View Full Version : Starting Skinny & Nutrition on the Trail

03-05-2011, 09:53
My friends who have hiked the AT were telling me last night that I need to put on weight before starting my hike. I've lost a fair amount of weight training for my hike and now don't have much fat on me. My friends were saying in the first three weeks I could loose more weight and I now don't have too much to spare (not much more than 5 pounds). However, I guess I was figuring, I don't want to put on weight because that's more I'll just have to carry and will feel out of shape. But at the same time, if everyone loses a weight during the first few weeks, I'm concerned about losing muscle. What are folks thoughts on this? How can I make sure I am getting enough calories on the Trail? I know, lots of peanut butter and Snickers Bars. Any other suggestions? Thanks so much! Leaving in about a month and am super psyched!


03-05-2011, 10:08
Just read this on the PCT-L list and thought it was well said:
"Think of it this way... Bodyfat is ALWAYS straining your joints... your ankles etc.

... Instead of gaining ten pound ... You could just carry more food, the. At least close to the next town your not carrying the weight.

The food bag gets lighter much faster than a beer gut does."

A few extra pounds on you is fine, but not a lot of pounds. Here's a good set of articles on food nutrition for a long distant hike

What most of us don't realize is that our focus should be more on fat and less on protein (at least per the author of the articles mentioned above, who is a nutritionist and avid long distance hiker, Ph.D., and R.D.)

03-05-2011, 10:08
Stuff with fat is calorie dense, cheese, vegatable oils, nuts, fast food. Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram than protein or carbs.

One thing that is cheap and calories dense (also has a fair amount of protein) is mac and cheese. Make it with 3 oz vegatable oil and you have a 1,500 calorie snack.

Del Q
03-05-2011, 10:12
RoyalUSA - great link, thanks!

Prepping all food this weekend for a 2 week spring hike, this will help!

03-05-2011, 10:32
I'm in the same place as you bro, starting skinny and really can't lose more than five or ten pounds max. We will see. I figure eat alot and all but we are in good shape and being skinny does also mean less work and less burned. I have done the research enough to know if we eat enough we will be just fine. I have heard a couple examples of skinny people actually gaining a few on the trail. Just eat like nobodies business!

03-05-2011, 10:44
I don't think you have to worry about it. Your body adjusts. You may lose another 5 pounds but you won't waste away completely. Your metabolism and your hunger will make sure of it.

My friend Lenny who was 6'5" and very skinny ate like there was no tomorrow. He'd eat a whole salami and block of cheese as a snack. He usually ate two whole pots of whatever gloppy mess he made for dinner. He carried 30lbs of food on one of his legs through the High Sierras even though he made all the usual resupply stops.

03-05-2011, 11:23
You're so much better off than the many who are starting overweight. Yours is pretty much a non-problem, though I definitely understand your concern. I'm very skinny myself and I need to eat constantly on hikes.

The trick is to balance your input with your output, since you have so little storage. What works for me is to stop every two hours, say five or six times a day, to eat a small meal. Traditional meal times do not work for me. I eat as much whole grain carbs (vs simple sugars) and natural fat (vs processed oils) as I can carry and that seems to work fine. The mainstays of my diet are rolled oats, nuts and nut butters, cheese, fruit (dried and fresh) and fresh vegetables. The processed foods I eat are tortillas and crackers. Candy/energy bars and sweet drinks upset my stomach and I don't like the crash and burn afterwards, so it's easy enough for me to avoid the processed sugars. I agree with concentrating on fat vs protein. If you eat enough real, unprocessed food for your energy needs, you'll get enough protein.

03-05-2011, 11:36
I think losing a lot of weight in the beginning is something that largely happens to males who already have extra to lose. I don't mean to sterotype, that's just in my experience and is anecdotal and limited to talking to the hikers I met during my thru.
For example I'm male and had about 20 extra when I started out of shape. My wife had maybe 10 extra. i lost 15 in the first month but then lost only a few pounds the rest of the way, whereas my wife barely lost anything the whole way.
Chances are if you are already in shape you won't lose a ton or become sickly as long as you are eating enough. Garlic has the best advice.

