When you’re setting off for a full day hill walking or on a charity challenge, it’s wise to consider how your body is going to fuel it. A chocolate bar and a flask of coffee will get you some of the way there but to enjoy the experience to the max you’ll want to carefully plan your calorie and fluid intake.
If you’ve been watching The Island with Bear Grylls, you’ll know that lack of food and water makes time out in the wild unbearable. Given that you’re probably not intending to go AWOL for a month, you can plan your pre, during and post nutrition for the most enjoyable experience and fastest recovery.
In the 1990s, pasta packing was all the rage. It was common for race competitors or hill walkers to chow down on a huge bowl or two of pasta the night before, followed by a greasy fry up the morning of the event.
Now we know that carbohydrates give us the instant energy we need for climbing steep hills or scrambling. But there’s only enough of this fuel, which is stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles, to keep you going for two hours. It’s vital to keep topping up as you go, and seeking out a mix of fast release and slow release carbs.
A good bowl of pasta with a tomato sauce rather than a cheesy one is perfect fodder for the night before. Unfortunately, it really is worth getting up extra early to get more fuel on board before you set off in the morning. Make sure you have breakfast at least an hour before the start of your exercise. We’d advise against indulging in a full English, but porridge with nuts, berries, bananas and honey is an ideal start. Porridge has a low glycemic index, so it releases energy slowly and evenly into your bloodstream. Don’t leave on an empty stomach either if you want to be alert and full of energy.
During your walk, you’ll want to regularly top up your levels with lightweight but energy-packed portable foods like trail mix (make your own from your favourite dried fruits and nuts), muesli bars, malt loaf, fig rolls and bananas. Bananas are full of potassium which helps prevent muscle cramps. They are also easy to digest and help replenish the electrolytes you lose during exercise. One to watch is energy bars - they can contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar, which will lead to a crash later. Chocolate will give you a quick blast of energy but the sugar drop that follows does not a happy rambler make. Carrying everything in an easy access Hip Pack makes it easy to recharge on the move.
It’s a good idea to have a tasty packed lunch ready with perhaps a wholewheat pasta salad or sandwiches – even the most basic cheese and pickle will taste totally gourmet when you’ve worked up a serious appetite! Wholewheat carbs are your friend here as they give you a long-lasting source of energy. Try not to have anything too rich or laden with fats.
The second (and really the most important) part of the equation is fluid. If you feel thirsty, chances are you’re already dehydrated. Take a sip every 20 minutes or so, depending on how hard you’re working and how hot it is. You’ll need between 500ml and 1l an hour. Our body temperature is controlled by sweat evaporating from the skin. If you’re dehydrated, the heat can’t be dissipated so heat exhaustion can quickly take over.
Even though a steaming hot coffee is comforting during a chilly walk in the hills, keep the caffeine intake down unless you want to be running for the nearest bush at regular intervals! A good option here is hot ginger and lemon tea. Ginger is excellent for circulation so will help keep the blood moving around chilly fingers and toes. You can keep drinks hot or cold for up to four hours in a Thermal Mug. You can mix energy drink powder into your water for added value hydration. If you carry cold drinks in one of our Tritan Water Bottles you’ll be able to flip the lid and drink on the go.
Once you’ve reached your end point, your best bet is to have a protein and carbohydrate-rich snack with 30 minutes of the end of the walk, and good meal within two hours. You’ve earned it!