Nutrition Considerations for the Backcountry Athlete
Backcountry athletes whose sport(s) take them on multi-day adventures require special nutrition considerations in order to perform at their best in the backcountry, recover optimally and get back to training or their hunt as quickly as possible! Any "multi day" event can and should be considered an endurance activity and if this is you throughout the season it's hard to argue that you're not an endurance athlete.
In this article Build Wellness owner and founder
Jackie Iannoni NSCA-CSCS, FMS-1, PN-1 provides the backcountry athlete with some extremely valuable information on how to get your nutrition on point so you can find more success in the mountains this season and beyond.
Sidenote and shameless plug: Proudly, Jackie is also my (Coach Guyer) sister and a vetted strength coach who not only understands effective nutrition strategies but also has in the trenches experience in the world of strength and conditioning and running the ridges in her own adventures. For those looking for remote nutrition coaching don't hesitate to reach out. Now let's get into this! Below are the “big rocks” to consider before prepping for your next backcountry adventure!
1. Consume Adequate Calories. While exact energy requirements are highly individualized and influenced by a multitude of factors, it is incredibly helpful to determine a starting point for calorie intake and then you can tweak it as desired/needed. - Begin by determining your baseline intake - for a highly active athlete with the goal to maintain bodyweight this is approximately 16x your bodyweight in calories / day. For example, an 150lb athlete x 16 = would use 2400 kcal / day as their starting point. - THEN, use the “Pandolf Equation” to estimate your added energy expenditure from activity. This equation was created specifically for athletes participating in loaded backcountry rucks and factors in mileage, pace, grade and pack weight. While obviously these factors will always be estimations, it’s a great place to start. You can find the calculator here (scroll all the way to the bottom of the article) https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/hiking-and-backpacking/ultimate-backpacking-calorie-estimator/ For example, if we take that same 150lb athlete who needs about 2400 kcal and add the estimated 820 kcal from Pandolf calculator (for 5 miles @ 3mph on 5% grade with 20lb pack,) then we find that we want to start around 3220 calories / day.
2. Don’t skimp on carbs!
Carbs often get a bad rap, but when it comes to multi-day endurance sports, consuming adequate calories AND carbohydrates will be crucial to maintaining energy, avoiding a “bonk” and going into the next day recovered and ready to tackle whatever terrain you may be presented with. For some athletes, the optimal intake of carbohydrates can be anywhere between 3-4x your bodyweight in grams of carbs / day. This is a variable that is important to mess around with as everyones carbohydrate tolerance is different. Ideally, aim to consume complex carbohydrates at meal times for a steady source of energy throughout the day. (Examples include oats, potatoes, starchy veggies etc. like those likely found in your freeze-dried meals) Reach for simple carbohydrates sources for quicker doses of energy intra-workout. (Examples include gels, jelly beans, fluid carbohydrate supplements, honey stingers etc.)
3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Consuming adequate fluids is VERY important for all athletes, but especially backcountry athletes who are out on multi-day adventures — DO NOT wait until you’re thirsty to hydrate! Your baseline fluid consumption should be 50% of your bodyweight in ounces. THEN estimate your additional needs per each 15-20 min of exercise, by dividing your bodyweight by 30. If we use that same 150lb individual as an example; their baseline intake would be 75 ounces of fluids. Then, we would divide 150 / 30 to figure out how many ounces they would need per 15-20 minutes of exercise, giving us an additional 60 ounces for a 4 hour ruck, and a TOTAL of 135 ounces over the course of the day. 4. Other Considerations: - A Carbohydrates + Electrolytes Supplement- like “Momentous Fuel” could be extremely helpful to consume while trekking for ease of consumption and pack weight. - Make sure to prioritize high quality freeze dried meals, (like Pinnacle Foods or Heather’s Choice) and whole food snacks - like freeze dried fruit, nuts, jerky, SANS Meal Bars, Bare Performance Nutrition Field Bars, Honey Stingers etc. to increase the nutrient density of the food you are consuming. - While carbs are king for endurance athletes, make sure you are consuming plenty of protein (30+ grams) AND quality fats at meal times to promote satiety throughout the day as well as optimize recovery. Aim for a 3 or 4 :1 carbs to protein ratio intra-activity. - And lastly, PRACTICE - you must practice these nutrition strategies to understand what feels best for you. Everyone has different tolerances and you will regret not testing these out in advance and allowing your body an opportunity to provide you with feedback prior to packing your bags and heading into the backcountry this season.