Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eating Like Hobbits


"And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them)."

While this might sound like a description of thru-hikers, it was Tolkein describing Hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring.

But long-distance hikers do eat whenever they can, and as much as they can. Hiking in the mountains with a 30 lb pack burns more calories than one can generally consume or even carry comfortably. Common estimates of caloric requirements in this environment are from 4500-6500 calories per day. Add cold temperatures and these requirements go up.

Long distance hikers describe the effect of the gap between requirements and consumption as “The Hunger.” It usually sets in after a couple of weeks on the trail. That's when the quest for calories becomes all consuming. It's difficult to carry, much less consume the required calories. This means living with a 1000-2000 calorie deficit for several days, then making up for it by binging on pizza, burgers, ice cream and all you can eat (AYCE) buffets when in town for resupply.

Nutritionists who look at the needs of long distance hikers suggest more fat than normal as a source of energy, while assuring one is still getting enough complex carbs to keep glycogen levels topped off, proteins to repair overworked muscles, and the essential amino acids needed to keep the body's systems working properly.

Carrying foods that are high in calories/oz helps one meet caloric needs without unduly overburdening ones pack. Foods high in fat and oils top that list. Foods with nuts and nut butters, olive and coconut oil... Many of these foods also provide complex carbs as well as fats and proteins. Besides jerkies and foil packs of chicken and tuna, one is not likely to carry much meat.  Take a page from vegetarian nutrition and learn to combine complementary proteins throughout the day to create complete proteins.  That will help assure one is getting all the essential amino acids.

Hiking 8-10 hrs in the mountains can rapidly deplete one’s glycogen stores, resulting in sudden fatigue and loss of energy. AKA, "hitting the wall." Bonking. The key to maintaining such a pace is to eat meals and snack throughout the day … In other words, eating like a Hobbit.

“Hobbits eat at least seven meals known as breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.”

This struck a chord after reading accounts of how individual hikers integrated feeding the beast with hiking. Now, there’s as many daily routines as there are hikers out there, but there’s a subset who likes to hike from dawn to dusk stopping for food and water several times a day.

Breakfast – The rising sun and the chirping of birds wake you at dawn. Roll out, retreive your food bag, and munch on something like a granola bar, or a few Fig Newtons while packing.

Pack your food bag so snacks are at the top, and your next meal is right below it. Then place your food pack upright in your pack so it'll be right between your shoulder blades, with the opening at the top of your pack. If necessary, leave enough room on top for a warm layer to wear during breaks. That puts your heaviest item where it needs to be for proper balance. Then hit the trail. Not quite an alpine start, but a good start to the day. When you stop for a break, you can sit down, put your pack between your knees, rip it open, and start grazing.

Second Breakfast – After an hour or so, when the sun’s come up, stop at a water source, some grand vista or at the next shelter where you can berate the slackers just crawling out of their bags. Break out the stove, boil enough water for coffee, and for something like oatmeal mixed with dried cranberries, almonds, cinnamon, dried milk and sugar. (Oatmeal and almonds creates a complete protein) Or maybe cold cereal with dried fruit and powdered milk on hot days. Wash it down with a milkshake of Carnation Breakfast Essentials. Mix a couple of packs of Emergen-C into a water bottle, take a fish oil supplement, and get back on the trail.

Should have consumed ~1140 calories by now ...

Elevenses – Have high carb/ high fat snacks tucked in one's hipbelt packet to eat while hiking. A trail mix of cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, raisins, and other dried fruit is a great mix of carbs, fats and protein to keep glycogen stores topped off. Peanuts are legumes. Mixed with tree nuts, one also gets a more complete protein.  Kind of a GORP on steroids. Add in some dark chocolate if it’s not too hot. A Snickers bar 3/4 of the way up a 4000' assent is just what Aragon would order ...

Put rehydrated veggies, tomatoes, and beans in a small, wide mouth plastic jar, and fill with water to be ready for dinner.

Up to 1780 calories ...

Luncheon – Peanut butter and blackberry preserves, or maybe hummis and rehydrated onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes on whole wheat pita or tortillas. Peanut butter is near the top of the calories/oz list, and provides a good source of fat. When eaten with whole wheat bread, it creates a whole protein. Or scoop it out of the jar with sesame sticks that are high in fat. Hummis is available in dehydrated powder form and can be instantly rehydrated with water. Add olive oil and spices to provide a tasty source of proteins and fat.

2480 calories consumed ...

Afternoon Tea – Eat a meal replacement type bar, or snack out of the GORP bag, while refilling water bottles. Maybe even brew some Yerba Mate for vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidents, and caffeine without the jitters.

Now at 2860 calories ...

Dinner – Stop in the early evening at a scenic spot, or at a trail shelter to mingle with fellow hikers and read shelter logs. Break out the stove and make a dinner that provides a good mix of carbs, fats and proteins. Quinoa with a foil pack of salmon. Brown rice and beans. Ramen with a foil pouch of chicken. Couscous with onions, garlic, parsley and chunks of jerky. Lentils … A whole wheat pita or tortilla. All liberally doused with olive oil, which tops the calories/oz list, and provides healthy fats loaded with omega 3 fatty acids. Refill water bottles, saddle up and get back on the trail for a few more miles.

Eating dinner several miles from your camp site also cuts down on food smells that attract bears and other vermin.

3995 calories down ...

Supper – Stop just before dusk at a good camping spot. While setting up the tent, have a high carb snack for recovery. If it's cold, a cup of herbal tea tea to warm the belly. Eat a dark chocolate bar, brush your teeth, crawl into your tent, and sleep till the birds wake you in the morning.

In that scenario, one would manage to consume ~ 4600 calories according to MyFitnessPal, a popular calorie counter. 163g fat, 613g carbs, 162g protein.  It also suggests that when I backpack for 8 hours, I burn 4897 calories - That leaves a 295 calorie deficit.  I have some fat around my middle, so I can afford a bit of a deficit for a few weeks.  After that, more peanut butter, more gorp, maybe a chunk of cheese and some salami would close that gap ...

The all you can eat (AYCE) Chinese restaurant in town, a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for dessert, and a big bacon & egg breakfast with fried potatoes and toast during your next town visit will help too ...

I've been eating like a Hobbit, while hiking dawn to dusk for a few years now.  It gives me a constant supply of nutrients, and the ability to cover lots of miles per day. Being on the trail at dawn and dusk will allow me to enjoy sunrise and sunset, and to increase my chances of seeing wildlife.  Duh, winning!


"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold (as the hobbits do), it would be a merrier world." - The Hobbit