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Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 12:55:22 MST Print View

Soliciting some thoughts for a diet for a high mileage, long distance hike. Beyond the normal AT hike, which seems to rely heavily on gorging at town stops. This ... theoretical ... hike will have no resupply options with distances covered in excess of 40 miles per day. Just for kicks, let's say that the hike has no trails, so is thus a hard walk. To cover the mileage in a period of time that allows for adequate sleep to recover daily, you'll be moving along at a good clip, so aerobic stress will be significant and the need to rebuild glycogen stores is vital. Build the diet around a good bit of easily assimilable performance drinks like Accelerade and Endurox.

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 13:08:14 MST Print View

Thanks RJ,

I was going to ask something along these lines. I always seem to pack too heavy food. so light weight is also a goal I think.

I guess we should first set a calorie goal. 2,000 may not be enough for this kind of fast packing.

I am no expert, but I say you would want to go for the hight fat and calorie food, And of course you need some sugar and salt content, but not too much sugar or you will crash by the end of the day.

performance drinks are good too, but I say that should only be half the liquid you drink, Water is best and if all you have is good tasting gatorade, you will drink it all too fast.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 13:12:01 MST Print View

How many days will it take to do this hike as the total weight of the different options may be a factor?

What do you think your daily calorie counts needs to be?

I have been playing around with the food weight necessary for a 15 day Colorado Trail - Alpine Style Hike. This would be 15 days times about 32 miles per day. I figured about 4,000 calories a day but have been told I need as high as 5,000 calories plus. I don't have any fat to burn as a food replacement.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 13:39:15 MST Print View

That's an enormous amount of calories you are talking about. How often would resupplies be?

I don't know anything about Accelerade or Endurox.

With the long days, lunch and breakfast are probably all pretty quick "snacks" that are generally easy to digest and require next to zero food preparation. Probably about 2/3 of the per-day carry weight would be quick food. Maybe even 3/4. The rest would be spent on a hearty dinner.

For dinners I'd probably switch between pesto-in-a-bag (equivalent to a goodsized plate of spaghetti) and burritos made with instant beans, a bit of instant rice, some hot sauce, and maybe some dried vegetables mixed in. Perhaps three burritos worth per dinner. Add generous amounts of cheese to each (2-3oz? per day on cheese alone). For variety I might throw in things like tabouli and instant potatoes. The tabouli and burritos could be made without cooking too.

The snacks would have four parts:

(1) Some energy bars. Probably two or three clif-bar sized goodies a day.
(2) Some trail mix. Probably around 6oz+ per day.
(3) Those energy drinks I know nothing about.
(4) A bagel and peanut butter and jelly (another compleat protein).

I'd probably throw some comfort foods in too, especially if the trip was long. Instant pudding, some soup mixes, some tea, and a big chocolate bar would probably find room in the foodbag. I don't think I'd consume that stuff every day (except maybe the instant pudding).

Hard to be more specific than this for me. I'd guess that a target food weight of three pounds per day would be pretty ambitious

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 15:31:17 MST Print View

I recall a post of yours where you mention being on a liquid diet for medical reasons. There is obviously no need to go into the medical issues, but I am curious about the similarity, or lack thereof, of your diet and the diet Ryan is suggesting. How successful was the diet? Would it scale to the activity level required? I know Ryan is not suggesting a 100% liquid diet, but that the base of the diet be liquid.

You also mention planning a Colorado Trail hike. I am also. I found a trip report by Coup of GoLite to be very helpful and perhaps applicable to this situation. He went for 3 weeks without resupply eating nuts and dried fruit. Perhaps this combined with a liquid diet would work. His trip report for the JMT gives the details of his diet. Here is the link "".

I have no experience with this but thought what I had read might be helpful. I am eager to learn as this thread progresses.

Edited by ericnoble on 02/16/2006 15:33:49 MST.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 15:48:37 MST Print View

Looking at Coup's food and realizing that it was a far cry from a performance diet certainly makes me think that we are still some ways off of determining the maximum unsupported length one can go on a single carry.

But that's an aside. Back to the diet.

4000 Calories a day would have to be a minimum for this, even if you have, say, 10 lbs of fat reserves (which would be a good thing) if you want to do this for more than 2 weeks. At 3500 Cal/lb x 10 lb = 35,000 Cal reserved, then if you expend, say, 6000 Cal/day, you could run at a 2000 Cal/day deficit for 17 days. 17 days of food at 4000 Cal/day and 125 Cal/oz = a food weight in the neighborhood of 34 lbs. So let's use that as a base: 2 lb/day of food targeting 4000 Cal. This is an important calculation because you want to lose weight (fat weight) as part of your caloric intake but you don't want to eat into muscle. Fat around the belly is a good thing here in order to keep food weight down. Too much fat, however, is bad, because it will compromise your body's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles (fitness). That was a long paragraph.

