Knowing the right sources of nutrition to fuel energy

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When heading into the great outdoors for a long hiking trip a good pair of hiking boots is important, but the food that you pack is vital for energy and strength.

Packing that massive hiking pack can be a daunting task, and figuring out what food to bring can be a challenge.

Mountaineering guide Ken Wylie said, “The challenge is getting the weight right. Often times when people are starting out as mountaineers they carry too much and carry the wrong kinds of things.”

ken editedKen Wylie checks that everything is sitting properly on the pack of one of the young hikers, which he will be guiding on a five-day hike.

Photo By Jessica Cameron

The amount of dry weight a hiker should carry is between 1½ and 2½ pounds per person per day, Wylie said.

Registered dietitian Rory Hornstein said, “The goal of nutrition on a long hike is to balance caloric intake with energy expenditure and not incur any vitamin or mineral deficits. This includes water and electrolyte intake, which vary with heat and humidity.

“Hikers are athletes. The endurance and stamina required for long hikes rivals that of serious athletes and requires the same nutrition,” Hornstein said.

Having a good breakfast that contains carbohydrates and protein to keep your energy up is essential, explained Hornstein. Breakfast should include foods such as oatmeal, walnuts, raisins or peanut butter and bananas.

Importance of nutrition

Hornstein said that the three major sources of nutrition include carbohydrates, fat and protein. Glycogen, the storage form of glucose, is also important for endurance and strength.

“It’s important to derive a large amount of your calories from carbohydrates, which provide glucose as well as other vitamins and nutrients that your body needs.”

To gain carbohydrates, Hornstein recommended foods like dried fruit and multigrain cereals.

“Fat is definitely not something that you want stored, but it is an essential nutrient for energy,” said Hornstein. “It is metabolized during exercise and is needed to save glycogen stores for energy and protein stores for muscles.”

Granola can give hikers the fat that they need without going overboard, Hornstein explained. Peanuts, cashews or walnuts will provide healthy fat and protein.

“Not enough protein can cause fatigue and muscle strain, but too much protein can cause dehydration and be stored as body fat,” Hornstein said.

What to prepare for

“Be sure to bring more food than you think you will need. Nobody plans on getting lost, but it does occasionally happen, so make sure you are prepared, just in case,” Hornstein said.

Foods to pack when embarking on a multi-day hike


  • Oatmeal
  • Walnuts
  • Peanut Butter and bananas
  • Toast
  • Raisins


  • Energy Bars
  • Trail Mix
  • Dried Apricots
  • Granola Bars
  • Beef Jerky
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Hard cheeses


  • Hummus with pita bread and vegetables
  • Wraps with tuna or salmon
  • Nuts
  • Use pitas or bagels to make a sandwich
  • Use tuna, peanut butter, dried meat or hard cheeses for sandwiches
  • Crackers


  • Tuna spaghetti
  • Chicken quinoa
  • Dehydrated stew
  • Dehydrated chili
  • Pre-bought dehydrated packs


  • Water
  • Electrolytes
  • Tomato juice
  • Nuun (supplement drink)

Wylie said he likes to bring home-cooked meals as a source of food when he can.

“Home-cooked meals that have been dehydrated, to me is the best case scenario, because you are getting the nutrients you need and there is not a lot of preservatives and stuff in it,” Wylie said.

Wylie said he likes to divide his meals into three different categories, packing foods that will work best for the different parts of his hike.

The categories Wylie uses are: “Really easy to prepare, for early mornings when you are going to do a peak climb; moderate time and effort preparing, if you are in a hut and have the resources to do a little bit more with your meal; then for longer trips, where you have a base camp you can have some things on your menu that take longer to prepare.”

Hornstein said: “Plan out each day’s meal before embarking upon your trip and plan on buying fresh foods before leaving. Fruit, vegetables, and many cheeses last a week in all but the hottest temperatures.”

Hornstein advised to keep fresh ingredients cool while travelling to the trailhead, then pack them in the centre of the hiking pack, so the food will be away from direct sunlight.

Keep hydrated

“Proper hydration is at the forefront of any activity you plan to participate in, whether you’re in the outdoors or not. If your body is in motion, then you need to make sure that you are hydrated,” Hornstein said.

Hornstein also recommended drinking one cup of water every hour, or more depending on the heat.

Don’t forget the snacks

“After the first couple hours of hiking you should start fueling with small snacks such as half of an energy bar, one quarter cup of trail mix, dried apricots, a granola bar or a peanut butter and jam sandwich,” Hornstein said.

Wylie said that having easily accessible snacks is important to have for quick energy throughout the day.

There may be a lot of tricks to packing and consuming the right foods, but remembering these tips will help when embarking on those multi-day hiking trips.

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