Let me take you on an adventure. We are hiking the Brecon Beacons, it’s a sunny day, the warmth radiates through our skin and warms the soul. Visibility is excellent and the hills show off their majesty before us. But the rucksack is heavy, sweat is beading down our faces the heat is bringing on a headache and as much as we can’t wait for the pub dinner, all we have is a few biscuits and jelly sweets to keep us going.
Soon the splendour of the hills disappears, and our vision narrows to our feet, plodding away up the never-ending hill and false summits that linger before us. Our muscles are burning, the stop we just took filled our legs with a tingling light feeling that is replaced with a dull and stubborn ache that doesn’t go away. We have a spare bottle of water, but as the pace slows inexorably through fatigue, we start to wonder if we have enough to last. There is still a long way to go…
Welcome to a place I know all too well, welcome to the exact situation I was in while army training in the Brecon Beacons, staring up a really long hill. Fuelled only on Haribo I experienced first-hand the significant spikes and crashes that come with unsustainable insufficient sugars for prolonged exercise. As a summer and winter mountain leader, qualified evidence-based nutritionist, and personal trainer, I look back on these moments both fondly as experience, and critically with greater knowledge of nutrition, hydration, and exercise.
I want stress the importance of nutrition in the great outdoors, Nutrition is completely individual, but there are some evidence-based foundations from which we can create our own strategies to fuel our adventures and bring about to maximum performance and the enjoyment of the hills.
Preparing for a day on the hills depends on what we are planning to do, there is a significant difference to a 30-mile epic and walking the dog. Our nutrition strategies should reflect this necessity for adaptation. The saying that ‘the army marches in its belly’ and the subsequent push to eat a huge amount of food in the morning or the night before setting out on a long hill day where constantly repeated to me. But, digestive issues, cramp, toilet breaks in the bushes and general sluggishness posed an evident issue in this theory. So how can we fuel adequately for long days out on the hill?
Your body is like a car engine that can run off both petrol (carbs) and diesel (fat). The human body has the ability to burn both, the intensity of the exercise will dictate what fuel you burn, the higher the intensity, the more carbohydrates are required.
When out hiking, you are going to encounter a mixture of high intensity and low intensity exertion as the terrain changes. You need to have an adequate mixture of food when out and about, so you are not riding the roller-coaster of sugar spikes and crashes.
Your body burns energy, depending on the intensity and effort of your hike, you may need more food to replenish, rebuild, and recover, so that you can get back out the next day, or at the very least, wake up a little less sore. After physical exertion, our body is primed to absorb nutrients, its ready for food.
How does all this fit together with hiking and a healthy lifestyle? We don’t need to buy supplements, take shakes, and eat bars that taste like flip flops, but how do we use food for fuel AND food for fun?
Here are my top tips to integrate these strategies with a healthy balanced diet:
GetOutside Champion Ben Turner is an MNU certified evidence-based nutritionist, level 4 Personal Trainer and avid adventure enthusiast. The founder of 21st Century Body, Shropshire’s leading nutrition consultancy, Ben works with a range of clients from elite and amateur athletes to busy families trying to make healthier choices. Through a consistent to approach, analysing research and applying evidence to experience, Ben has developed a proactive centred on the healthy attitude to food, a habit-based approach and never demonising or overly restricting foods.
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