This is the first installment of what should be a regular series on healthier options for hiking and backpacking.
When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail I ate all the regular hiker fare: ramen, spam, snickers, tortillas, chips, pizza, and candy. I even made it a point to down a pint of ice-cream before leaving each town. My rationale was that I needed the calories.
And not so coincidentally my mood, performance, and energy levels all dropped steadily as I progressed through the thru. In any other setting I would have realized that my diet was the main contributing factor to this decline but I thought that this was just what happened naturally during a thru hike.
It was only when my digestive system rebelled that I realized my diet was doing me great harm. For the last month of my thru and eight weeks after I got home I didn’t have a regular or solid BM. I experienced terrible indigestion along with acid reflux(neither of which I’ve ever experienced before my hike). My mood and energy levels were right down in the toilet along with everything I wasn’t able to digest.
It was only after I started on a course of probiotics, high fiber foods, and eliminated sugar and processed carbs that my digestive system started to recover. It was remarkable how quickly I bounced back after changing my diet. 30 days later I felt like my old self again.
Healthy Hiking/Backpacking Breakfast
Breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you eat something sugary you’ll experience sharp drop-offs in blood-sugar which will make you crave more sugar.
A high-fat, high-protein breakfast will keep your blood sugar steady and provide you with steady energy to start your day.
Chia, Flax, Coconut and Fruit Oatmeal Free Oatmeal:
- 3 TBSP Chia Seeds – 207 cals, 14g fat, 18g carbs, 15g fiber, 7g protein – 173mg potassium, 26% DV calcium, 18% DV iron, 7.35g Omega-3s
- 3 TBSP Flax Seeds – 165 cals, 12.9g fat, 9g carbs, 8.4g fiber, 5.7g protein – 252mg potassium, 6% DV calcium, 9% DV iron, 30% DV magnesium, 7.2g of ALA(converted into Omega-3’s in the body)
- 3 TBSP Shredded Coconut – 100 cals, 10g fat, 4g carbs, 2g fiber, 1g protein – 9g of medium chain triglycerides
- 20g Coconut Oil Powder – 140 cals, 16g fat, 4g fiber, 2g protein – 16g of medium chain triglycerides
- ¼ Cup Freeze Dried Blueberries – 33cals, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 1.5g fiber, 0g protein – 270mg potassium
- Whole leaf stevia for flavor
Mix all of the ingredients in a zip-lock bag with approximately ½ cup of water. Let it sit for 20 minutes to rehydrate. You can do this first thing in the morning, pack up camp, and then it will be ready to eat. Alternatively you can make this mix after you’ve packed up camp and stow it in your pack and when you get hungry it will be ready to eat.
- 645 cals, 52.9g fat, 42g carbs, 30.9g fiber, 15.7g protein
My plan is to double this recipe, hike for 40-50 minutes in the morning, eat half, hike another 2-3 hours and eat the other half.
Variations on the Chia + Flax Healthy Hiking Breakfast
Variety is key on trail. Many days I find myself craving more salt than sweet for breakfast. I think this is likely due to your loss of electrolytes on trail because you’re drinking a lot of water and sweating out electrolytes.
Exact same recipe as above. Throw in a chicken or beef(or whatever flavor you prefer) bouillon cube with 1 cup of water into your stove. Bring to a boil and toss in the other ingredients. You can add sausage, tuna, or jerky for some extra protein and flavor.
You can also add dehydrated veggies for extra nutrition and texture.
I like to top mine off with tabasco sauce.
You can also add chia, flax, and coconut(or any combination therein) for extra calories to dinners that you cook on the stove. The seeds are mostly flavorless so they won’t make your dinners taste all weird. I plan to add extra chia seeds to my dinners(a mix of dehydrated beans and lentils and veggies) for additional calories. It’s better than adding pure fat from olive oil or butter because too much olive oil or butter will give you the runs. My plan is about 300 extra calories from powdered butter and then an extra 200-400 calories from chia seeds which will bring the dinner calories to a respectable 1000 calories.
Greek Yogurt Dessert:
You can purchase single-serving cups of Greek yogurt and carry those out with you on trail. The yogurt keeps well as long as it remains sealed. Mix the above breakfast mix in with the yogurt(after the breakfast mix has had time to rehydrate) and you get a creamy, sweet, and filling dessert. A simple method to add an extra 800 calories to a lunch or dinner. Cut the recipe in half if you can’t eat that much in one go, or save the leftovers for breakfast!
Greek yogurt has the benefit of casein protein which is especially helpful when you eat this at night. It’s an old trick that bodybuilders use because casein protein is digested slowly so the theory goes if you eat it at night it can give your body a source of protein throughout your sleep to help you repair your muscles.
Benefits of Coconut oil and Medium Chain Triglycerides
The fat found in coconut oil is roughly 60% medium-chain triglycerides. This is an important distinction because most of the fat we consume are long-chain and not medium-chain. All other fat sources are long-chain triglycerides.
This is very important for overall energy levels because long-chain triglycerides must first pass through the small intestines before they can be used for energy in our body while MCTs can pass directly from the stomach to the liver to be used for energy within 30 minutes of eating the MCT.
You might notice that after you eat coconut oil you’ll feel a rush of warmth. This is because those MCTs are being immediately burned for fuel. You might also notice that you feel much more energetic and awake after a serving of coconut oil. Again this is because your body is immediately tapping into those MCTs as a energy source.
This has great benefits for hiking. The reason hikers eat sugar for breakfast is to get an immediate rush of energy, but with the inclusion of MCTs you can eat a breakfast that is almost entirely devoid of sugar and still experience a instant boost to your overall energy.
This is also why I’m going to bring powdered butter for dinner and skip the coconut oil. I find it difficult to sleep after I eat MCTs and you’d be better served with slower digesting fats that will keep your blood-sugar even for the evening rather than a rush of energy from MCTs.
I’ll be leaving for the trail in just a couple of days! I’ve decided to trim down the recipe to only Chia seeds and coconut. Most grocery stores should carry Chia and a coconut product(either shredded or oil). Cutting the ingredient list will make resupplies much easier and save cost on shipping too much to myself on trail.
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