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  1. #1
    Registered User pinkfloyd336's Avatar
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    Default Muscle Loss during AT Thru Hike

    How muscle did you guys lose in your upper body after a thru hike. I have worked very hard building muscle for the past year and a half and wanted to plan a thru hike when I graduate school in two years. What would you guys recommend to lose as little muscle as possible?

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    Don't hike..... Seriously, you will likely lose it. But the good news is that it will come back quick upon your return.

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    Registered User pinkfloyd336's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gg-man View Post
    Don't hike..... Seriously, you will likely lose it. But the good news is that it will come back quick upon your return.
    Man. I love hiking but love my muscle too. I have been thinking of bringing protein powder and other high protein foods to help cut down on it?

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    Registered User kayak karl's Avatar
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    i would think even with high protein food your legs would burn that up too.
    I'm so confused, I'm not sure if I lost my horse or found a rope.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pinkfloyd336 View Post
    What would you guys recommend to lose as little muscle as possible?
    Creatine.

    If you really care that much, you should work on improving everything you can to increase your weekly mileage. That can benefit you in two ways. The first is you finish your hiker earlier so that you suffer from less muscle wasting, and so you can get back into the gym sooner. The second is you take zeroes or double zeroes to spend time in the gym.

    Quote Originally Posted by kayak karl View Post
    i would think even with high protein food your legs would burn that up too.
    Agreed.

    OP, it's damn near impossible to get enough food on the trail. Try putting together a 4500 calorie diet that you'll actually eat. Count the macronutrients. You'll see that your diet will provide LOTS of protein. Now realize that 4500 calories isn't nearly enough. Subtracting calories to add protein is unlikely to have the desired results for multiple reasons. You could try to increase your diet to 6000 calories. If you can carry and eat that much, then you might be in caloric equilibrium, and again, still won't have any reason to supplement protein because you'll get massive amounts.

  7. #7

    Default Muscle Loss during AT Thru Hike

    I have been contemplating this issue myself. I have been lifting for the past 2 years and while I'm not looking to get huge, I have made some respectable gains.
    I already eat like a beast and worry that I would not be able to eat enough on the trail to keep myself going much less maintain muscle mass.
    I think the best thing to do would be to supplement your daily food intake with a mix of whey and casein protein powder along with good fats (check out smart balance peanut butter).
    And make sure you eat everything in sight in town. I would also plan to have a larger allowance for food than most folks.

  8. #8

    Default Muscle Loss during AT Thru Hike

    Also just gonna have to accept the fact that you will loose mass but I think these things can help mitigate muscle loss

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    Thru-hiker 2013 NoBo CarlZ993's Avatar
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    It has been my experience that you can maintain your 'Strength' on one weight workout a week when done to point of failure (one set per muscle group). I've done this numerous times when I've geared up to run marathons and I didn't want to lose my strength. If your weight doesn't drop (losing body fat), your muscular size (muscle + subcutaneous body fat) should remain relatively stable.

    How would this translate to thru-hiking? Probably not too well. I think the logistics of somehow getting weight training workouts (even if you had the energy to do them) once a week would be quite daunting. Like it or not, muscular atrophy will occur. Muscular strength will go down. I personally plan to do push-ups a couple of times a week. Some stretching as well (back, hip, shoulders, etc). I will listen to my body. If it tells me, 'Hey, stupid, I'm too tired to do these push-ups and hike 15M a day.' I won't do them.

    Remember - Drinks don't get, or keep, muscles 'big.' Weight training does. So, enjoy your hike and resume your weight training regimen when you finish. If you are motivated to do so, you'll eventually attain your pre-hike strength and size. Probably sooner rather than later.

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    I did yoga and pushups every night and seemed to not lose too much.....but people thought I was crazy wicked mad seeing me do pushups.....but hey, I gave them something to talk about and someone to laugh at

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    Registered User Lyle's Avatar
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    Many years ago, a friend of mine used to do calisthenics each morning before his hiking day started. In the evening, if he didn't feel he had gotten sufficient miles in, he would run for several miles without his pack.

    Lived mostly on tuna and whatever on the trail, ate well in town whenever he got the chance. He probably had the best upper body of any hiker I've ever known, even after 14 months hiking. His nickname (we didn't call them trail names back then) was "Energy Ed". Most of us just shook our heads.

