sources of protein also contain fat, so filling your protein needs should automatically provide the level of fat you need. If you’re packing dried hiking foods, they tend to be lacking in taste. Bring along olive oil to add good taste and calories to dried food. Olive oil is the best oil you can use to provide fat, because it’s monounsaturated and can help control cholesterol.
Water is the other important ingredient that’s often mentioned in this site. Absolutely remain hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and often. Some hikers like to drink electrolyte filled beverages containing carbohydrates. This is a good idea, but keep the carbohydrate level of the drink to less than 8%. I do not recommend caffeine or alcohol drinks while on the trail because they remove water from your system.
Some backpackers prefer to eat three meals when on the trail, some prefer four. The real key is to not get too hungry, but don’t eat too much. Keep a good, constant flow of calories. Snacking on classic dried fruit and nut mix between meals provides that extra boost to keep that spring in your step. If you over eat, the body will start putting it’s energies toward digestion and diminish your zest to push on.
Use your dinner meal as the meal to really replenish those calories. Include all food groups. This will help maintain your body temperature while you sleep. It will also provide the nutrients your body needs to rejuvenate those tired muscles so they’re ready for the next day. You’ll sleep better if you take care of your body’s dietary requirements.
You should now have a good idea of what nutrition your body needs when hiking, and why you need to maintain a constant balanced diet. For ideas and tips on hiking food that provides good hiking nutrition, click on the link. You’ll find that your trail food doesn’t have to be tasteless and bland.