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  1. #1

    Default How do thru hikes do it, How do they get enough calories?

    Ive never really paid attention to what I pack olong on 1-3 night trips. My most recent trip 3D/2N my food bag was around 5lbs. I wear a Apple Watch so it tells me my calories burnt. For my measly 7-13 mile days I am a bit more than 2200 calories.

    If thru hikers are double that, how the heck can they eat enough to replace 4000+ calories!? I am having a hard time with 2200!

  2. #2

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    Many people don't end up eating enough and lose weight.
    I don't have a problem getting 3-4k calories a day on section hikes. I eat like a bit of a pig in town, eat more per day when resupply is closer together or there are store options, and sometimes do run temporary deficits when carrying 5+ days of food.
    But sometimes you have to just carry the extra weight and keep eating if it's long stretches with no resupply

  3. #3
    Leonidas
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    I started the BMT with 3kcal per day and by the last 4-5 days, I had bumped to 5kcal per day. I did pig out the two times I was able to get town/gas station food as well. Short trips, a lot of people overestimate how hungry they will be. So you can't really compare a weekend trip with a thru hike that lasts more then a week. The other thing is, some people have figured how to eat calories regardless of hunger or lack thereof. I drink a majority of my calories so it makes it way easier to ingest those 3k-5k as I am drinking to stay hydrated and get calories. My snacks are typically the only solid food calories I pack.
    The other variable is, some hikers never end up eating enough and have to come off trail.
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  4. #4

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    That's why thru hikers end up eating a lot of sugar. 800 calorie glazed honey bun for breakfast? You betcha. (what amazes me is that there has to be enough "normal" people eating these on a regular basis for them to be so widely available)

    Lots of peanut butter helps too. Corn chips are good too. Fat and salt, two things a hiker really needs in hot weather.
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  5. #5
    Registered User ScottTrip's Avatar
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    The short answer is you don't. You typically eat big meals on resupply or zero days but while on trail eat what you can. I only weighed 145 lbs at the start of my hike and lost 15 by the end.

  6. #6
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    It's definitely hard to carry enough calories on a long hike. High fat, high sugar items help (Pop Tarts for second breakfast), but I tend to make it up in town. That's why the good all-you-can-eat places attain mythical status among long distance hikers.
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  7. #7
    Garlic
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    In my experience, it takes nearly a month for the serious "hiker hunger" to set in, as your body starts trying to eat itself.

    I managed to eat enough on my AT hike to end at roughly the same weight as when I started, and was able to return to my career as a firefighter with very little loss of strength. The AT was my third thru-hike, and I learned some eating lessons on the first two. I carried over 4000 kcal/day, and pigged out in towns. I spent as much on town meals as I did on pack food for the whole hike. I try to tell myself I ate well but there was a lot of ice cream.

    I have a theory that experienced hikers use less energy than average, maybe through better bio-mechanics, and maybe some weird genetic abilities. Some people walk and run with a smoother gait. Some people can tolerate fasting better than others.

  8. #8

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    If you eat a ton of carbs you will always be a ravenous glutton, never become fat adapted, and eventually risk metabolic problems.
    If you become fat adapted, you won't be as hungry, and won't need to carry or eat so much food. On my last 10 day hike I carried a lot of food out of the woods, uneaten. Just didn't need it.

    Do you think that hunter-gatherers of old carried 4000 calories on their wide-ranging hunts? No, they hunted mostly fasted and ate at the end of the hunt. That's how the body is wired to work. That's why our primary energy system is based on ketones/fat, not carbs. The human body has been described as a storage battery based on fat. You don't need to fuel with carbs at all, in fact it's a recent invention that hasn't worked out too well.

  9. #9
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    I through hiked the Colorado Trail last year. I went from 150 pounds to 130 pounds within three weeks. I have had similar weight loss hiking the Appalachian Trail. That's the answer to your question. You can't eat enough and you can't carry enough. I don't hit every town for town food, so the opportunity to catch up on calories isn't there.
    Trail Name - Slapshot
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  10. #10
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    When hiking the PCT, my son was using lots of olive oil in everything he cooked. By the end, he'd switched to Canola oil because it had less flavor and he got tired of everything being olive flavored.

