Charge the Trail: Nutrition for Long-Distance Hikers

There’s a trail adage that says something like, “By the end of the hike, women look like goddesses and the men look like skeletons.”  Although I appreciate the compliment, muscle wasting is no joke!  During my thru-hike, I saw people lose massive amounts of weight very quickly, and lose strength and energy as a result.  

As a registered dietitian, I spent a lot of time focusing on calories and protein before our trip.  I was surprised by how many of my fellow hikers had not prepared in this way and how few seemed to be aware of what his/her needs were on the trail. 

Many hikers went in overweight with the assumption that they would lose weight and get in shape on the trail.  While that may be true, weight loss is not easy on your body, and is better tolerated in a controlled environment… i.e. at home before you leave.  

On the flip side, we saw other hikers get on the trail lean and slender, without an ounce of fat to lose.  Assuming you will burn 3,000-7,000 calories per day (depending on size and gender), some weight loss is hard to avoid. When the body runs out of fat to burn, it breaks down muscle instead.  

During your hike, nutrition plays a vital role in reaching your goal.  Whether it is Katahdin, Springer, Mexico, Canada, or elsewhere, you will not get there without fueling your body.  Meal planning is essential.

After your big hike, it is easy to continue eating like a thru-hiker!  I found myself having an “eat all I possibly can” mentality as if every day was a pit stop in a trail town.  I had become accustomed to making energy-dense choices, such as milkshakes, French fries, and pizza, because that’s what my body had needed for so many months on the trail.  Post-hike overeating can worsen the post-hike blues that many of us face.  Everything is an adjustment, including nutrition.


Charge the Trail

All that said, nutrition is critical before, during, and after your thru-hike.  That’s why I’m launching Charge the Trail: Nutrition for Long-Distance Hikers.  We offer nutrition guidance to long-distance hikers to prepare for big trips, stay full and nourished during hikes, prevent muscle wasting, and eliminate weight gain after the trail. We strive to be the hungry hiker’s destination for long-distance hiking nutrition information and outdoor recipes. Charge the Trail aims to unlock the secrets to increased energy, meal planning, and success on the trail.

Currently, we meet our mission through three main avenues: virtual counseling with a Registered Dietitian, public speaking, and knowledge sharing via YouTube, Instagram, and our website.  Everyone can benefit so check us out and let us know what other venues or information will help you along the way.

 

Use #chargethetrail to show us what you’re preparing in the outdoors.  

We’ll feature your meals, pictures, and recipes along with a nutrient analysis. There’s a portfolio of recipes on our website we’re planning to turn into a comprehensive database of amazing outdoor meals created with nutrient-dense ingredients.


Recipes

Get ready to cook with these recipes for your next big adventure!

Outdoor Oatmeal
INSTRUCTIONS:

Boil 1.5 cups of water.  (Often, in the morning I will boil additional water to use for coffee/tea to sip on while I cook.)  Add 1 cup of rolled, organic oats, 1/4 cup of whole milk powder (Soy powder is a good substitute if you are vegan or have lactose intolerance.), 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 heaping Tbsp peanut butter, cinnamon & salt to taste.

600 calories, 22g protein, 81g carb, 23g fat, 10g fiber.

SERVES 1 HUNGRY HIKER.

Watch this recipe on YouTube, and subscribe to see more recipes brought to life.

Carter’s Gap Quinoa

INSTRUCTIONS:

Boil 3 cups of water.  Add 1/2 cup quick cooking brown rice, 3/4 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup dehydrated lentils, 1/4 cup dehydrated carrots, 2 Tbsp dried onions.  Season with dash of onion powder, red pepper, salt & pepper.  Once cooked, melt in 4 Tbsp butter.

713 calories, 19g protein, 97g carbs, 28g fat, 15g fiber

SERVES 2 HUNGRY HIKERS.

 

Check out our site for more, and let us know what you’re cooking!
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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Vicki Adams : Jun 22nd

    Love your site. Can’t wait for more

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ralph "Elvis Trailsley" Ferrusi, AT 4000-Miler : Jun 23rd

    Recently I made up a batch of “Simple GORP”—M&M’s and peanuts—for an Adirondack canoe trip. Noontime I had the last of it—a couple of handfuls—for lunch.

    I finished the Trail on July 19, 1975, as a vegetarian. I’ve watched my diet for the last 42 years, and I still look pretty much as I did then on Katahdin.

    Good Luck informing the hamburger/french fries masses…………………

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Claudia : Jun 23rd

      Hi Elvis Trailsley! I’d love to hear more about your hike, your diet, and your yummy recipe! Send me an email if you’re willing to be contacted. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Glenn May : Jul 12th

    I’m thinking 2018 or 19 for thru-hike on the AP trail. I’m very concerned about my nutritional needs as anyone should be. However I’m aType 2 diabetic. At home I’ve done quite well controlling my #’s with food, walking and Metformin but I’m really concerned about how well I can pulled that off on the trail. At home I’m su surviving on a low carb way of life. I’m afraid I’ll starve on the trail. So far my plan is to eat more carbs but restrict them to times when I will be getting up and walking. I dont eat carbs in the evening now and I think that’s something I should continue on my hike.
    What do you think?
    Glenn May

    Reply

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