Monday, May 14, 2012

Food as fuel!

Like I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to talk about the kinds of foods I eat while hiking or doing other long time duration or long distance activity (like biking).

I don't want to talk about it because I am an expert and trying to tell anyone what to do! I just wanted to make that clear :)

I wanted to talk about it because I feel like I was making some pretty bad choices that were keeping me from my goal that LOOKED like good choices.

Amount of Food!

First: I had to be realistic about how many calories I was ACTUALLY burning during hiking (I will just use hiking as my example from now on). My BMR is somewhere around 1650-1850 by my calculations... I try to eat within this range when not doing a huge activity like a long distance hike.

Last year, for example, I would eat an egg sandwich, tons of trail mix and other snacks, a huge lunch, and a big celebratory dinner after a long hike... I didn't log calories, but 4000 sounds like a reasonable estimate. For a 12 mile hike where I am carrying less than 10 pounds... how many calories do I burn?

It is so CONFUSING. Seriously. So many calorie-burn calculators on the internet tell me I am burning 4000 calories on a hike like that! Also, weird, they say I am burning a similar amount of calories for a full day of downhill skiing.

Then.... why was I putting on weight? I was stuck in a vicious cycle where I was being SUPER active and putting on tons of fat. This went on for over a year and was really demoralizing.

When I started tracking calories, I also made the decision that I wasn't going to overestimate calories burned. I go with an estimate of 100 calories a mile burned while hiking, raising that to 150 when I am carrying over 20 pounds on my back.

This estimate helped me to eat a ton of food but not over eat.

So on a 12 mile hike, I would have about 1200 extra calories to eat on top of my 1650-1850 I would normally eat. That's a ton of food, but my body needed it.

So what's the big deal? Eating about 3000 calories on a 12 mile hike versus eating 4000 calories? A huge deal. It is the difference between weight loss and weight gain. When I am in weight maintenance, I will most likely up my 100 calories a mile burned to about 120 to allow me even more food.

Type of Food!

The other mistake I made was the type of food I brought on a hike. 3000 calories of good, pure fuel that is easy for my body to turn into energy versus 3000 calories of pleasurable, sugary, carb-filled food that made my blood sugar spike and drop is important.

Last year: we ate chocolate, cheese, cliff bars, nuts and dried fruit, bread and freeze-dried backpacker meals (rice and beans make up the majority of them) as our main staples.

This year: we bring tuna, jerky with no nitrates, pre-cooked chicken, pre-roasted sweet potatoes, hard boiled eggs, lara bars, and still nuts and dried fruit (in moderation!).

Protein is the biggest difference here. Also, the only sugars we are getting is natural, from the dried fruit. We eat small handfuls of food about every hour or so (or whenever we feel we need it). It keeps our blood sugars normalized, there is no "bonk," and we have this continual flow of protein into our bodies.

The past four or five hikes we have done (all over 12 miles and with intense elevation change) have been amazing. We have felt clear, bright, focused and never hungry. Both of us seem to have endless energy on these hikes now, whereas in the past, we would get grumpy towards the end and lose our energy to finish.

Plug of my favorite hiking food EVER:



Now: I am NOT a fan of using energy bars as snacks or meal replacements. I think it is ludicrous. But that's just my feelings about it, if it works for you, it doesn't bother me!

For myself, energy bars, whether lara bars or cliff bars or whatever bars, are meant for when you are doing a demanding task (whether it is hiking or building a house or raging a day-long festival or whatever!) and you need a boost of great energy and it doesn't make sense to be eating large portions because you would cramp. They are high calorie, energy dense items that aren't meant to be snacked on without reason.

That being said, Chris and I loooooove Lara Bars. Love. I love how they taste (they all REALLY taste like the item they say they do... carrot cake for the win!). I love how they have very few ingredients (some only have two! ex: the cherry pie only contains dates and cherries!). I love how all their ingredients are whole and pronounceable (dates, nuts, olive oil, fruit). I love the energy they give me to use my body to its fullest.

So I just wanted to gush over them :) And also note that I eat them responsibly. I don't just nom on a 200 calories lara bar for fun while I am watching TV!


Everything I've said here works best for me. I am passionate about it. I think I've stumbled into a really great way of eating. It won't work for everyone. People do things differently and that's okay! I am not trying to tell anyone how to live, only to share my experiences in case someone can learn from them (what to do or NOT to do!).

Excited for my hike this weekend :)

Peace and love!


  1. Great post!!

    And I agree with you - Larabars are the best!! But I have to be careful with them. One time I ate three in a row. Ya know, cuz they are healthy and good for you!!

    Your blog continues to be a major source of excitement and motivation for me!!

  2. Oooohhh this post goes with my post on Food. Thank you for the input on how changing your food type made a big difference. I'm seeing that myself at the moment. About 2 minutes after I read your post I checked my email and there was notification you had left a comment. Very wierd lol!

    1. PS We don't have Lara Bars here in Australia.

  3. Like you, I love Larabars. I do wish they contained more protein. Since starting and being totally successful on the 17 Day Diet last November, I've learned I have to have lots of protein ALL the time, but especially when hiking. I break religiously every two hours for a snack, but have found that a single Larabar just doesn't have enough protein. My solution is to eat half of either one of my homemade protein bars and half of a Larabar. Then the other two halves of both are my afternoon snack! That combo usually gives at least 15-18 grams of protein which is enough for a snack, but doesn't load up on unneeded calories.