    I have an ultra-endurance friend that actually carries a bottle of olive oil with him, even when we're just out climbing. And, he takes gulps of the stuff off and on throughout the day. To each their own. But lots of strategies do work.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by RockDoc View Post
    If you eat a ton of carbs you will always be a ravenous glutton, never become fat adapted, and eventually risk metabolic problems.
    If you become fat adapted, you won't be as hungry, and won't need to carry or eat so much food. On my last 10 day hike I carried a lot of food out of the woods, uneaten. Just didn't need it.

    Do you think that hunter-gatherers of old carried 4000 calories on their wide-ranging hunts? No, they hunted mostly fasted and ate at the end of the hunt. That's how the body is wired to work. That's why our primary energy system is based on ketones/fat, not carbs. The human body has been described as a storage battery based on fat. You don't need to fuel with carbs at all, in fact it's a recent invention that hasn't worked out too well.
    I'm fine with such suggestions as long as such a diet isn't an excuse to eat meat products etc. As a lifelong vegetarian I am wary of Paleo types dictating the conversation.

    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    But lots of strategies do work.
    Couldn't agree more. My main current (vegan) backpacking diet is basically this---

    **Loaded old fashioned Oatmeal (dried pineapple, cherries, black walnuts, olive oil, honey, peanut butter, Bob's Red Mill vanilla protein powder). I can live on this as my main meal.

    **Go Macro and Bob's Red Mill granola bars---high in vegan protein.

    **Amy's vegan mac and cheese.

    **Assorted non-MSG ramen noodles.

    **Annie Chun's noodle meals---
    AnnieChuns_Teriyaki_NoodleBowl-360x360.png

    In addition, I take alot of nut butters. And on my next trip I'll be hauling out freeze dried brown rice and powdered soymilk---




  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    . . . As a lifelong vegetarian I am wary of Paleo types dictating the conversation. . .
    I wish (most of the time) I could be a vegetarian. Ethically, I'd like to minimize my exploitation of slave animals and reduce my footprint on the earth in general. And, for health reasons, I suspect I would be better off with a well managed vegetarian diet than my current diet of whatever is easy and reasonably healthy most of the time. I'M JUST TOO DAMN LAZY to have succeeded in living up to my ideals on this one.

    Now, for my rant . . .

    I call bull on this paleo ancestor diet drivel. I have no doubt there were populations of humans that lived a very fat and protein rich existence in human history. Heck, there still are. BUT, I also have no doubt there were populations that lived primarily on vegetable matter. Heck, there still are.

    As a modern analog, let's look at bears. Many people think of bears as an ultimate meat-eating, opportunistic omnivore. Sure. BUT, the vast majority of bear populations (both grizzly and black bears) in North America get the majority (~75%) of their calories from vegetable matter.

    I believe that thinking of our ancestors as primarily big game hunting cave people, and then basing our diet on that fallacy, is misguided.

    That being said, fat provides the highest calorie density and animal flesh tends to be high in fats, so . . .
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  13. #13

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    Nsherry61---excellent points. And you're right about black bear diets--at least 75% in acorns and other plants. And peanut butter if they stumble into my campsite.

  14. #14
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    Mmm. . . peanut butter . . .
    Selectively copied from the all-knowing internet:
    Peanut butter provides a good amount of protein, along with essential vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and zinc.Most notably, each 2-tablespoon (tbsp)Trusted Source serving of smooth peanut butter provides the following nutrients, minerals, and vitamins:Protein.

    Peanut butter contains 7.02 grams (g) of protein per 2-tbsp serving. This counts toward the recommended dietary allowances (RDA)Trusted Source for women of 46 g and 56 g for men, which varies by age and activity level.Magnesium. With 57 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, each serving helps towards the RDA of 400–420 mg in men and 310–320 in women. Magnesium is essential for health, playing a role in over 300 chemical processes in the body.Phosphorous. Each serving contains 107 mg of phosphorus, which is about 15.3 percent of the RDA of 700 mg for adults. Phosphorus helps the body to build healthy cells and bones and helps cells to produce energy.Zinc.

