First my disclaimer – I am not a nutritionist.
These observations are from my own experiences and some research over time. They also come from some conversations with extreme athletes and accomplished climbers. Every person’s needs are different – be sure to observe how your body reacts, and talk to your doctor about any specific nutritional needs you might have.
Endurance hikers and climbers will tell you that you need carbohydrates Carbs are your main energy source, but you can only eat so much at a time: you will find there’s a limit beyond which you will likely get an upset stomach. Also, there are different kinds of carbs – simple carbs such as sugars are only OK as a short-term shot of energy, not ideal for hiking. Complex carbs such as those found in nuts and grains are much better – they yield a more sustained energy and let you down gently so that if you eat something every hour or two you won’t have to deal with energy rushes and drop-offs.
The body needs to rebuild tissues and recover after exercise/activity and that is the job of protein. It can also provide sustained energy on long endurance activities. On longer hikes you will need protein, without which you will start flagging in performance. Eat some protein and you’ll be back in form in no time.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about electrolytes. You need them to help metabolize carbs for proper functioning of muscles. Key electrolytes are sodium, potassium and magnesium. Bananas are a great source of potassium and magnesium I have a banana every morning and two on the morning of a hike.
Iron provides oxygen to the blood and is another component for endurance.
There is a lot more that can be said about nutrient components, but Carbs, Protein, Electrolytes and Iron are where my focus has been. I’ve got buddies who love to add dark chocolate it’s good as an antioxidant but melts easily in a pack. Some amount of fat is good for the mix, but better to be had before the hike starts. Nuts are a good source of multiple nutrition components and some will bring along a trail mix, or gorp which stands for “good old raisins and peanuts. ” I don’t prefer that myself because raisins are taboo food for dogs. A nutritionist told me that the more ground up the nuts, the better the absorption, so I like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch on the trail.
Before, During and After Hiking
Before a hike I load up – three eggs, real bacon, a piece of whole grain toast and two bananas. Chug down some electrolyte drink and I’m ready to go!
On the hike, for short hikes, 1 – 2 hours, you may need nothing more, just water. For longer hikes I will have a PB and J sandwich or two in my pack and a few bars. Which Bars?
I have tried dozens of bars and I’ve become a detailed label-reader. I have landed on the GoMacro Macrobar, specifically Protein Purity.
I like more protein than some. Also, I’ve learned that hiking, depending on how strenuous, can burn 100 – 250 calories/hour so a Macrobar every 1 ½ to 2 hours works great. It is a good idea to drink some water after eating a bar or anything.
After hiking, all bets are off for one meal! I will reward myself with something “evil” that I wouldn’t normally eat, like a pizza or a cheeseburger with fries and ketchup. I have nothing against those foods except they travel right to moving the needle in the wrong direction on my weighing scale.