  12. #12
    ...Or is it Hiker Trash? Almost There's Avatar
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    Our bodies, by nature, our efficient machines. Walking all day long will see your body focus on those muscles you use, period. Especially if you are not taking in enough calories. Not getting enough calories, your body will chew up fat first, and then muscle that is not being used...your upper body. You can minimize the loss, but can't stop it completely. There is a reason why body builders eat mad amounts of food, and carry fat until they flush their systems for a competition. Good luck with it, and like others have said, you can always put it back after your hike. It will give you a new focus after the trail!
    Walking Dead Bear
    Formerly the Hiker Known as Almost There

  13. #13

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    Bro it don't matter what you do or what type of food you carry, you will loose atleast a good quarter of you muscle mase and a good percentage of you body weight. Your family and friends will not reconize you when you return, your upper body will be so skinny and prunny looking but your legs will be in perfect shape.

  14. #14

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    I would think this to be a myth. Upper body muscle mass would not be lost on the trail as long as one is consuming ample calories. Throw in a few push-ups and calistenics and you will be fine. Now, on the other hand, you will likely lose fat and become more lean and ripped. With 30+ pounds over your shoulders, you will probably even gain a tad of muscle at the expense of losing fat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnnycakes View Post
    I would think this to be a myth. Upper body muscle mass would not be lost on the trail as long as one is consuming ample calories. Throw in a few push-ups and calistenics and you will be fine. Now, on the other hand, you will likely lose fat and become more lean and ripped. With 30+ pounds over your shoulders, you will probably even gain a tad of muscle at the expense of losing fat.
    It's not a myth. I wish it was. Then my muscles would only grow and never atrophy and I'd have enough muscle mass to be competing in the super heavyweight classes of professional body building competitions by now.

    People that don't have much muscle don't need to worry about muscle loss because it doesn't take much work for them to maintain what little muscle mass they have.

    Bears are an exception. They have lots of muscle, but can get away with long periods of inactivity with minimal muscle loss. Are you a bear?

    Consuming a high level of protein doesn't work either. If it did, then people that are incredibly fat because of overeating wouldn't lose muscle mass or strength because their diet provides them with plenty of protein.

    The only thing I've seen that reduces muscle wasting during periods of inactivity is creatine. There are scientific studies that support this. Since plenty of creatine is in beef, a high level of beef consumption can provide an exception to my example with fat people.

  16. #16

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    pinkfloyd336,

    As others have stated, caloric and protein consumption is only part of the equation. A big part, since it's possible you could burn up to 7000 calories a day, depending on factors. Due to the muscle isolation factor that 'just' hiking does, unless you plan on exercising the rest of your body to the equivalent levels you presently do, on trail, you WILL lose some muscle mass. Yes you can do exercises but it is in no way comparable to what is provided by going to a gym.

    The other 'problem' as I see it is, while your out there enjoying life on trail, just how much time do you really want to devote EVERY DAY making sure unused parts of your body get exercised. Simple fact is, general enjoyment on trail will eventually lead to you neglecting your 'drive' to keep the rest of your body from losing as little mass as possible. And even if you do maintain that discipline throughout the entire trail, with minimal muscle loss, odds are you'll be missing out on some of the unknowns the trail has to offer.

    There is a trade off here. Not sure how you weigh each against the other, but I can't see you thru-hiking, maintaing your 'current or what will be' physical form from start to finish, and really giving into the liberty that the trail has to offer.

  17. #17
    Registered User pinkfloyd336's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the replies. All seem to indicate extreme muscle loss. Guess I will have to deal with it and gain it back after the hike.

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    Yep.
    But you will be fitter , and healthier, and feel much better with more energy, lower blood pressure, etc.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnnycakes View Post
    I would think this to be a myth. Upper body muscle mass would not be lost on the trail as long as one is consuming ample calories. Throw in a few push-ups and calistenics and you will be fine. Now, on the other hand, you will likely lose fat and become more lean and ripped. With 30+ pounds over your shoulders, you will probably even gain a tad of muscle at the expense of losing fat.
    I wouldn't know, because I've never been able to carry "ample calories"; to do so I'd have to go into town much more often then I perfer. However, you will lose, at least, some strength in certain areas and an ability to do high reps (muscular endurance).

    So maybe you'll keep some mass, I don't know, but you'll lose something in the way of strenght and endurance, just the way our bodies are designed -- If you don't use it you lose it.

    To the OP, as others have said, it's not a big deal. I also lift weights and I loss mass and strength on the trail, but gained it back quickly, thanks to muscle memory. Missing out on a thru-hike to keep muscle mass just isn't worth it. A thru-hike is a great way to develop an outstanding aerobic base. And if you maintain that after the trail and build on it everything will benefit, including gym work.

  20. #20
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    I met a former competitive body builder on my AT hike. By Maine, he looked like everyone else on the trail, lean and happy. He told a story about how he went hiking one day with his skinny little friends and could not keep up with them and that worried him. So he quit body building and went hiking.

    I left my job as a firefighter to hike the AT. Within a couple of months of returning to work, my upper body was in the shape it was before I left, and aerobically, nobody could touch me. That's important when you're on bottled air.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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