    A serving of peanut butter provides 0.85 mg of zinc. This is 7.7 percent of the recommended daily intake of 11 mg for men, and 10.6 percent of the RDA of 8 mg for women. Zinc is necessary for immunity, protein synthesis, and DNA formation.Niacin. Peanut butter contains 4.21 mg of niacin per serving, which makes a useful contribution towards a person’s recommended intake of 14 to 16 mg. Niacin benefits digestion and nerve function and helps produce energy.Vitamin B-6. With 0.17 g of vitamin B-6 per serving, peanut butter provides almost 14 percent of an adult’s RDA of 1.3 mg. Vitamin B-6 plays a role in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and may be necessary for heart and immune system health.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  15. #15
    Some days, it's not worth chewing through the restraints.
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    I don't worry too much about what my ancestors ate - they didn't live very long. But they were hunter-gatherers; they ate what they could. Meat and fish when they could kill it, fruits, nuts etc. in season. We are natural omnivores.

    However, the crap some people choose to eat at home or on the trail is amazing. I don't know why so many hikers expect to get high performance out of their bodies while eating low performance fuel. You can't live on Honey buns, pop-tarts (frosted raspberry thank you very much), and cherry coke. I think we can all treat ourselves on the trail - the calories will get used - but a better diet is bound to get better results.

  16. #16
    Garlic
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    ...I call bull on this paleo ancestor diet drivel. I have no doubt there were populations of humans that lived a very fat and protein rich existence in human history. Heck, there still are. BUT, I also have no doubt there were populations that lived primarily on vegetable matter. Heck, there still are....
    Thanks for bringing this up--my thoughts exactly. Agriculture is one of the cornerstones of human civilization. In the pre-colonial Americas, we hear about maize, beans and squash as important complementary crops. The Incans apparently had thousands of varieties of potatoes.

    I recently read "Animal, Vegetable, Junk" by Mark Bittman. Scary stuff, along with some enlightening history.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    . . . I believe that thinking of our ancestors as primarily big game hunting cave people, and then basing our diet on that fallacy, is misguided.. . .
    Years ago I saw a show on TV (Nat Geo or equivalent, don't remember) that profiled a village of people living a primitive lifestyle completely unaffected by modern society (may have been in New Guinea, again don't recall). But the men of the village would go out on multi-day hunting excursions, could ming home with some game they had killed. The "mighty hunters" were very proud of themselves, celebrating the feast they had provided for the village. Meanwhile the women had spent their days gathering fruits anfnuts and tending the village garden. The anthropologists making the documentary did a long-term analysis of the village diet and found that despite their bravado, the men provided a relatively small percentage of the calorie total.

  18. #18
    GSMNP 900 Miler
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    Years ago, I planned out a thru-hike of the JMT out west.
    Because all my food had to fit in a bear canister, and because time/money constraints meant I had to hike 10 days with no resupply, I concentrated on finding foods that were calorie dense not only by weight but by size. I managed to put together a plan with 3,000 calories per day. I still averages losing about 1/2 pound per day.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by OhioHiker View Post
    Ive never really paid attention to what I pack olong on 1-3 night trips. My most recent trip 3D/2N my food bag was around 5lbs. I wear a Apple Watch so it tells me my calories burnt. For my measly 7-13 mile days I am a bit more than 2200 calories.

    If thru hikers are double that, how the heck can they eat enough to replace 4000+ calories!? I am having a hard time with 2200!
    The conditions of the trail miles, intensity or strenuousness of those miles, and how one constantly adapts to those conditions play significant roles in the calories expended to cover them. I do something unpopular among U.S. culture. I budget my energy and caloric expenditures in relation to trail conditions and various situations. For example, I regulate my pace and intensity knowing I am not always going to proceed at a balls to the wall FKT pace. Learning and mastering lower impact more ergonomic movement and mastering UL philosophy plays into lowering daily caloric energy needs while decreasing fatigue, all this despite personally typically averaging high 20's/low 30's daily on AT terrain.

