This is a guest post by Tayla Chin RD(SA) of Shelly Meltzer & Associates. You can find Tayla on Instagram here, and like Shelly Meltzer & Associates on Facebook here, and follow their Instagram profile here.
When it comes to trail adventures, it’s always a good idea to be well-prepared – your nutrition strategy should be no exception.
It’s often not as simple as just grabbing an energy bar and a bottle of water and heading out the door, as there are many important health factors to consider.
Here are some tips for planning your drinks and snacks when going on a hike:
Map out your route ahead of time, plan your nutrition accordingly
Energy and fluid requirements are higher than usual during exercise and will vary depending on your body weight, environmental conditions, the intended duration and intensity of the hike and pack weight.
These factors will also affect the choice of macronutrient. For example, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source at higher intensities, so it is important to ensure adequate carbohydrate intake before, during and after exercise to maintain performance and replace the body’s stores.
At lower intensities, on the other hand, the body is able to utilize more fat. Protein is necessary to facilitate muscle recovery and should also be included.
Logistical considerations such as carrying capacity will determine how you are able to meet these requirements, and food choices will differ for single day versus multi-day hikes.
What to pack?
Including a variety of different foods, especially for longer hikes, is a great strategy for avoiding taste fatigue. Be on the lookout for both sweet and savoury options as well as both liquids and solids. Experiment with different textures.
To help keep your backpack as lightweight as possible, opt for the more nutrient-dense, non-perishable foods. Having an assortment of different sized, sealable containers will allow a greater variety of options and will prevent items like sandwiches, soft fruit and biscuits from being squashed.
Examples of foods rich in carbohydrates:
- Dried fruit (e.g. dates, dried figs, apricots, raisins, cranberries)
- Fresh fruit (e.g. sliced oranges, grapefruit, apples or whole berries)
- Fruit and / or vegetable purees in sachets
- Date balls, cereal bars, fruit cake
- Crackers, rice cakes, breads, pancakes, tortillas and bagels
- Energy gels or drinks, sweets
- Pasta, grains, legumes or quinoa salad
- Crumpets / pancakes
Examples of foods rich in proteins:
- Tuna or chicken pouches
- Thin cheese slices (high fat content) wrapped around cucumber
- Sliced ham or salami
- Protein bars or shakes, milk powder
- Biltong and droëwors
- Tofu and soya mince
Examples of food rich in fats:
- Nuts, nut butters
- Trail mix
- Cheese (contains protein as well)
For a shorter hike or day trip, you can pack perishable foods (such as chicken / tuna / cheese / hummus on a sandwich, roll, or wrap) but bear in mind these need to be kept cold, especially on longer hikes in hotter temperatures.
A frozen bottle of water is a great way to keep your food cold while providing extra fluid for drinking. On a multi-day hike, the perishable food items can be eaten on day one, provided you have something to keep them cold.
The following is a guide that tells you how long freshly prepared perishable foods can be safely kept at temperatures in the danger zone (between 5° and 60°C):
- Under 2 hours: safe to refrigerate or use
- 2 to 4 hours: safe to use
- Over 4 hours: throw away
Good non-perishable options could include tuna packs or harder cheeses such as parmesan. Pancakes with cinnamon and brown sugar or homemade cereal bars (see recipe below) make an excellent sweet treat, but even rice cakes or tortillas can be jazzed up with nut butters, honey or nut butter with some chopped or dried banana, coconut shavings, dried fruit, nuts or seeds. In colder weather a flask of hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup is a real treat to keep you warm.
For multi-day hikes, snacks and drinks during the day will cover your requirements during the hike, so the same suggestions given for single day hikes will apply here. Perishable food items can be eaten on day one and non-perishable, energy-dense choices can be used for the other days.
Spend some time planning breakfast and dinner. If you don’t want to carry pots for cooking, hiking shops carry a wide range of freeze-dried meals for both breakfast and dinner – these are easily prepared by adding boiling water to the pouches. Cook Me and the Raw Food Company have packages of pasta / rice / couscous with additions such as dehydrated vegetables, spices and seasoning already added, but these need to be cooked in a pot.
