31 Jul 20
How to fuel your body for hiking
Our top tips to help you out while you’re in training-mode.
Why nutrients are important
Blood sugar (aka glucose) provides the energy that keeps your brain buzzing and your heart ticking, and all your other muscles and organs functioning nicely. If you eat a varied diet and regularly throughout the day, you’ll be able to keep your blood sugar within the normal range, giving you sustained energy during and after training. Good nutrition will also allow your body to recover and repair each day.
When you don’t fuel your body properly, your blood sugar can plummet and you can experience a range of unpleasant symptoms, from a mid-morning/afternoon slump, to headaches, agitation and crankiness. Preventing a sugar crash is fairly easy if you take greater care with your carb intake and change a few other habits, too. Focus on including a mix of complex carbohydrates, good fats and some protein.
Remember also that exercise can drag your blood sugar down, so you need to compensate for some of the calories your body is using up.
How to sustain your energy levels while training
Start with breakfast
Include protein and a little fat at breakfast, both of which delay the absorption of sugar into the blood, take longer to digest and make you feel fuller than eating carbohydrates alone. Try pairing orange juice with eggs, muesli or a dense wholegrain bread with peanut butter.
Take the same mix-and-match approach to lunch, dinner, and snacks
Meals with a combination of foods will create a slow, steady release of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping you on an even keel. Choose lean protein sources like turkey breast, fish, chicken, cottage cheese and legumes.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry
Going hours without food sets you up for a sugar-heavy snackfest. Try and eat every 2 to 3 hours. Snacks like nuts with dried fruit are easy to carry and will boost and sustain your energy levels.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Drink on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean wine/beer! Alcohol taxes your liver and you won’t have the energy you need if you tax your liver. Save it for the celebration! Dehydration can have a major effect on mood and exercise performance, so be sure to drink water before, during and after you exercise to stay well hydrated. People require different amounts of fluids during exercise and the best gauge is the colour of your urine. If this is concentrated – you are not drinking enough.
Carbs, Fats & Supplements
Carbohydrates are the key to sustained energy when you are walking on a trail. Carbs will give you fast fuel, so eat wholegrains before your walk and snack on boiled eggs, bananas, protein balls, or trail mix. Your body only stores limited amounts of carbohydrates, so it’s essential to replace them. Plan when you’ll eat. It’s often hard to replenish carbohydrates once you’ve ‘hit the wall’.
You only need a small amount of dietary fat, so you don’t need to increase it during training. Not all fats are created equal. Avocado, nuts and seeds are a great source of good fats.
Recipe for a homemade sports drink
Dissolve 4 tablespoons of white sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1/4 cup of boiling water. Once dissolved add 3-3/4 cups of cold water. For flavour, add 1/4 cup of cranberry or orange juice or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Refrigerate and take with you when training.
More useful tips
Practice drinking water and snacking while walking
During training, it’s a good idea to drink water and snack so that you know how your body responds to food and fluid during activity.
Always carry food (and of course, water) with you, just in case
Find out what’s available to eat when you are on your trip. If you need advice, ask our Destination Experts for more information.
Get familiar with mealtimes/routines in the country you are visiting
Find out the eating times/routines in the country you will be visiting. If you are walking the Camino, for example, getting Spanish mealtimes wrong can leave you hungry. Spaniards are not early risers, so coffee shops rarely open before 7am. Lunch is usually eaten between 2pm and 3.30pm, while tapas bars begin to open around 8.30pm, and dinner is served from 9pm.
If you are walking Japan’s Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, food in the guesthouses along the Kumano Kodo trail will be mostly Japanese-style only. There are no options for Western food to be served as all guests are cooked the same meals. A request for a different meal from a guest would be considered offensive and culturally insensitive. Guesthouses along the trail cannot cater for specific dietary requirements, so this trek is not suitable for those with severe allergies or strict dietary requirements.