Going on a trek? Here's what to eat

Before you set off on your outdoor adventure, make sure you’ve got a good plan.

Written by Dr Jane Read

1. Carb load before you trek

Carbohydrate loading allows your muscle glycogen levels to increase to a level that has been shown to improve endurance exercise, and allow athletes to exercise for longer. This same strategy can be applied to endurance hiking. For one to four days before your adventure, a high carbohydrate intake (7-12 g per kilogram of body weight) will help you get your body ready.

2. …And keep up your carbs along the way

During your trek, carbohydrates will be your fuel of choice. Carbohydrates are readily broken down into glucose, which is absorbed quickly and utilised efficiently. Whenever you take part in an endurance event or session (over 90 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise), you should try to consume 6-10 g of carbs per kilogram of body weight.

3. Prepare smart meals

If you’re trekking with a tour group, make sure you plan ahead and find out how many meals are provided. On many organised trips, breakfast and dinner may be provided for you, while you will have to carry snacks and lunch that are lightweight and easy to prepare.

If you have to provide your own lunch, some good options include: wholegrain crackers or flat bread topped with flavoured tuna (in a sachet), portions of spreads like peanut butter/jam or small cans of corn/legumes.

It’s best to have a breakfast and evening meal containing low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. These carbohydrates break down and release glucose slowly, which means they will help sustain your energy for longer. Low GI foods include porridge, wholemeal damper, wholegrain bread, rice and some types of noodles.

"During your trek, carbohydrates will be your fuel of choice. Carbohydrates are readily broken down into glucose, which is absorbed quickly and utilised efficiently."

4. Bring energy-boosting snacks

While you are trekking, you will need readily absorbed carbohydrates which are low in fat and fibre. These will restore and maintain your muscle glycogen stores. Have snacks in your day pack like crackers, dried fruit, muesli bars, sports bars and sports energy gels.

5. Stay hydrated

Keep your body hydrated by drinking small amounts of water every 20 minutes while hiking. This is especially important if hiking in a hot and humid climate. In humidity, the body loses heat by sweating, but instead of being evaporated (a mechanism to prevent the body from overheating) the sweat stays on the skin. Without evaporation, the body’s core temperature can rise, leading to serious medical emergencies such as heat stroke (hyperthermia). Symptoms of heat stroke include fatigue, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle cramps.

During your training, you can estimate your fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after an exercise session. Each kilogram of weight loss accounts for 1 litre of fluid loss.

If you’re refilling your water bottle along the way, bring purification tablets containing iodine – these are designed to kill most microbes in water that can cause disease.

6. Balance your electrolytes

While it’s essential to stay adequately hydrated, don’t drink excessive amounts of water – this can lead to low sodium levels in your blood. Hyponatraemia (when your sodium gets dangerously low) is a serious medical condition.

To keep your electrolytes in check, sports drinks and rehydration fluids can be very helpful, as they contain appropriate concentrations of electrolytes and carbohydrates to promote fluid balance, prevent injury and improve performance. Rehydration fluids also come in lightweight powder form that can be dissolved in water. Drink 500 ml of a fluid containing carbohydrate and sodium 1-2 hours before your hike each day, and continue to sip regularly.

Good carbohydrate foods for travelling

  • Wheat biscuit cereal (eg Weet Bix)
  • Porridge (made with water)
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Pita and Lebanese bread
  • Muesli bars
  • Rice cakes
  • Crispbreads and dry biscuits
  • Pancakes
  • Rice
  • Pasta or noodles
  • Bananas
  • Other fruit
  • Sultanas and raisins
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Lentils / soy beans / kidney beans
  • Milk
  • Flavoured non-fat yoghurt
  • Sports drinks
  • Sports bars
  • Sports gels

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Written by Dr Jane Read

Dr Jane Read is both a medical doctor and qualified dietitian/nutritionist. Her PhD and research interests includes diet, cancer and survivorship.

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