Back to food.

But not now - just interrupted...

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 16:27:44 MST Print View

Performance drinks...blech! Ok, I do have guy friends who drink them, but Blech!
I'd rather eat nuts, nuts and more nuts. Waaaay heathier and better tasting ;-)

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 16:56:57 MST Print View

40 miles per day with adequate sleep and meal prep times = ~12 hours of walking per day @ an average rate of 3.3 mph. At that rate of speed your metabolic rate multiplier (METs) would be as follows for different terrain types:

Dirt Road = ~ 3.93
Light Brush = ~ 4.15
Heavy Brush = ~ 5.00 (I will assume this value as a mid point)
Swampy Bog = ~ 5.78
Loose Sand = ~ 6.65

If I knew your age, weight, and height I would calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). In the absence of this data, I will guess that your hourly BMR is about 72.1 C/hr. This BMR figure is based on a male of age 35, weight 154 lbs, and height of 71 inches.

Your daily BMR would be approximately 1,687 C. To this value we need to add the calories you expended hiking which would be 5 METs * 72.1 * 12 hours = 4,326 C. For simplicity sake I will ignore the small amount of additional calories utilized for thermogenic processes. Your total daily calorie requirements would be your BMR of 1,687 + your hiking activity expenditure of 4,326 = 6,013 C per day.

At 5 METs, you are typically near the middle of heart rate zone 1. The ratio of fuel sources your body will utilize is approximately as follows:

Fat 85%
Carb 10%
Protein 5%

The ratio of ingredients in Accelerade is approximately as follows:

Fat 8% (9C per gram)
Carb 74% (4C per gram)
Protein 18% (4C per gram)

Be aware that the ratio of your carbs requirements will go up dramatically if you don’t pace yourself to stay below heart rate zone 2. Each pound of stored body fat will yield about 3,500 calories. Your total body storage of carbs is only 1,500 – 2,000 C.

The most critical component in planning your hiking diet is to insure that you consume at least 10% of 6,013C in carbs each day and 5% in protein.

Accelerade provides about 2.7 carbs Calories per gram, .3 fat Calories per gram, and .6 Protein Calories per gram of powdered mix. 601.3/2.7 = 223 grams (7.9 oz) of powdered mix is necessary to meet your daily carbs requirements. Any additional calories you need to consume will be determined by your estimation of how many pounds of body fat you want to consume during your hike. Additional calories consumed should be primarily from fat since each gram will yield 9 Calories per gram of weight.

Edited by richard295 on 02/17/2006 12:28:06 MST.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
diet for high mileage long hikes on 02/16/2006 17:15:02 MST Print View

I vote for a combination of non-fat dry milk and plain rolled oats and perhaps some protein powder, all of which can be eaten uncooked, thus saving you the weight of fuel and stove.

40 miles/day is going to stress your ability to burn fat, so I would avoid any fat consumption other than what is needed for palatability. Oatmeal contains plenty enough fat for palatability purposes, at least for my taste buds. There plenty of fat hidden away in your body, even if you look skinny. And don't forget perhaps 6000 calories of protein in your liver, intended for building cells but which can also be converted into glucose and burned.

Both dietary and tissue protein can be easily converted into glucose by the liver, at a slight loss of caloric content. Dietary protein also tends to warm the body up (because the stomach has to create hydrochloric acid to digest it and this takes lots of energy), and thus keeps you warm at night. So don't be afraid to go fairly high protein, say 40% protein, 50% carbs, and 10% fat from the oats.

Before you try this endurance walk, you need to get comfortable with the sensation of losing weight. Try a 4 day fast starting right now, while you're at home, just to see what it feels like. Later, experiment with eating one meal a day or eating every other day for weeks on end. You need to train your mind to be comfortable with what it feels like to start burning off fat reserves without panicking.

The idea that we need 6000 calories/day, even during heavy exercises, is absurd. Much of that will go right out your ass. Primitive peoples routinely walk for weeks on end eating next to nothing. Yes, they lose lots of fat and a little muscle, but so what? As soon as food is available again, they gain the fat and muscle right back. If you're not willing to suffer a little, then why the hell are you planning to walk 40 miles/day for weeks on end with no resupply?

