One thing I am concerned about is nutrition on the trail. Most hikers tend to go for high calorie junk food to propel them forward on the trail. When in trail towns they stock up on highly processed junk foods and that is what they eat. If you are young, perhaps this works as the body is very resilient to all sorts of negative inputs at that age. If the trip is a short one, only a couple of weeks, again, not a big deal. But when the trip is going to be a multi-month trip, I think proper nutrition on the trail takes on a whole new level of importance, regardless of age. Yes your body needs raw calories to get through the day of hiking 20 plus miles while carrying 30 pounds of extra weight, but if you do that day after day without replacing key nutrients your body eventually will start to cannibalize itself to get those key nutrients. For example, if you don’t get enough calcium, your body will start to draw it from your bones which could lead to a stress fracture. Then your through hike is over, and it is over because of nutrition exhaustion. Perfectly preventable. Another aspect of proper nutrition is that it allows your body to recover that much quicker. You might not be as sore in the morning as you would be otherwise. Again, a theme you will begin to see is that being comfortable on the trail, for a trip of this nature, is critical to the mental capacity that you need to complete the trip. So anything that will make me more comfortable, in this case recover quicker and with less soreness, is critical.
Food energy comes in three forms: Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates. You need protein to repair and rebuild muscle and make enzymes, hormones and many other body chemicals. Fats store energy, help us maintain proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, transport vitamins and other nutrients amongst other things. Carbohydrates come in two forms, simple and complex, and the main function of both is to provide energy for our bodies. A secondary purpose of providing energy is to protect our muscle tissue, as the body will burn the protein found in our muscle for energy if necessary, thereby cannibalizing itself. Simple carbohydrates fall into the sugar line and are a relatively immediate source of energy for our bodies whereas, complex carbohydrates fall into the whole grains and vegetables and are a longer lasting form of energy for our bodies.
Calorie for weight, fat provides the most calories for the lightest weight (roughly 9 calories per gram), with protein and carbohydates less so (roughly 4 calories per gram), and with some complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli and other fresh vegetables (broccoli .34 calories per gram), you need pounds of them to provide any calories. This is the energy density of food (calories divided by weight). But there is more to the food we eat than calories and weight, otherwise everyone would eat plain sugar and butter on the trail. It is crucial that to maintain peak functioning that we get plenty of vitamins and minerals with our food. These last two items help our bodies process the protein, fat and carbohydrates properly and keep our muscles, bones and other connective tissues repaired. Without going into more detail, this is my plan for replenishing energy.
I am planning on dehydrating my own meals for the trail. This way I know I’ll be getting good nutrition. I assume that each week I’ll be in trail towns for at least one dinner, perhaps two, so I am going to find five meals that I like and make enough for five months of backpacking. I hope to finish the trip in just over four months, but it could take six, so how much food to prepare is a bit of guesstimate. The first one I am working on is unstuffed peppers. I got the original recipe from http://www.backpackingchef.com, and modified it a bit. I have added a couple of tablespoons of dried onion and a couple of tablespoons of dried spinach. Spinach is one of those “super foods” that contain all sorts of nutritional goodness. Spinach is a good source of Niacin and Zinc, Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper, Manganese and Choline. So the onions add flavor and the spinach adds nutrition. And with the spinach, you literally don’t even notice that it is in the dish. The downside to spinach is there are almost no calories in it. (.23 calories per gram, or 2 Tablespoons dried is 26 calories) If I find I am losing too much weight during my hike, I may add a couple of Tablespoons of Olive Oil to each dinner to get the added calories.
For breakfast, I am considering doing a variation of the Drew Manning, from Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit fame (http://www.fit2fat2fit.com) Spinach Shake. I can use protein powder and powdered peanut butter. I can dehydrate spinach and almond milk and grind it into a powder. Not sure about the banana. The only thing I don’t have is the ice. J Well, I will try this at home and see how it turns out. There will likely be some variation on this recipe to make sure that it dissolves well and is palatable.
The rest of the day I’ll eat as most backpackers eat. Protein bars, granola bars, granola, Snickers bars, etc…. On some days as I pass through a town or stay overnight in a town, I’ll buy a Subway sandwich and carry that with me for lunch. Or a block of cheese and sausage, or other such real food trail treats. One thing I do on the trail is eat all day long. Basically it is one long grazing period. In a readily accessible location I will have two or three different bars, or snacks that I can eat while hiking. This way I am getting nutrition and calories all day long. I will have more on this as time goes on…