Trekking Food: Nutrition habits to inculcate while trekking
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
Fueling is paramount when you head out for a trek and most get it wrong when it comes to nutrition for treks and the associated food habits. Today we get to you all the best practices when it comes to trekking nutrition.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
La Rochefoucald put it very appropriately, “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” One can make plenty of mistakes while eating at home, but while trekking in the Himalayas the body behaves differently; and carrying the wrong kind of food and nurturing the wrong kind of nutritional habits can spell doom.
Break your fast with this
When trekking in the Himalayas for long hours, your body depletes its reserves of energy and therefore feeding carbohydrates at breakfast is the way to go. Pranav is a firm believer of having a complex carbohydrate rich breakfast. The advantage with complex carbs is that they break down and release energy slowly, and for a longer duration.
“Wilderness nutrition needs are very different and your breakfast should be fairly filling, comprising either of these: oats, poha, pasta or muesli,” suggests Pranav. These are light weight to carry and have good reserves of complex carbs.
Sugary energy bars and chocolates are a strict no
Early in the morning when your trek has just begun, you must not feed your body simple, easy to absorb carbohydrates. “I see a lot of trekkers opening a packet of energy bars or chocolates, the moment the trek begins,” observes Pranav. This is wrong at several levels. As nutrition for treks, you don’t need them at this time of the day because your body is adequately rested and has its own reserves of energy. Moreover sugary energy bars force your body to not break down complex carbs, and instead switch to absorbing simpler carbs which release instant energy.
The downsides of easy morning sugary intake is that it induces fatigue faster, since the body has become used to not digesting complex carbs and wishes for easy carbs instead. Also when sugar burns, the body loses a lot of water and can make you dehydrated resulting in headaches, cramps and a general lack of energy. Avoid these at all costs when trekking in the Himalayas.
The cure for post lunch fatigue
Post 2-3 pm when the body has depleted its energy reserves and the lunch you have consumed hasn’t started breaking down yet, you can munch on a trail mix. With a few hours of trekking still left and fatigue kicking in, wholegrain and multi-nut homemade granola bars are a great option. Trail mixes made up of nuts like almonds and walnuts, dried fruits like banana, grapes and apples along with seeds such as sunflower, flax and chia are a good source of carbohydrates and vitamins and make for wonderful nutrition on treks.
Electrolytes are necessary
Towards the evening when the trek is beginning to come to an end, the body would have perspired and lost a lot of salts and ions through sweat. The key to recovery is mixing electrolytes with water. You can also consume energy gels which have electrolytes, salts and sugar and aid in speedy recovery. Some of these gels have nicotine which tell your brain that you aren’t as tired as you feel and help pull off those extra miles of trek. Since at the start of the trek, the body has enough electrolyte balances to pull off one or two days of trek, these must be consumed either when running very low on energy or after one or two days of strenuous trekking.
Evenings matter the most
Trekking in the Indian Himalayas, after fatiguing your body through continuous ascends, adapting to the cold weather and altitude, it is only natural that your body will have depleted not just energy but also muscle. Pranav recommends trekkers take care of their trekking diet and nutrition plan. You must consume endurance protein which are a mix of protein and carbohydrates in the evening. These help repair torn tissues and build muscle and provide the much needed energy.
Nutrition for trek as far as vitamins are concerned, suffers when the trek duration is longer than 5 days; in such events one can carry multivitamin tablets, like the ones manufactured by Unived to prevent vitamin deficiency related complications. Joint pain is also a commonly reported issue and to prevent that you could pop in vitamin D and calcium tablets.
Carrying pre cooked or dehydrated food saves cost
Several trekkers carry dehydrated food with them because it helps cut costs and reduce weight. Pre cooked food such as rice, dal and almost all vegetables when properly dehydrated and put in a zip locker lasts upto a year even without preservatives. They work very well as dehydrated food and can be carried on treks.
Using a single pot cooking system will only make you self reliant and reduce weight thereby reducing the impact on the environment on long treks. One can also opt for packaged pre-cooked food like MTR and Haldiram meals but these roughly weigh 3 times as much as home cooked dehydrated food; which could be a bother for those attempting ultra-light alpine style trekking.
Hydrate hydrate hydrate
Some of the most significant benefits are derived from having plenty of water on a trek. Water removes toxins, prevents cramps and burnouts, and decreases your chances of getting affected by altitude. It must be noted though that water must not be consumed in huge quantities at a time since that will bloat you up. Instead consume 4-5 lts of water throughout the day, sip by sip.
At night have consume hot liquids to keep your body warm and if you feel extra cold, make it sugary. The sugar will burn to release energy in the form of heat within the body.
Avoid alcohol like the plague
A lot of trekkers harbor this misconception: drinking alcohol makes you warm. While this may be true temporarily, what alcohol actually does, is that it rushes blood from the core and vital organs (which should ideally be warm) to the extremities like hands and feet, giving you a feeling of warmth. This can make you susceptible to hypothermia. Moreover alcohol makes breathing shallow and can accelerate altitude sickness. And lastly, alcohol’s diuretic properties can dehydrate you severely, increasing your chances of getting cramps.
Pranav concludes, “No one ever died of not drinking on a trek, there are other ways of socializing and having fun. Avoid it”
Have a query on trekking?
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To sum it up then, wilderness nutrition needs are different and we cannot stress more on the importance of having complex carbohydrates for breakfast and avoiding sugary energy bars pre-lunch. Your trekking diet should incorporate protein later in the day and hydrating yourself properly. These are critical to the maintenance and well-being of your body during treks.
Let us know your thoughts on trekking nutrition or if you have had a noteworthy experience trekking in the Himalayas.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.