Fueling the Fire
You’ve picked out the perfect trail with the best views of the grand canyon. Excited to begin, you quickly pull together your gear, knowing the journey to get there will be tough. But, suddenly, you realize that you’re clueless as to what kind of foods will fuel the challenge best.
So, (the question begs to be asked) what exactly should one bring with them to eat while out on the trail?
Nutritional Value is Key
The answer to that question is really quite simple. For physical exercise, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are a must.
Here’s what they can do for you:
Carbohydrates – According to the Appalachian Mountain Club-Boston Chapter, carbohydrates provide, on average, around 100 calories per ounce and can be digested quickly into blood sugar, which is available immediately to your muscles to burn. As a result, carbs serve as the best source of readily available and quick energy.
Simple carbohydrates, which can be found in fruits, for example, can be turned into blood sugar within minutes, thus making excellent high energy trail foods. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, like breads and whole grains, usually take an hour or two to digest and keep you loaded up with energy.
Fats – Fats, in comparison, store up to 200 calories per ounce and take longer to digest (hours). They metabolize differently than carbohydrates, providing longer term, endurance energy. However, you’ll need an adequate intake of fats on the trail to properly metabolize carbs, even though those fats will not give you the quick burst of energy that carbohydrates do.
Proteins – Different from the other two food categories, proteins provide only around 80 calories per ounce or less, take days to metabolize, and are never turned directly into blood sugars. Exercise does not increase the short term need for protein, though maintaining a balanced diet aids your health and fitness in general.
Getting the Right Nutrient Mix for Hiking
While all three food categories are important to consider, carbohydrates are essential for outdoor activities like hiking.
According to Sally Hara, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics and owner of ProActive Nutrition, carbohydrates are the primary fuel for physical exercise. Although our bodies burn carbs, fat, and a little protein while hiking, they’ll surely bonk without the consumption of carbohydrates.