Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Backpacking Food:Too many carbs and not enough protein

As I continue to read about what a typical backpackers diet is, the more I see a real problem with how most people eat while packing. In 99% of the books and articles I have read they place too much emphasizes on eating carbohydrates as the main source of energy. I have a problem with this for couple of reasons:

  • There are different types of carbs and each effect your blood sugar/energy level differently. For example: The sugar in a chocolate bar will break quickly, giving you an initial boost, but that boost does not last long and as that sugar is burnt off, your blood sugars will crash and so will your overall energy level and mood. On the other hand, dried fruit is a far more complex form of sugar and will take longer to break down, therefore giving smaller amounts of sugar over a much longer period of time and avoiding the severe ups and downs of refined sugars.
  • My other issue is how badly protein is overlooked. Protein is the building blocks of all muscle, as most people are aware. Less known however, is how protein aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels. By adding small protein servings with your carbohydrates, you will sustain energy for long periods of time ( 3-4 hours between snacks/meals)

The next question you may be asking is " How much food do I need and what should I bring?". A general rule is 1 1/2 pounds of dry food per person per day. Most people find they eat less than at home for the first few days on the trail, but begin to get very hungry after 5 to 7 days. So by the end of a week-long trip you might be eating 2 pounds a day.

Pay no attention to the statement on any food label about how many people the contents serve. Try a dish at home to find out how many people it serves. Or else get an accurate little scale, and weigh things. If you plan by weight, you will have enough food overall, even if you have too many Backcountry Oven pizzas and we will!

Strive for a diet of wholesome, natural foods. While every backpacker has his/her favorite items, the things that keep you going are protein, carbohydrate and fat.

  • Protein, carbs and fat: I recommend a hiking diet of about 40-50% carbos, 30-35% protein, 25-30% fat. Eat some protein at every meal - meat, powdered eggs, cheese, soy or bring low carb protein powder. It is especially important to have protein and fat for breakfast on a hiking day, as they give off their stored energy gradually, rather than quickly, as carbohydrates do. Eat some carbohydrates before you hike, even if it is just a few crackers or a bagel, to make sure that your glycogen reserves are stocked up and ready to fuel your body during the hike.
  • Fruits and veggies: You should have your vitamins, minerals and bulk in fruits and vegetables, but the weight problem won't allow you to carry much fresh produce, if any. Freeze-dried fruits are good but expensive. Ordinary dried fruits can be eaten plain or stewed. You can get your vegetables in dehydrated soups and stews, or you can buy dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables unmixed with anything.
  • Snacks: Snacks are important to keep a hiker hiking, both by providing quick energy and, sometimes, comfort. There is room in every pack for a few sugary treats like candy bars, but remember that dried fruits, nuts and energy bars give more staying power than candy. Gum and small, wrapped candies are better left at home. They provide zero nutritional value their wrappers too often end up on the ground as litter.
  • Water: Backpackers need to drink lots of water. Hiking greatly increases a person's need for fluids to prevent dehydration, particularly at higher elevations and when exposed to direct sun ( canoeing for example). Drinking lots of water can offset the effects of this, as well as contribute to your well-being. Plan on drinking at least 1 liter of water every 2 hours and drink before you a thirsty, 'cause by the time you are thirsty your hydration is already compromised. Hot drinks with breakfast and dinner are helpful too replenish electolytes (Sodium, Potassium ect). Take a multi-vitamin daily.

By keeping a balance throughout the day, you can avoid the low energy times that can take some of the fun out of your trip.

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