A couple of weeks ago I posted an article that offered tips for keeping your cool during the summer hiking season. One of the most important aspects of hiking while the mercury is high is to make sure that you stay properly hydrated.
As a follow-up, I thought I would discuss the importance of food while hiking as well.
Although most people prefer to eat food that tastes good, you need to think of food as fuel while exercising. During a long hike it’s extremely important to eat before you’re hungry. Simple sugars, carbohydrates, protein, and fat all play a roll in maximizing performance during extended exercise such as hiking. Experts in sports nutrition recommend consuming 100 – 300 calories every hour during exercise.
The best snacks for the trail are ones that provide you with high energy, such as fruit (dried or fresh), granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, GORP (trail mix), beef jerky, or even chocolate (in moderation of course!).
Personally, if I’m climbing a lot of elevation - say up to Gregory Bald as an example - I’ll mostly rely on Gatorade, Power Bars and trail mix that includes dried fruits, pretzels, nuts and M&Ms. These foods provide a lot of simple sugars and carbohydrates which offer quick release energy as I proceed up the mountain. Once on top, I’ll usually have a sandwich or peanut butter crackers. These foods tend to include more protein and fat which provide slow burning fuel for the trip back downhill. If you’re properly fueled for the trek up the mountain, your energy needs will be less going downhill.
So now the question is: How many calories do you need on any given hike? This is where the Hiking Dude comes to the rescue. He has an excellent calorie calculator on his website. What makes his calculator much better than the others I’ve found is that it takes into account your weight, plus the weight of you backpack, the distance you’ll be hiking, and how much elevation you’ll gain along the way.
This is an excellent resource that you can use to help give you a rough estimate of how much food you’ll need to pack for a long hike. You can click here to check it out.
Finally, take extra food with you in case your hike takes longer than expected for whatever reason. Throw a couple of extra energy bars in your pack. They’re light weight, and will pack a nice punch if needed.