Balance Your Backcountry Diet

Follow these 5 easy principles to achieve the perfect mix of strength, stamina, and speed.

Fuel with Fat

Backpacking is about sustained output over several days, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. To get the most energy for multiple long-distance days, you want to fire your engine with healthy unsaturated fats, the kind found in nuts and fish. Fortunately, these foods happen to be the most concentrated (read: easiest to pack) source of calories. On the trail, make them 30 to 40 percent of your diet.

Sustain with Complex Carbs

There’s a reason marathoners like to eat a heaping plate of whole-wheat spaghetti the night before a race. High-fiber, complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole-grain pasta and brown rice are broken down slowly in your stomach, keeping blood sugar steady for sustained power. Make them about 50 percent of your trail diet.

Get a Boost from Simple Sugars

A backcountry trip isn’t always a steady plod. For bursts of intensity–like a steep climb–you need simple carbs. The sugars in foods like chocolate and raisins are digested quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and a flood of energy to your muscles. For best results, scarf a handful or two of something sweet about an hour before the hill gets nasty.

Recover with Protein

Skimp on this muscle-builder on the trail, and your body starts burning lean muscle mass for fuel. “If that happens,” says Bonci, “you end up fatiguing a lot more quickly, which can increase the risk of injury.” Make protein 20 percent of your backcountry diet, and you’ll be repairing muscles you’ve spent the day breaking down.

Fight Free Radicals

The triple whammy of strenuous exercise, UV light, and high elevation subjects you to cell-damaging free radicals, which increase your risk of serious health problems like heart disease and cancer, says Dr. Wayne Askew, director of the Division of Nutrition at the University of Utah. On-trail prevention is the best medicine: Repair stressed cells with the antioxidant vitamins E and C, plus beta carotene.

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

Voice of Experience (July 2024)

T-26  Newsletter July, 2024 (The Voice of Experience)   Bears: Smart, Motivated, Relentless Black bears, particularly those in the Sierra Nevada, have become “habituated” to human food. That means once

The Voice of Experience (June)

T-26 Newsletter June, 2024 Hiking the Trail General advice and sound tips for the novice in us all. Lace up and load up at home, before hitting the trail, put

Voice of Experience (March)

Blisters The Cure: Catch the hot spot before it’s too late. Heavy all-leather waffle stompers may have gone the way of the dodo bird, but blisters, alas, have not. Friction,

The Voice of Experience (May)

T-26 Newsletter May, 2024 Ease the Itch People who fill their packs with over-the-counter meds for poison oak almost universally report the same conclusion: “They Don’t Work” including Benadryl. You’re

The Voice of Experience (April)

T-26 Newsletter April, 24 Body Tune-Ups Orthopedic surgeons know all about, “runner’s knee”and, “biker’s wrist,” but hey have few, if any labels for backpacking-specific maladies. That’s because ours is a

The Voice of Experience (Febuary)

Cold Weather Camping Three Ways to Lose Body Heat 1. Radiation: The emission of body heat, especially from skin areas exposed to the elements. 2. Conduction: The absorption of cold