Gaining 15 Pounds for the Appalachian Trail: A Vegan Journey

Why Gain Weight for the Appalachian Trail?

As an avid Croc wearer, ultra-runner, and freediver, I’ve always been in tune with my body’s needs and staying fit for the activity. When I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, I knew it would be a challenge unlike any other and I would need to get bigger. For reference, I am 6ft1 (185cm) and weigh in at around 165lbs (75kg) to 175lbs (79kg) max for the last 13 years depending on the sport I was training for and season.

The trail is not just a physical test but also a mental one. To prepare, I made the decision to gain 15 pounds, focusing primarily on muscle mass. Why? Because muscle is more than just power and I will be losing a lot of it, it’s insurance. It’s the reserve your body taps into when faced with the relentless demands of a long-distance hike and not being able to eat regular food.

Teagan at the Gym

The Benefits of Gaining Muscle

Gaining muscle isn’t just about bulking up. For a hiker, it’s about endurance, strength, and resilience. Muscle mass helps in:

  • Energy Storage: More muscle means more glycogen storage, which is crucial for sustained energy during long days on the trail.
  • Injury Prevention: Strong muscles protect joints and reduce the risk of injury, a critical consideration when you’re miles from the nearest town.
  • Metabolic Efficiency: A higher muscle mass can improve metabolic rate, helping your body use food more efficiently as fuel.
  • Improved Endurance: Increased muscle strength can lead to better endurance, allowing you to hike longer distances with less fatigue.
  • Enhanced Recovery: Strong muscles recover more quickly from the strains of hiking, reducing downtime and allowing for more consistent progress on the trail.
  • Balance and Stability: A solid muscle base can improve your balance and stability on uneven terrain, reducing the likelihood of falls and mishaps.
  • Temperature Regulation: Muscle mass enhances your body’s ability to regulate temperature, keeping you warmer in cold conditions and cooler in the heat.
  • Posture and Alignment: Muscle strength contributes to better posture and alignment, which can prevent overuse injuries and reduce fatigue.
  • Enjoyable Journey: All these factors combined mean that a well-muscled hiker is likely to have a more enjoyable and successful journey on the Appalachian Trail.

With these benefits, it’s clear that gaining muscle is a strategic move for any hiker looking to tackle the Appalachian Trail with confidence and resilience.

Bread and Lentils

Weight Loss on the Trail

It’s common for hikers to lose weight on the Appalachian Trail, often shedding 10-30 pounds over the course of their journey. This weight loss is a mix of fat and muscle, but having extra muscle mass at the start means you’re less likely to lose critical strength as the hike progresses.

Vegan Nutrition for Weight Gain

Gaining weight, especially as a vegan, requires a focus on eating everything, calorie-dense foods, while still being healthy. Here’s what worked for me:

  • Protein: I incorporated plenty of chia seeds, spirulina, tofu, lentils, tempeh, and beans into my diet. These are not only high in protein but also provide essential nutrients and fiber. They can be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to sandwiches. I have Chia seeds in water with Lime and creatine every morning for the last three months.
  • Creatine: As a supplement, creatine helped support my muscle growth and energy levels during workouts.
  • Carbohydrates: Oats, quinoa, and sweet potatoes were my go-to sources of healthy carbs, providing the energy needed for both workouts and recovery. But mostly bread, lots of bread in all shapes and sizes.
  • Healthy Fats: Avocados and seeds helped me increase my calorie intake without compromising on nutrition. These are not only rich in healthy fats but also packed with vitamins and minerals. Adding these to salads, sandwiches, or toast is a delicious way to increase your calorie intake.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and peanut butter are excellent sources of healthy fats and protein. They’re easy to snack on and can be added to smoothies or oatmeal for an extra calorie boost. I eat handfuls daily.
  • Dried Fruits: Dates, raisins, and apricots are high in natural sugars and calories, making them a great energy source for hikes and workouts.
  • Plant-Based Protein Powders: Incorporating a vegan protein powder into your diet can help you meet your surplus of protein and support muscle growth. I often have it with just almond milk, but you can add it to smoothies or oatmeal for a post-workout recovery meal.
  • Whole Grains: Brown rice, barley, faro, and whole wheat pasta are not only filling but also provide the carbohydrates needed to fuel your workouts and recovery.

By incorporating these foods into my diet, I was able to ensure that I was getting enough calories and nutrients to support my weight gain goals while sticking to my vegan principles.

