Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nutrition for a Thru-Hike

Since I decided to re-attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT), I've been doing preparation, but with less enthusiasm than before.  I'm looking forward to the trail just as much, I just don't seem to have much motivation to do all the prep.  But I'm now 16 days out from my flight to Atlanta, and I'm starting to feel the pressure.

So I thought I would procrastinate a bit longer and do a blog on nutrition.  Last year, I was pretty laid back about my food.  This year, I'm really hoping to get far enough along where calories and nutrients are a concern.  I also learned a bit about my preferences on the trail for food and meals.

My biggest dissatisfaction with last year's approach was breakfast.  I took oats with mixed nuts and granola with mixed nuts, both with dried whole milk added.  The plan was to cook the oats, but to eat the granola cold.  I don't require caffeine (coffee) in the morning, so setting up and breaking down the stove was just a hassle.  And cold, the oats were pretty inedible.

But I like to get out of camp early, and sitting there munching on oats or granola for 5-8 minutes, plus the cleanup, just made me impatient.  Then too, I typically get up just after dawn.  Lots of times, I'm in a tent near a shelter or in a shelter.  Making significant noise in camp before I get away makes me feel guilty, and rolling and unrolling a crinkly, loud, cuben food bag makes a lot of noise.  However, if you like to sleep late and/or take your time leaving camp, the cereal option might work for you.

So this year, I've got a different plan.  To try and get enough protein, I'll have a CytoSport Muscle Milk 'shake' in camp for breakfast, and another as dessert for dinner. So in camp for breakfast, I'll have a quick shake, then drink more water to help clean up the Glad Lockware cup I'll use.  I'm supposed to wear Invisalign retainers at night, so I'll put them in the Glad cup during the day.  Then I'll have some dried (sweet) granola early on the walk along with a Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bar.  That's only about 400 calories, so later in the hike, I'll need to add more.

During the day, I found myself stopping for a quick 3-5 minute snack every hour to hour-and-a-half.  I keep the snacks in baggies in my hip belt pockets.  Since I use two trekking poles, I have to stop to eat a snack.  Last year, I could only eat about 100 to 150 calories per stop.  I was carrying about 1000-1100 calories worth of snacks for daytime and lunch, without a separate lunch.  My snacks included a trail mix equivalent, Snickers, Clif bars, and a salty chip/snack packet.

I'll probably do the same for the first couple of weeks this year.  But I've got a typical tortilla plus peanut butter and jelly or tuna and mayonnaise planned for later.  If I can add some cheese to the tuna, that will make the calories closer between the two options.

For dinner, I like to start with just Mountain House options such as lasagna, plus some freeze dried vegetables and some freeze dried fruit.  Single Mountain House servings are adequate early in a hike.  And that combination is light and very packable.  I also carry Ghee in Foodi pouches that last about a week using a tablespoon each evening.  It adds flavor and calories for the entree/vegetable servings.  As I mentioned earlier, a Muscle Milk 'shake' will add protein and a bit of dessert.  Later in the hike, the entree needs more calories.  I'll either go to larger Mountain House servings or use ramen, rice or spuds with freeze dried meats.  Surprisingly, the ramen plus freeze-dried chicken has the most calories and nutrients.

With the evening meal, I usually take a multivitamin and a saltstick (electrolyte) supplement.  I plan to add some D-3 and Krill oil this year.

To check out the nutrient content, I put a few options into the CRON-O-Meter ( daily diary.  To save space here, I'll only only show one run from the diary.

The above page capture shows my lightest food bag for the first couple of weeks.  I put in only 7 hours of backpacking to show the added calorie requirement, although I usually hike up to 10 hours with about a 20-30 minute lunch break.  As you can tell, there is a big calorie deficit, even if CRON-O-Meter is over-estimating the calorie expenditure.  What you cannot see below the graphics shown are the specific nutrient percentages.  The two shortages are magnesium (only 77% of the daily recommendation) and potassium (at 28% of the need).  The ramen option greatly reduces those shortages.

If I were in my twenties again, I wouldn't be so concerned about nutrition.  Now that I'm retired, it has become pretty important to me.  I expect to make adjustments as I progress along the trail.