Nutrition to Maximize Endurance in the Backcountry
Guest post by Coach Taylor Thomas, founder of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC).
TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all disciplines and abilities through one-on-one personalized coaching, and custom training plans. To learn more about TEC and their services visit https://www.
Coach Taylor Thomas
The key to any endurance endeavor is proper preparation. While ensuring that both your body and mind are ready to tackle the challenge is paramount, it’s equally as important, if not more so, that your body is fueled sufficiently. Without a sound approach to nutrition even the most modest day in the backcountry can turn into an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. Formulating a nutrition strategy for a day, or multiple days in the backcountry is no different than planning for a long run or bike ride. It takes an understanding of your body, as well as some basic nutrition principles. What can you do to make sure you’re checking all the right boxes before you head out for your next ski, hike or hunt?
Everyone knows that if you’re going to do any type of activity you will eventually need Calories to continue to pursue that activity. However, the Calorie is often misunderstood as it relates to endurance activities. The Calories that are listed on food packages like gels and energy bars are actually kilocalories, or 1,000 calories (as measured in a lab). A Calorie (as found on food) is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. So, the Calorie on a package of food is 1,000 times larger than that used in chemistry and physics. Food manufactures use an estimation system where standard values for fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol are used to provide Calories. These average values are 4 kcal/g for protein, 4 kcal/g for carbohydrate, 9 kcal/g for fat, and 7 kcal/g for alcohol. So, the label on an energy bar that contains 10 g of protein, 20 g of carbohydrate and 9 g of fat would read 201 kcals or Calories.
Grasping a basic understanding of how Calories are calculated and the role they play in the modern food system can help you better plan your next outing. Nailing down your exact caloric requirements can be a challenge, but there are some guidelines that can help you plan based on your level of exertion. To better estimate caloric requirements, you can categorize activities based on intensity.
- Mild activity or rest day: 0.5-0.6 Calories per pound of body weight per hour
- Up to 1 hour of moderate exercise: 0.6-0.7 Calories per pound per hour
- High activity = 1-2 hours of moderate exercise: 0.7-1.0 Calories per pound per hour
- Very High = 3+ hours of exercise: 1.0-1.2 Calories per pound per hour
The three primary macronutrients are fat, carbohydrate and protein. These must be ingested in the appropriate ratios based on your individual needs, and the type of activity you’re participating in. Taking how these nutrients are used into consideration can have a big impact in proper nutrient planning for your next trip into the backcountry. Typically, backcountry experiences are longer in duration than “typical” exercise. This means that the body needs more Calories, as well as varied sources of those Calories to remain properly fueled.
Carbohydrates are an important fuel source for most activities. Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen, which is a primary fuel for working muscles. Carbs are great for providing a quick and readily available source of energy during activity. These are easily obtained from most modern energy foods and should be on hand while you’re on the move. Aim to take in 2-5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body mass during activity. These guidelines will keep you fueled and energetic while moving through the backcountry.
Fat is a vital component of a healthy diet and can be even more important during prolonged activity. While carbohydrates are key for shorter durations, the body’s fat metabolism is critical when outings last for several hours. While everyone’s fat metabolism is different, tapping into it, and keeping it fueled are important. Popular methods of ingesting fat during backcountry adventures are nuts, nut butters, jerkies, coconut oil, and much more. Be sure to include your favorite source of fat if your day out is planned to last longer than 2-3 hours.
Many people associate protein with post-activity recovery and it’s for good reason. It can help repair muscle damage that’s occurred during the course of the day or days. If your excursion is taking you over the course of multiple days, protein becomes even more important. Make sure your meal plan for the evenings has ample amounts of protein to help facilitate recovery at night. It’s also a good idea to take some protein in during activity as it too is important for fuel. After about 90 minutes most athletes muscle glycogen stores become depleted and the body looks for Calories from protein. Some recommendations are as follows:
- Moderate Exercise – 0.45 grams per pound
- Heavy Exercise – 0.5-0.75 grams per pound
- Very Heavy Exercise – 0.8-0.9 grams per pound
Big days in the backcountry are what many dream about and spend all season preparing for. In order to have the most enjoyable experience it only makes sense to do everything you can to be ready. Nutrition in the backcountry is important, and often requires a unique approach due to the demands of the outing. Plan your nutrition based on prior experiences and feedback that your body provides. With proper nutrition you’re more likely to have a memorable experience the next time you venture out into the backcountry.