Vegan Grilled Cheese and Tots

My Workout Routine

Over five months, I committed to a balanced workout routine, focusing on full-body strength while maintaining my cardiovascular fitness. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Push Exercises: Bench presses, standing dumbbell shoulder presses, dips, and push-ups targeted my chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Pull Exercises: Rows, chin-ups, and pull-ups strengthened my back and biceps.
  • Core Workouts: Planks and leg raise kept my core strong, crucial for carrying a backpack for miles.
  • Leg Exercises: Squats, leg presses, pistol squats, and lunges ensured my legs are trail-ready.
  • Hinge Movements: Deadlifts were essential for overall strength and stability. I used to use the bar then switched to dumbbells and have been enjoying it. Thanks, Chris Fluck for the ideas with the dumbbells.

I balanced these strength workouts with cardio sessions 3-4 days a week, keeping my endurance up without compromising muscle gain. I usually run around 7 miles (12 kilometers) or around an hour for the 12k and 25 minutes for the 5k. I also have been mixing in the step machine for 20-30 min at speeds 9 to 10, getting that booty butt. The attack bike I was doing when in recovery but felt it was not sport-specific and didn’t do as much for me.

Last Thoughts

Gaining 15 pounds for the Appalachian Trail was a journey in itself and not easy. It required discipline, focus, and a commitment to my health, fitness goals, and cooking skills.  As I embark on this epic hike, I feel confident that the extra muscle and strength will not only carry me through but also enhance my overall experience on the trail. For anyone considering a similar adventure, remember that preparation is key. Fuel your body, train smart, and the trail will be yours to destroy.

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Comments 16

  • Dylan Bean : Mar 14th

    Thanks for this informative post. Always love hearing the nutrition and exercise routine of hikers preparing in advance. Nice to have a motivator beyond vanity!

    • Teagan : Mar 14th

      I mean I do like looking good, but yea it wasn’t easy to gain that much in such a short time. Also I have already lost a few pounds, I only held that much for a month. Eating that much is hard. Thanks for the read.

  • female led relationship guidelines : Mar 14th

    Usually I do not read article on blogs however I would like to say that this writeup very compelled me to take a look at and do it Your writing style has been amazed me Thank you very nice article

    • Teagan : Mar 20th

      Thank you for reading.

  • Ruth Morley : Mar 14th

    A good post. I’m now in my fifth year of following a whole-food plant based way of eating, both on trail and off. I’m wondering what your on-trail plans are for your vegan diet. Have you prepped resupply boxes to have sent? That’s what worked for me, since you can’t rely on anything from many of the food sources along the way. I’ve dehydrated all my own meals and snacks since 2017 for the full length of the AT and the Colorado Trail and my first half of both the Florida Trail and Buckeye Trail. If interested, check out my blogs here on and my FB page, Heart Healthy Hiking. I’ll enjoy following your journey as it enfolds.

    • Teagan : Mar 14th

      Great and thanks for the tips, I’m a bit late to send boxes and plan to move quick so I choose not to do them but thanks for the ideas and will consider it in future.

  • Slow Rogan : Mar 14th

    Just shut up and hike. No one cares about your diet.

    • Teagan : Mar 14th

      No need for vitriol. Being a vegan, isn’t a diet for me but a lifestyle choice. A choice not to hurt any animals. From the other comments and mesagaes I’ve received people do care about animal welfare and being healthy. You don’t have to comment or read the article as I don’t have to write or reply. Have a great day and being kind doesn’t cost anything.

      • Ruth Morley : Mar 15th

        Right on.

        • Teagan : Mar 20th

          Thank you for reading, happy trails.

    • Chasing Cairns : Mar 15th

      Obviously several people care since they commented on the article SMH If you don’t have something nice to say, simply move on. Have you hiked today? I think a hike might help you feel better. I enjoyed reading about the exercise & diet plan – thanks Teagan! Googling pistol squats now…

      • Teagan : Mar 20th

        Thank you for the kind words, keep on keeping on.

  • Gingerbreadman : Mar 14th

    I guess I mostly lived on oatmeal, mashed taters, soups , dried fruit, whole grain peanut butter and jelly; a lot of which I found in hiker boxes as I never got my last UPS paycheck (they gave it to Texas because I was defiant etc .). They tell me things are different from AT9 35 years ago. Good idea to have credit card & a hefty bank balance…not to mention travel evacuation insurance if u get hurt. Enjoy! David : AT9, PCT93, RMT04, Alps, Pennines, Pyrenees, Austrailia, ….etc

    • Teagan : Mar 20th

      Cool beans, yea instant noodles without the packs, I bought some vegan powders to add. Cheers.

  • John.shafer : Mar 14th

    At the risk of picking the obvious; my prediction for your trail name…Teagan the vegan

    • Teagan : Mar 20th

      Haha, yea I feel it may be coming. I have some friends that only call me that. Cheers.


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