Edited by frprovis on 02/16/2006 17:16:43 MST.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 17:20:32 MST Print View

I am still on the 100% liquid diet. I currently take someting called NutriRenal. It is 500 calories liquid per (8 Fl oz) can and several cans a day will give you your complete daily nutriional requirements. I take 5 cans a day or 2500 calories. To each 500 calorie can I add 1/2 cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast mix for flavor and also get 130 extra calories from it. I use only the dry mix Carnation Breakfast stuff and put it in with the 8 fl oz of the liquid food. This gives me a total of 3150 calories a day. I have been on this combination since about the first of July 2005. Prior to that I was taking 2100 calories a day of a different liquid through a feeding tube. I had been of that since Janaury 2006. I had lost about 40 pounds prior to January 2006 and the feeding tube stuff did not help me gain any of that weight back. I worked out the current combination and started gaining weight by the end of the first week. I could drink the new stuff after I put the Carnation mix in it and was able to get the feeding tube removed. My weight went up a pound or so each week to where I am now. It also was giving me an extra 1050 caliores a day.

My weight today is just under 160 pounds and I am 6 foot tall. I am on a moderate workout program and want to stay at the 160 pounds or so level.

So that is a long background to get to your question. I have dry Ensure that will give me 4000 calories for 2 pounds per day for a CT/ANY HIKE. The Ensure is mixed 8 fl oz of water per 250 calories. For the Colorado Trail (CT) or other trail I would take the dry Ensure and the Carnation Breakfest mix. This would give me all the Nutritional stuff, Vitamins etc for a balanced daily diet. I have read Coup's account of what he ate on his CT Alpine record hike. To me that kind of diet is NUTS. It worked for him but he also lost ???? weight. I don't have any weight to lose and the complete diet I would have with the dry Ensure has to be a plus. I will be on the liquid diet for at least another 3 to 6 months.

I may end up doing a section of the AT and with a diet of the dry Ensure/Carnation Breakfast mix and I really think I would be eating better than the average AT hiker.

As for Ryan's food requirement we need to know how many days he will be out. He gives us 40 miles per day in what seems to be a no-trail mountainous wilderness area. He will need a lot of calories if the hike lasts very long or he will be "bones" if/when he gets back. He may also be counting on some road kill along the way. Fishing and who knows what.

He seems to be saying no resupply and if the hike is a long one the food weight is going to be a big issue. I don't know anything about the stuff Ryan is talking about but will ask my Dietitian next time I am at the hospital. She worked with me to get the dry Ensure. I have enough for a 10 day hike that I hope to take sometime the first of summer. The liquid stuff I now take weighs about 11oz per 500 calorie can.

What I would like to know out of all of this is on a trail such as the AT and hiking at some moderate miles per day how far back could a person tune his hiking style to burn the least number of calories per day. On a treadmill - flat - at 3.2 mph and at 180 pounds (my weight plus pack weight) the machine says I am burning about 300 calories. The treadmill will go up 15% or down 3% and once I get in a little better shape I am going to play around with different mph vs calorie burn and see what I come up with.

Edited by bfornshell on 02/16/2006 17:23:53 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 17:37:21 MST Print View

DrJ is planning a 600 mile no support/no resupply trek in the Alaska wilderness perhaps around June timeframe - at least this is the substance of an email he sent me some days ago. He's planning no fishing this time & will only be reacquiring water along the way. He will start out carrying all of the food he needs to complete the 600mile trek.

I believe that the intent of Frank's comment related to stress and fat means that at 40mi/day, DrJ's heart rate will out of the HR Zone 1 that Richard mentions. The point being that the proportion of fat and carbs (primary fuels) will vary from the HR Zone 1 proportions. Energy requirements are higher since work is being done at a faster rate. Therefore, a larger percentage of the energy will be utilized via the anaerobic pathway in the muscle cells - so more carbs are needed as an energy source.

All this is conjecture to some degree since we don't really know the level of cardio fitness DrJ has (I'm assuming that it is fairly high though & that he is rather on the lean side), the precise terrain he will be traversing (though Richard takes this into account which is good) and the elevation gain per linear mile travelled (big spikes in HR possible here - more carbs needed here for fuel) nor what HR he will be maintaining during the 40mi/day pace.

Bill, that's 300 kcal per hour of exercise at that pace and incline, correct? If you're not wearing a device checking your pulse and relaying that info to your treadmill, then it is using only a "typical" male (similar to Richard's description) and going just by the distance that "typical" male is covering. Furthermore, if the incline angle is not fed back into the treadmill's onboard computer, then the estimates of caloric expenditure will not vary with incline. This is often the case with lower-end treadmills (like mine) - the incline is a purely manual adjustment with no connection with the exercise computer . Those with electro-mechnical control over incline adjustment might use the incline angle to adjust estimated caloric expenditure. Other's are even more sophisticated, e.g. my stepper asks for age, gender, weight, stepper resistance, approx. physical condition (since most people don't know their current VO2-max capability), and a couple of other factors, while measuring HR during exercise. Bill, even apart from your creativity and fabricating genius, you are still not "typical", being older, for instance. So, take that number as a "ballpark" number.

