By: Kyle Kamp, RDN, LD of Valley to Peak Nutrition
Grab a dart. Nestle it tightly between the index finger and thumb of your throwing hand. Aim it anywhere on this inverted pistol-shaped state of ours and give it a toss. Where’d it land? The panhandle? The rolling green topography of the South Hills? The jagged peaks in the Sawtooths? There are very few places in this state of ours adventure doesn’t wait. There are endless miles of river to kayak, miles of trail to be hiked, biked, and an unfathomable number of ways to rack up the vert when the snow comes.
All of these endeavors take a tremendous amount of energy. Sure, you could get to spectacular places in Idaho with a motor strapped between your legs, but I’d argue the views savored by the few are obtained without any motor at all. Instead, they’re reserved only for the few who get there via their own will, determination, and the desire to answer: “I wonder what’s just beyond that next hill”.
As far as these might get you, there’s a fourth ingredient to the recipe we know as adventure that can go overlooked: a solid nutrition plan.
There’s a litany of calorie calculators you can use online. There’s a number of algorithms that take into account nuanced type of things; things like the type of terrain you’re climbing over, your pack weight, and your favorite color. I’m joking on the later obviously, but they can get very tedious. As valuable as these may be in the research setting, the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach can easily give you the numbers needed to develop a sound plan.
To start, multiply your weight in kg (simply pounds divided by 2.2) X 29. Take that number and multiply it by 1.5 for light endeavors and 2.0 for greater intensities. Keep in mind that this is an estimation. Don’t be married to that single digit. What’s more important than that digit is dispersing the calories amongst the big three: fats, carbohydrate, and protein.
THE THREE MAJORS – CARBS, FAT, PROTEIN
A quick look at the different nutrients will tell you that fat has the highest amount of calories in the least amount of weight. There are 9-calories per gram of fat compared to 4-calories per gram of fat and protein. It’s this fact that has many weight-conscious backcountry purists carrying snacks high in fat and lower in other nutrients.
The above statistics would tell you that loading your pack or raft full of high-fat foods would be the best option. Who wouldn’t want to save weight and have the highest amount of calories in the least amount of space? The problem with this is the body doesn’t operate best on a high-fat diet in activities that require a high amount of output. It functions best on carbohydrates (carbs) during high-intensity activities in the mountains.
It may seem confusing given carbs do not have the most energy per gram of weight, but they are the nutrient that converts easiest from food to available energy to you. The faster energy is available to you, the faster you can use it, with an end result producing the best performance you can expect out of yourself.
Are you still confused on what direction to go? Here is a quick overview of how we create performance plans for mountain athletes: carbs for fuel, protein for recovery, and fat to fill in the gaps. This same approach would serve you well for any endeavor you’re undertaking in the mountains.
PACK STUFF YOU ACTUALLY LIKE
What good is a perfectly dialed nutrition plan if you can’t stomach what you’ve packed? Packaged foods have earned a bad reputation in recent years (some of which is well-deserved in the world of general health). The flip side of that of that coin is there are some packaged foods with impressive nutrition stats lurking in the middle aisle of your grocery store; foods that many of the athletes I’ve worked with would consider “staples” and have carried them through some of the toughest mountain races.
Pack stuff you know will be appetizing all day. After hours of hiking, paddling, or climbing; what will still sound good? Many athletes tend to like foods like goldfish crackers, pretzels, and corn chips after a physically tough day in the mountains. They’re lightweight, good in energy-giving carbohydrates, and replace the salt lost in sweat and are among the best of options to fuel any outing you’re on.
CREATING A PLAN
Let’s face it, sheer grit can do a lot for a person, but it’s not the sole ingredient that will take you where you want to go. You need a decent nutrition plan to aid you in your effort. Most of the athletes I’ve worked with will tell me their nutrition plan to that point had been throwing a few bars in their pack. They’d spend the entire day in the mountains and wonder why they’re completely exhausted when they get back to camp.
Good nutrition is not just about packing food, it’s about packing the right food to get to enjoy the journey to your destination and have some gas in the tank for “my favorite part was…” stories when you make it back to camp for the night. This, my friends, requires more than just tossing some bars in your pack.
Create your plan by finding your calorie needs, distributing them between the three larger nutrients with the greatest emphasis on getting enough carbohydrate. Use food you know you like and use the food you know will sound as good at the end of the day as it does at the beginning.
A sound nutrition plan isn’t beyond reach and doesn’t need to be complex. Remember, balance the nutrients, don’t overcomplicate it, and pack stuff you’re actually going to eat. I can promise you a combination of these three will be a recipe for performance unlike anything you’ve experienced on past trips or will make your first trip a memorable experience.
SAMPLE MEAL PLAN FOR IDAHO BACKCOUNTRY
1 – BelVita Whole Grain Snack
1 – Packet of Almond Butter
1 – Bagel with 1 easy-spred cheese and sliced salami
2 – Fun-Size Candy Bars or a Cookie
1 – Freeze-Dried Meal with reasonable carbohydrates and protein for recovery .
1 – bar (Clif bars has an excellent carb-to-protein ratio for fuel and recovery).
1 – Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
DIY Trail Mix: 1 cup of dry cereal, ¼-½ cup favorite dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, peaches, apples, bananas, etc.), and favorite nut (almonds, peanuts, cashews are all great options.
*This is estimated and numbers will vary based on individual portion sizes.
Total Calories: 2,800kcal
Total Carbs: 370g
Total Fat: 100g
VALLEY TO PEAK NUTRITION
A nutrition company based in Boise, Idaho whose aim is to help you achieve whatever goals you have in nutrition. All services are provided by Registered Dietitians and offer coaching, accountability, and custom nutrition plans built to help you accomplish your goals. Their work is based in science, research, and has been proven to enhance the performance of everyone from mountain-based athletes to weekend warriors.