Summer is here, and if you are like me, you love exploring your local parks and hiking trails. If you are serious about it, you also want to make sure you can stay out as long as possible AND perform as best as possible. Having the right gear (like supports and braces) is a solid start, but even the most elite level off-road vehicle cannot run without fuel – so you need to make sure you have that covered.
Before we even dive into simple, easy and nutritious foods, there are two things that are more important.
We can go 8-21 days without food. However, you can only survive 3 days without water. Now, assuming this is not a life or death situation, you still want to make sure you have enough water to stay hydrated. Being that our bodies are made up of 75% water, it’s a pretty darn important thing to have.
Depending on the heat, humidity and your genetic sweatiness – you may need more or less water throughout the day.
How much water is enough? As far as a baseline goes, its been proven that the best test is actually the urine color test. If your urine is straw colored or clear, you are good. Yellow or darker, you could use more. Now, you don’t want to find yourself in the situation on a hike when you need to use the bathroom and your urine is dark yellow and you don’t have any water, so be prepared with this general rule of thumb:
Adults need 2-3 cups per hour, and children need 1-2 cups per hour. Again, if you know you are a heavy-sweater or it’s very hot and humid – err on the high side, and it’s always better to bring MORE than you think you need.
Piggy backing off of water…
Hydration involves two key components – water and electrolytes. You cannot have full hydration without both. We sweat out water AND electrolytes (mostly sodium) and if we only replenish water, we can throw our balance out of whack and still end up dehydrated.
Signs of dehydration are:
- Bad breath
- Decreased amount of urine
- Dry mouth and swollen tongue
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Sugar cravings
And if you’re feeling any of the following more severe dehydration symptoms, seek medical attention right away:
- Heart palpitations
It is often said that by the time you are feeling these symptoms, it can be very hard to play catch up – which is true – so the goal is to stay on top of hydration and avoid these symptoms all together.
However, without replenishing your electrolytes, you can experience hyponatremia. Common signs of hyponatremia include: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, fatigue and muscle weakness.
How do you keep up with your electrolytes?
The simplest way is to mix ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of sugar for every 2 cups of water. This comes out to about 500mg of sodium, and the sugar helps speed up the rehydration.
A quick note on this – if you are casually walking around for an hour or so, not sweating a ton, and not exerting a lot of effort, you probably don’t need to do this. But again, if you are out hiking, sweat is dripping off you, and you are out for more than 90-120 minutes, you should have some form of electrolytes in your water.
There are also many electrolyte products on the market – and the best thing to look for is the amount of sodium being around 500mg for ease of mixing, and also flavor helps as well.
Now that’s we have that covered, let’s talk food.
First you need to determine if you have any way to keep food cool. If not, your options will be more limited. Base your snacks around easy to digest carbs, with some protein.
The foods you want to avoid while hiking are high fat, greasy foods and high fiber foods – as these can lead to more likeliness of GI distress, which nobody wants out in the woods.
Simple carb sources that work well would be granola bars, cereal, and Chex mix. Your best bet for simple protein is beef jerky. If you prefer a non-meat source, you can cover both the carbs and the protein with any form of energy bar.
The amounts are all very individual and should be based on how long you plan on hiking, but a good rule of thumb is about 100 calories for every mile hiked coming from about 75-90% carbs, and the rest protein with a little bit of trace fats sprinkled in. This is why the energy bar or trail mix (with mostly carbs like Chex and less nuts) is the ultimate hiking choice.
So before you go and explore the great outdoors, make sure you are prepared to fuel your adventure appropriately and avoid any major hiccups along the way.