The calculations and numbers mentioned in other posts generally assume a number of factors, even Richard's more precise one (which assumes less). Without knowing VO2-max of DrJ and how hard he is working relative to that (%VO2-max) throughout the exercise regime (or trek), all estimates of energy requirements and breakdowns are at best reasonable approximates - but, that's the best we have available outside of an exercise physiology lab.

Edited by pj on 02/16/2006 18:02:36 MST.

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 18:00:41 MST Print View

RJ, you are amazing and crazy at the same time, just kidding, if I had the chance to do something like this I would, so mabey we are both crazy

anyway, I would just have a freeze dried meal at night, some dried fruit and tea in the morning, and just like, 10 protein bars and some nuts in the day

Edited by ryanf on 02/16/2006 19:33:10 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 18:06:26 MST Print View

Might be worth talking to Squeaky ... finished the triple crown in more or less 230 days. I think his trek average daily mileage was about 35 with plenty 40's

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Diet for High Mileage Long Hikes on 02/16/2006 18:16:08 MST Print View

The 300 kcal. burn was with the treadmill flat most of the time and was without any type of device. A 3.2 mph rate for 1 hour. I can check my pulse rate on the treadmill but I am sure that is not factored into the ??cal. burn. The treadmill says my pulse rate is between 106 and 108 most of the time (I am 65). I have no idea if that is good - bad - ???. They have one of their treadmills hooked up to a computer for some type testing. I will ask and see what it does/tells.

My blood pressure is great, cholesterol is great, all blood work is great, I just can't eat real food yet.

I understand the calorie burn rate is only a ballpark number and will do some more timed test in a more controlled way. I want to see what the calorie count will be with the treadmill up 15% for say 15 minutes at a few different MPH rates.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
diet for high mileage long hikes on 02/16/2006 22:42:58 MST Print View

Alaska wilderness sounds like plentiful protein-rich fish. So I'd say bring nothing but oats or something similar to satisfy cravings for carbohydrates, plus salt, plus whatever other condiments you want for cooking your fish. Best bring a large-caliber gun too, to fend off the bears attracted by the smell of fish cooking, and maybe to vary the diet of fish with some bear-meat. Don't eat the fish or bear-meat raw, since they might be full of worms.

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Food Intake on 02/16/2006 22:43:44 MST Print View

In past years (in between backpacking adventures) I did some bicycle riding. The calorie expenditures reached 7,000-8,000/day. The days were up to 8 hours in the saddle and upwards of 15,000ft climbing a day.
(I also teach human physiology)
Everything boils down to what level of fitness that a person starts with vs attaining fitness along the trail. The higher the fitness level the higher the fat % of the diet can utilize. We have always been taught that the rule of 2000 quality calories a day and all of the rest of the fuel can be whatever you want.
I found that the higher the fitness the more fat % in the diet. As long as you "cruise" below the anaerobic threshold then the oxygen you inhale will metabolize the oxygen poor fats.
What I have also learned from these mega-calorie burns is the importance of glycogen replacement soon after stopping but also utilizing replacement with protein.
Most people do not realize that the body will not only metabolize stored body fats but also cannabolize muscle tissue if not enough proteins are not in the diet. Most of the info comes from the bicycle event "the Race Across America". I have found the Endurox replacement powder to work very well in alleviating post workout muscle stress. Many of my student athletes now use Endurox.

Another very interesting finding is that during the first 3 or so days of these 14 day bike marathons was that it was very difficult to ingest enough solid foods. I would ride mostly on liquids (Cytomax, Endurox etc) then shift to a high diet of fats for days 5-14. I also had nasty craving for salty meats (pepperoni sticks etc.)

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Food Intake on 02/16/2006 22:59:20 MST Print View

Accidental Double Post

Edited by rbrissey on 02/16/2006 23:02:28 MST.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
diet for high mileage long hikes on 02/16/2006 23:02:13 MST Print View

Before anyone insists that they are burning 7000 calories a day, they need to save all their excrement and then have it carefully examined to check if food is being wasted.

