A regular query of yours, whether I’m on the trail or not, is “Are you eating enough?” While that particular question is subject to context (Enough to survive? Enough to stay full? Enough to qualify for welterweight boxing?), the short answer is: usually.
I eat a fair amount. Always have. But until recently, I wasn’t burning upwards of 6,000 calories a day. This changes things. The amount of food that sufficed for a rousing day of sitting on my duff suddenly was insufficient for hiking 30 mile days. A crazy concept, I know. I was expecting to eat more, but I didn’t know just how much.
What might do for some hikers I would wither and die on. Some start their mornings with a pair of pop tarts and eat nothing again until lunch. Pop tarts are my second breakfast of three. Then again, most others have some degree of fat on them to burn until their diet, metabolism and routine all sync up. I have no such luxury. I still managed to lose weight through the desert, though I believe that I was a little dehydrated at the time of stepping on the scale. I haven’t seen a scale since then so I can’t say what has happened recently.
There are those who analyze and dissect the caloric content and nutritional value of every scrap of food that makes their food bag, but I am not one of them. I have a fundamental understanding of hiker diets, but mostly I eat what’s filling and what I’m hungry for. Most would agree that a diet high in fat is very beneficial, as these calories are ready to burn without needing extra time to metabolize, or something like that. While the rest of the world looks at the side of the box to avoid the foods with a high fat content, we seek them out.
Carbohydrates are important for a balanced diet, but play less of a role than fats for most. These take longer to process before they become usable energy. Simple carbs, in the form of sugars, release insulin which inhibits the absorption of glucose, or so I’m told. Then again, others are adamant that insulin is necessary to better process protein. I don’t know, ask a scientist.
Protein is considered by some the most important aspect of the hiker diet, as the other elements will take care of themselves if this retirement is adequately met. When fat deposits are depleted, muscle is next to be burned in order to keep the essential functions going. Seeing as how muscles are a pretty important element of hiking across the country, this is something we try and avoid. A constant intake of calories can help curtail the loss of muscle, but at times it is not always possible to keep up with the demand, so a diet high in protein can help rebuild that which is lost.
Since I’ve lept up towards the front of the pack, diet is a constant topic of conversation. “Corn products are better because they take longer to digest.” “Butter has a better weight to calorie ratio than olive oil.” “Dehydrated refried beans aren’t all that bad.” These guys are all about speed and how they can get more of it and be more efficient. Personally, I’m not too concerned with what I eat so long as I’m not hungry. That’s actually a hard task to accomplish out here, but I do my best.
Here’s a breakdown of my typical food for a day:
6:00am – Oatmeal, old fashioned. 3.5-4 cups has become the standard, along with half a cup of raisins and half a cup of walnuts.
First thing I do when I wake up is have my breakfast in bed. Measure out oats and pour water over them, eaten cold and uncooked. An acquired taste.
8:30am – Pop tarts, 1 pair of varying flavors.
Pop tarts are an awesome hiking food because they’re so disgusting that they actually make me want to stop eating momentarily.
10:00am – Snickers bar.
Contrary to their advertising, these do little to fight hunger. They usually just make me hungry for more snickers bars.
11:00am & 12:00pm – Nature Valley granola bars, 1 pair at a time.
My go-to snack. They’re easy to find, calorie dense, and I’m not sick of them yet. It’s a good day if I can actually wait this long before eating these.
12:30pm – Beef summer sausage, cheese and tortilla. 2 wraps. Trail mix is eaten while preparing these, somewhere around a cup to a cup and a half.
The wraps are usually eaten on the trail. Took a while to come to this combination for lunch (and longer before summer sausage was readily available) but it works well. Cheese is usually the sharpest cheddar I can find as this seems to last better without refrigeration.
4:00pm & 5:00pm – Nature Valley granola bars. I try and wait as long as I can before eating these after lunch, but I don’t always make it that long.
7:00pm – Dinner. Usually consists of one of three meals: pasta (preferably orzo as this is easiest to eat with a spoon) with parmesan, pesto (optional) and half a cup of olive oil, instant mashed potatoes with cheese and half a cup of olive oil, or couscous with half a cup of olive oil. The latter two are the easiest to prepare, the first is the most filling. Sometimes eaten at camp, sometimes made and eaten on the trail, followed by a few more miles of hiking before making camp. More trail mix is eaten during preparation.
I know I could do better by having more fats in the morning and more protein in the evening, but like I said, I’m here to enjoy my hike and my food, not set a speed record. I could definitely eat more, but that’s about all I can comfortably carry for the length of time that I’m out at once. If trail magic is found, you can add a few hundred more calories to this, and if it’s a town day, everything is about triple the amount.
So in short, I’m good, but watch out once I’m back, because everyday will be town day.