Nutrition on the trail

Any multi-day backpacking trip is the equivalent of a multi-day marathon. You burn 80% of the calories backpacking that you would run for the same timespan. Backpacking 5-6 hours equals running a marathon in terms of calories burned.

  • Running (5 mph) – 606
  • Hiking – 438
  • Backpacking – 511

We averaged 25 miles per day on the Pacific Crest Trail and calculated our daily burn at 5,000 calories. That is more calories than running a marathon.

The optimum diet and nutrition for an ultra-marathon or an iron man race works very well for a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains.

  • Get enough protein to keep your muscles strong and healing – at least 75 grams per day.
  • Use a recovery drink at the end of the day to resupply those muscles with carbs, protein and electrolytes in a good balance.
  • Distribute your protein through all your meals and snacks to keep the fat burning signal to your brain and metabolic system.
    • Nuts, seeds and meals in your morning cereal
    • Snack bars that have a good % of protein
    • For lunch beans, peanut butter, tuna or hummus on the carb platform.
  • Stay hydrated and replace the electrolytes you are depleting through the day.
  • Make healthy oils part of your diet – nuts, seeds, meals have healthy oils, and of course olive oil.

Keep in mind that on a multi-day hike you are trying to achieve the dual goals of enough energy for today’s hike and staying strong for the days to follow. Sports medicine guru Dr. Mirkin sums it up well:

 ….this study shows that ahtletes will have even greater endurance if they also take in high-protein food such as cheese, meat, chicken or fish. During prolonged, intense exercise, your muscles are damaged and the extra protein supplies protein building blocks called amino acids that can help to limit muscle breakdown and hasten recovery.

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