Fueling for Performance for Hiking and Mountaineering

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Maria Faires and son Jordan Faires hiking to Camp Muir

For intense hiking training for mountaineering, you will benefit from having a well-planned fueling program that ensures adequate calorie and fluid intake. And for maximum fueling, choose “Real Foods” instead of processed like candy bars, protein or energy bars, granola bars, etc. For more go to this blog.

Carbohydrate is the most important source of energy for the exerciser. Carbohydrates deliver the energy that fuels muscles. Once eaten, carbohydrates breakdown into glucose, fructose and galactose that then get absorbed and used to fuel workouts. Any that isn’t required immediately is stockpiled in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. After these glycogen stores are filled up, any extra gets stored as fat. Glycogen is used during immediate and short intense bursts of exercise. During more long slower bouts, fat is used too. If glycogen isn’t available protein is used.

Pre-Hike Fueling

Prior to your hike, you will want to eat wisely. The calories in your pre-event meal will last for about 60 to 90 minutes. About 1-2 hours prior, a small pre or post hike meal or snack should be consumed. It should consist mostly carbohydrate and some protein (to let it stay with you a little longer) and should be very low in fat, to allow the stomach to digest the food quickly. This will increase glucose levels in the circulation and “top-off” muscle glycogen stores. Some examples of pre-exercise snacks:

  • Yogurt with whole grain crackers or fruit
  • Bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk and blueberries or banana
  • Fig newtons and a glass of low-fat milk
  • 100% whole wheat bread with slice of low-fat cheese or nut butter
  • Fruit smoothie made with non-fat yogurt
  • Oatmeal made with fruit and low-fat milk
  • Banana and string cheese
  • Whole Wheat Bagel with peanut butter and a yogurt
  • Egg and 100% Whole Wheat Toast
  • For more ideas, see my blog here on healthy breakfasts, some of these make great snacks, lunches or dinners too

Fueling During your Hike

Experiment during training hikes to observe how your body responds and make adjustments before your big climb. If you are exercising less than an hour, there is no need to eat during exercise if you have eaten a meal before. Drink 6 to 12 oz. of water every 15 minutes during exercise.

For long, hard hike that last beyond 1-1.5 hours, you should try to supplement at least one-third or more of the calories burned. Consult sports dietitian Maria Faires to help you estimate YOUR calorie needs and how many calories you burned per hour.

Here is an estimate of how to fuel during hiking: If you are hiking vigorously for 1-2 ½ hours then it’s smart to consume a 120-240 calories (30-60 grams of carbs) per hour snack to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout your hike.

If you are hiking vigorously for over 2 ½ hours then it’s smart to consume a 240-350 calories (60-90 grams of carbs) per hour snack to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout your hike.

If you are using an energy gel, use a gel that contains multiple sources of fuel (like glucose and fructose) as you’ll be able to consume and absorb more fuel each hour and therefore keep your system energized. Be sure to begin taking gels relatively early in the hike. By taking the gels early, your body shouldn’t be under great stress and you will be able to digest it. Always take energy gels with plain water, not a sports drink.

Tips

Experiment with both salty and sweet foods to see what you like. Try to choose the most  nutritious foods. If you are a heavy sweater, choose some of the foods that are higher in sodium. Keep your perishables chilled. Some hikers do well with a caffeine-boost. If you want to experiment with this, pack iced tea in one of your water bottles.

Stay fueled and energized on your next hiking trip with these healthy and nutrient-packed “real food” hiking snacks that will keep hiking all day.

Examples of Foods to Take Hiking

Dried fruit such as pineapple, raisins, cherries, blueberries, dates

Fresh fruit such as banana, apple, orange slices, grapes, berries

2% fat or lower cottage cheese topped with frozen blueberries. (The frozen berries keep the cottage cheese chilled during your hike)

Fig Bar Cookies

Soy beans (shelled edamame) that you find in the frozen section of your grocery store

Hummus on Wheat Crackers

Triscuits, or whole grain bread, or whole grain roll with Peanut Butter

Whole Grain or Corn Tortilla Filled with Refried Beans, Salsa, and Cheese

String cheese

Gummy Bears (NOT sugarless as these can give you diarrhea)

Peanut butter and honey sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread

Jerky

Sports drink, gummies, gels, bars. Click here to see how to choose the best ones

Pretzels

Cereal nuggets like Kashi Go Lean Crunch or Cinnamon Harvest

Almonds, Walnuts, Peanuts, Pumpkin Seeds

Post Hike Fueling

Consume calories and fluids immediately following the hike in the form of a 100 to 400 calories. Eating a high-carbohydrate snack or meal with protein in the immediate postexercise period has been shown to quickly encourage the replacement of glycogen that was used up during the exercise session. This aids recovery and will allow the hiker to start stocking up on stored carbohydrate for the next training session.

Fluid and Hydration

You will have to drink enough water or sports drink to prevent dehydration. Fluid loss from sweat results in dehydration that can impair performance and mental functioning and affect their ability perform them effectively. Hikers should get in a habit of drinking fluid on a regular basis. To check your hydration status, check your urine. You should be voiding light-colored, pale yellow urine every 2 to 4 hours. And if you’re thirsty, you are most likely a quart low.

  • Drink plenty of fluids with meals.
  • Drink 16 oz. 2 hours before activity.
  • Drink another 8 to 16 oz. 15 minutes before activity.
  • Drink 6 to 12 oz. every 15 minutes during exercise.
  • Drink 24 oz. for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
  • In events lasting longer than ninety minutes, performance will likely be enhanced with the use of a sports drink
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