On average, hiking burns over 400 calories per hour. If you're carrying a heavy rucksack, or covering steep terrain, this can increase by a further 120 calories. In addition to this, your body will keep burning calories for several hours after you stop. As such, hiking is a wonderful exercise but when backpacking for several days, how do you ensure that you eat enough calories to keep your body going day after day?
Firstly, you need to know how many calories your body needs you to consume. You can make a rough estimate by calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. This is the number of calories your body requires to maintain itself at rest. It is a complex calculation but pretty accurate, so take a deep breath and here goes...
655 + (4.35 * your weight in pounds) + (4.7 * your height in inches) – (4.7 * your age in years) = the number of calories your body requires during rest.
Once you've calculated your BMR, and you know how many hours you'll be hiking, you'll be able to make a rough approximation of how many calories you'll need to consume to provide your body with the amount of energy it requires.
The first thing to remember whilst planning your hiking nutrition is to, if you can, trial it beforehand. When tired, the body can sometimes reject food you normally love. I've had several occasions where I've been unable to stomach certain foods such as chocolate. I have a weakness for milk chocolate but for some reason whilst hiking I can't face it. It's best to be prepared and have food with you that you know you can eat, even when tired.
Planning for three good meals per day, plus snacks, is a good, if not obvious starting point. However, it can take some juggling to plan three hearty meals versus carrying weight. Nutritionally dense food is vital to avoid carrying your bodyweight in snacks!
For breakfast, oatmeal is a good option. You can pre-prepare it with powdered milk so you just need to add boiling water in the morning for a warm and hearty breakfast. I also like to add in a handful of raisins for extra flavour.
Lunches are a debatable issue for many people; some prefer to take the time to cook something such as pasta to refuel for the afternoon, whilst others like to nibble on something quick such as crackers and peanut butter. Both are good options for energy, but consider whether time is key in your hike or if you have the time (or inclination) to sit and relax for an hour whilst cooking and consuming a hot meal.
Dinners are where you can really get creative. If you're on a multi-day hike, the last thing you want is to spend five or more days eating macaroni cheese every evening. Or, as I did once, 12 nights eating cheese and broccoli pasta, which I can no longer even smell without feeling sick! Wayfayrer have created nutritionally dense packet meals, so you can dine on pasta bolognese, chilli or even vegetable curry whilst out on the trail. Containing around 400 calories and weighing 300 grams each, these packet foods are perfect for hiking. You can even get yummy desserts such as sticky toffee or chocolate pudding!
Once you've planned your main meals, consider your snacks. My personal favourites, as odd as they sound, are mini cheeses and sliced chorizo. Both contain good amounts of fat to keep my energy levels up and have minimal sugar to avoid any energy crashes, particularly during the day.
Jerky (dried meat) is another good option for snacking on, as is trail mix or packets of dried fruit. I'm also a big fan of yoghurt tubes for endurance hikes. They can offer vital energy without having to make the effort to chew – perfect at 3am when you're approaching mile 45 of 50!
Remember, your body won't perform as well if it isn't fuelled properly, so don't underestimate the importance of taking the right food with you. It can take some trial and error to work out what foods work for you so enjoy all those yummy meals and snacks, and remember, it's research!
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