    Nutritional Science tells us food is more than calories. And, cals are not alone responsible for energy availability. For the umpteenth time calories are NOT some isolated entity one can consume. Food has many other things in it that absolutely can affect satiation, metabolism, and food assimilation. So, a calorie is not a calorie as some like to say. Calories are attached to may other things. Consumption of 25 grams of white sugar, about 100 cals, affects the human body differently than 25 grams of broccoli, about 35 cals. Despite the lower cal content of broccoli it's deemed more nutritious... because it is overall! So, trail nutrition choices can be based not solely on caloric content but OVERALL nutritional density aiming for nutritional excellence/enhanced nutritional quality. This new way of thinking about trail energy CAN result in lowered daily caloric intake but overall more energy than a higher daily caloric load of junk food. In other words calories alone are NOT the best or only indicator of energy! Other things come into play. TIP: aim for overall nutritional density and quality rather than only caloric density. If one assumes adequate energy and nutrition on trail is only addressed by calorie consumption try chugging EVOO, Squeeze Parkay or coconut oil for a few days as all are very high in calories per volume or wt. We know how this might turn out but yet the trail community pushes high cal/oz ratios as the be all end all of being energized on trail.

    What I find on the AT, and to some extent on the PCT, are thrus, many of them, adhering to a modified for trail Standard American Diet(SAD) high in junk food and highly processed highly packaged food/food like products, a habit that is brought to the trail from that same off trail lifestyle. Albeit, some more experienced thrus junk food binge and adhere to the SAD but I see greater recognition and knowledge from more experienced thrus how a diet based on high nutritional density improves their performance, feeling of well being, and health.

    Currently, when I thru hike on maintained ST 500+ miles, even on a 3600 mile CDT SOBO thru hike, I finish at the same wt I start aiming to stay within a narrow wt and muscle mass range that is first learned and maintained off trail and, then, brought to the LD lifestyle. And, I do it as many others do, not adhering to the SAD or eating anything and everything I can as I damn well understand it has negative outcomes. However, on the first AT NOBO I did consume junk food, in town gorge at buffets, and had a harder time mainatining energy levels despite consuming a greater daily caloric load. My junk food diet was high in sugar, low in fiber, high in highly processed food enginnered food like products, high in "bad fats",...nutrionally dismal pop tarts, the cheapest ramen, dried white potatoes, mac n cheese, Fritios, candy, Honey Buns, Oreos, Little Debbies, sugary drinks that said they were elctolyte drinks, prtein bars that were more candy bars, McDees, conveniencestore/gas station junk food, etc.

    Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    ...Now, for my rant . . .
    I call bull on this paleo ancestor diet drivel. I have no doubt there were populations of humans that lived a very fat and protein rich existence in human history. Heck, there still are. BUT, I also have no doubt there were populations that lived primarily on vegetable matter. Heck, there still are.

    I believe that thinking of our ancestors as primarily big game hunting cave people, and then basing our diet on that fallacy, is misguided. . . .

    I concur. My rant to your rant.

    It was men that did most of the animal hunting. It was mostly the woman, elderly, infirm and children especially the young women/girls who tended the crops and were gatherers. Yet, it was this group that put much food on the table. Yet, as today, it was a patriarchal based society with men getting most of the glory for the food - providing meat, the real food, - what's for dinner - on the table. Hunting animals also provided clothing, sinews for making rope/bows, bone for a variety of uses, etc. So animals and hunting them were prized. Another thing is that hunting and meat prep tools tend to survive longer being more abundant in the archeological record than gathering baskets and prehistoric farming implements. Thus it can be misconstrued by industrialized animal agriculture and the Paleo/Primal/Keto cheerleaders sometimes having ties to the meat and dairy industry that is primarily what most ate and how many lived many eons ago.

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