03-05-2011, 11:51
How can I make sure I am getting enough calories on the Trail?
I can only speak from the experience of trips lasting up to 10-14 days, but your body will tell you. You may find the first few days you aren't super hungry because the exercise actually can reduce appetite (for me, at least, YMMV). But after that you'll probably feel quite happy eating lots of small meals, as above, and maybe gorging a bit when you come into towns (follow common sense, and don't overdo at the AYCE!). You won't lose muscle mass unless you're actually in serious starvation mode, in which case your body will be screaming with hunger. won't happen when you go through towns so often to resupply. Also, even if you're already thin, as you become more fit the efficiency of your metabolism increases, and you will likely become more efficient at walking (unless you're already really experienced), so the same amount of food can take you longer.

03-05-2011, 12:49
I agree. This is a non-problem. Don't try to gain weight, other than maybe a nice big going away meal before you leave. It's the folks with too much weight that should be worried. That's what causes problems such as stress injuries and just makes the hike harder and less enjoyable in general.

In my opinion the whole, "you'll loose so much weight, you need to pad up before leaving" thing has been blown way, way out of proportion. Most of it stems from poor diet on the trail. Your body is designed to be active and lean, not sedentary and overweight. Being on the trail should be more like a return to normalcy in a fundamental sort of way - though it does take some adjustment.

Anyway, diet, like I said, is one of the biggest problems. I see a lot of people early on just eating a pack of oatmeal for breakfast, a pack of ramen for dinner and some bars in between and calling it good. You need a balanced diet which means adding more protein than some hikers tend to carry. This doesn't mean some huge amount of protein (which is heavy, dehydrating, and generally not healthy) but a reasonable amount. Try to eat at least 3 -5 ounces of a good source of protein at each meal. This could be a tuna packet, cheese (which keeps fine for several days even in warm weather) or even some whey powder.

In addition to protein, you should be consuming a lot of healthy fats. Pour a liberal amount of olive oil on your meals. Carry a big bag of nuts out of every town. Avocados are a nice treat for the first day or two out of town... just don't squash them. Fat is the lightest (and tastiest) way to get a lot of calories in your pack.

CARBS: Carbohydrates are a primary source of fuel for your body but I think a lot of hikers take it way too far. They see a bar or a gas station cinnamon roll with 150 grams of sugar and load up on them. I've found that overloading on sugar leads to more of a crash than any surge of energy. This makes sense since you are basically spiking your blood sugar which causes your body to release a flood of insulin. This not only kills your energy levels but is generally very unhealthy. While I feel like fruits and vegetables are the best way to get carbs, this is a very difficult proposition for long distance hikers. I usually try to eat whole grains and some dried fruit (still very sugary). Try to get most of your carbs from things like whole grain pastas, tortillas, dried fruit such as prunes, lightly sweetened granola, and whole oats. You can buy a container of whole oats to get your to the next town for almost nothing and they aren't filled with sugar like the packets. Just add your own raisins/cranberries, dried milk, or better yet, Nido.

In summary:
Avoid a lot of simple sugars, too many candy bars, honey buns, little debbies, etc.
Eat a decent bit of protein at each meal: tuna, cheese, jerkey
Eat tons of fat. Preferably healthy fats like nuts and olive oil.

Anyway, I'm not a nutrition expert. These are just some things I've noticed from my hikes that have kept my energy levels up and helped me avoid emaciation.

03-05-2011, 14:28
Thanks everyone. This was incredibly helpful! Happy hiking.


Appalachian Tater
03-06-2011, 12:51
Olive oil is probably the most dense calorie source that isn't terrible for your health.

03-06-2011, 13:10
All the vegetable oils have the same amount of calories. None of the vegetable oils except maybe the palm oils are bad for your health.

kayak karl
03-06-2011, 13:11
this link might help. http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?t=52500