Human excrement is often very nutrient rich. In some poor countries, for example, the toilet is sometimes connected to a pig trough, and the pigs fight to see who gets to eat when someone flushes. Once the pigs are fattened up, the humans eat them, and the cycle continues. Eventually, after a few cycles, all the food energy gets used up, but not necessarily the first time through. I'm quite serious about this. And note that pigs have more or less the same digestive system as humans, so clearly the humans in this situation are wasting food. Why? Probably because it is the nature of our bodies to want to eat more than we can digest. "I like to eat a lot and *BEEP* a lot" as one Brazilian woman put it in a book I read somewhere.

I read the story of Demetri “Coup” Coupounas of Golite, and I noted something in there about 2 large mango-colored deposits per day. He was eating lots of dried mangos. I doubt these deposits were devoid of energy content.

BTW I'm not talking about energy content that we simply cannot digest, like cellulose. I'm talking about things that are perfectly digestible that just shoot through the system and out the other end because we are so busy shoving new stuff in the mouth.

Edited by frprovis on 02/16/2006 23:04:56 MST.

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Food Waste on 02/16/2006 23:08:11 MST Print View

By going to a high fat, low fiber diet on these bike rides (and also backpacks) the excrement was no more than what would be normal for each day. So no "blow through".
This is the great problem that many people have is that with a high fruit diet combined with high stress loading may result in excess fecal production.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Endurance Diet on 02/16/2006 23:56:42 MST Print View

This is a really fun discussion. Thanks all for contributing. I love that there is conflict between low- and high-fat diet proposals here.

Someone asked what my level of pre-hike fitness will be. I won't be "gaining" fitness on the trek, and at day 0, will pretty much be in peak shape.

The trek will last around 20 days. There are no trails, no roads, no resupplies, no opportunities to refuel in town. I've done similar length hikes on long trails with the typical 5-day resupply period carrying 2-2.5 lb food/day and gorging at trail towns. Not the same, this time, that's a promise. Terrain = tundra, tussocks, gravel bars, mountain shale, scree, etc.

Fishing/foraging: no, not on this trip.

I'm monitoring my physiology closely and will have enough of the raw data to do a pretty good calorie balance when all is said and done. I've doing 4 metabolic tests (pre-training, mid-training, just before the trek, and just after) to watch changes in the body in response to all this.

My HR at VO2Max is currently around 196 bpm. This is not predicted by equations, but measured in a metabolic test. All my training is done with a Suunto T6, and I'm getting a very good picture - in the field (not gym) of what kind of metabolic response I'm getting in various terrain, altitude, trekking speed, etc. The responses being measured in the field are heart rate and respiration rate. From these, a model is calibrated with results from metabolic testing (lung capacity, max ventilation rate, VO2max, Max HR, Resting HR, Max Respiration Rate) to then predict altitude, distance, heart rate, and respiration rate-correlated ventilation rates, VO2, energy burned, and excess post-exercise oxygen capacity. It's all extremely geeky but very cool.

Doing it right with the proper calibration and using foods that are consumed efficiently, I've got my caloric balances (food intake + body fat lost = energy burned during exercise) dialed to within 5% on most 100 mile training hikes.

But those training hikes are predominantly a liquid diet. I don't know if I want to do that for 20 days.

I'm experimenting with the Accelerade-Endurox system as well as the Perpetuem-Recoverite (Hammer) system. They both taste fine, but I'm actually leaning towards the latter because it seems to keep my physiological parameters more stable while working at lower VO2 for long periods. Results are about the same when working at high VO2 levels. The main difference between the two systems is that the Hammer products use a complex carb base (maltodextrin), while the Accelerade products use simple sugars as the carb base.

So, for my long hikes to date, I've been starting the day with a big bowl of carb rich hot cereal, loaded with butter and dry whole milk. Then it's on to the liquid diet with some nuts, chocolate, dry fruit, and meat sticks. scattered throughout in small doses for variety, with a gel packet and a piece of Jolt Gum thrown in here and there when feeling iffy (no caffeine lectures please, it's used very sparingly ;)). Arrive camp, the first thing is a recovery drink (glycogen replacement and protein) with a few electrolyte capsules. Set up camp, get into bag, cook a really high carb dinner with MORE BUTTER (!) and fatty gravy plus fatty chocolate. Repeat.

What I'm trying to dial in here is a diet that (1) maintains very high energy levels throughout the day to maintain a brisk pace and (2) offer a solid recovery period so the whole thing can be repeated indefinitely without eating into the muscle mass that is desirable when you need it most in the mountains.

As for me being lean - no way - I want some reserves.

Fasting - great point. I can't tell you how valuable this exercise is. If nothing else, it gives you the data that without food but with some fat reserves, you'll be O-K ... for a little while...