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December 2016 Issue
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Nutrition in the hills

For most trips, carbs are a better food than protein. Photo: Emma Bedford

Food seems to be one of the trickiest elements when planning a tramping trip. Meal planning tends to favour food that cooks quickly and is lightweight. But that doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing or ignoring nutrition.

For some tips on how to plan the most nutritious tramping meals, Wilderness spoke to mountaineer and sports nutritionist Dr Cameron Mitchell, who’s researching the impact of protein in exercise at the University of Auckland.

Carbs are king. Mitchell says it’s important to understand which fuel sources you use during exercise. “If you’re just lying on the couch, not doing anything, you’re burning almost exclusively fat. But if you’re exercising maximally, you’re burning almost exclusively carbohydrates. As you exercise harder, you’re going to rely on carbohydrates more and less on fat.”

For breakfast, oatmeal will provide long-lasting energy, and has the added benefit of weighing next to nothing. Mitchell recommends regular snacks on a tramp, with a focus on whole-food carbs such as dried fruit and nuts. For dinners, go for meals with a focus on carbs and fats; pasta with cheese is a great option, he says.

Protein, not so much. While Mitchell says proteins do help build and restore muscle over time, they’re not completely necessary on a multi-day tramp. “Protein will help you recover, but the benefits on a short trip are relatively minor. If you had to skip one macronutrient, I would say protein – unless you’re going on a huge expedition.”

Try out your tramping meals at home before you buy 10 freeze-dried beef stroganoffs.

The last thing you want is your hard-earned dinner causing you gastrointestinal issues at 2am in the hut. Mitchell recommends practise-eating your tramping meals to make sure you don’t have any digestive issues.

“Test your food at home or on an easy tramp where the consequences are low,” he says. “On the trip, eat things you know you can handle, and that you’ve eaten before. You don’t want to try anything weird.”

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