Take a range of spices, herbs and dried chilli to add flavour and variety to your meals. Milk powder is a great addition to breakfast cereals, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate as it is light-weight and high in protein.
Do not overlook the importance of hydration
It is important to make sure that you are adequately hydrated before you start hiking.
Ensure that you are carrying enough water during your hike, or research beforehand whether there will be safe drinking water along the way. For multi-day hikes, water purification tablets are a good idea.
The general recommendation is to drink to thirst, and this will differ depending on individual sweat rates. For hikes longer than 60 minutes, some water can be replaced by a carbohydrate and electrolyte-containing beverage. If you are going on a hike where you know the conditions are likely to be very hot and more extreme, pack some electrolytes to have at the end of each day.
Access to nutrition and hydration
When hiking, you want to make your food and drinks as easily accessible as possible – this way, you will avoid having to stop and unpack your backpack every time you need a snack or a sip of water. If you have a backpack with front pockets, store a snack bar or energy gel there for easy access.
With nutrition, one should consider hydration as well.
- Softflasks: these are generally smaller bottles that can be collapsed down and folded once empty, which makes them easy to store in your bag without taking up too much space. There are some softflasks with a straw that can be stored in the front pocket of your bag or hydration vest, making it easy to drink without removing it from your bag. For a longer hike, you will need multiple soft flasks to ensure you are getting adequate fluid, or check the route beforehand to see if there is safe drinking water to fill up with along the way.
- Bladders: these are larger and fit into most hiking or trail running backpacks. They usually carry 1.5 liters or more of liquid. Bladders are a great option for carrying a large amount of one type of liquid, but on longer hikes, you may need to carry a bottle or two of something different, just in case. For example, if the day is hotter than expected, you may need more fluid than calories. Or, if you have a sports drink in your bladder, you may become tired of that flavour.
- Bottles: one advantage of bottles is that you can easily monitor how much fluid you have consumed and how much you have left. You can also carry a variety of fuel and fluid options in a few bottles so you are not limited to just one drink, however, bottles may be a bit tedious to carry. Some backpacks have front pockets to store bottles and there are also some handheld options available, which are an option for shorter hikes. Hydration belts are another option.
Recipe: Home-made Cereal Bars
Courtesy of Louise Clamp RD(SA) – Dietitian at Shelly Meltzer & Associates.
Serves: 12 – 16 bars
- 1½ cups rolled oats (use gluten-free if desired)
- ¼ cup ground flaxseed
- ⅛ cup chia seeds
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
- ½ cup cashews
- ½ cup almonds
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup natural peanut butter (or nut butter of choice – I used almond butter)
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- Line a 8×8 (or similar size) pan or baking dish with parchment paper. Leave extra on the sides to use as handles for removing the bars later.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, ground flaxseed, seeds and nuts; mix thoroughly.
- Add honey to the mixture and stir until well coated. Add peanut butter (or other nut butter) to the mixture and mix until well combined.
- Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan / baking dish and press firmly until it is evenly distributed. The baking dish can then be put in the fridge overnight to firm up or, for the less patient, in the freezer for an hour or so before cutting into squares.
- Using the parchment paper handles to remove the entire block from pan / baking dish, then cut into bars.
- Feel free to substitute your favourite nuts / seeds or even coconut flakes for any you don’t have on hand and / or don’t like. You could substitute dried fruit for chocolate chips, too.
- I found that the bars start to lose their firmness if left out for too long. Best to store them in the freezer or fridge. When storing the bars in a container, place a sheet of parchment paper between the layers to avoid bars sticking together.
Should you require any assistance with a comprehensive nutrition plan for an endurance or adventure event, you can contact Shelly Meltzer & Associates – they are able to offer a range of services for specific events according to your individual requirements.