Dr. Antoine Aoun

Dr. Antoine Aoun (MD, PhD Nutrition, Rouen University, Normandy, France)
Family Medicine, Nutrition
[email protected]
Phone: 961-1-427 400 /961-3-284276
address: Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon

What are the nutritional principles to be followed before, during and after a hike? How to be nutritionally prepared for a hike?

Nutrition and Hiking: Need or Fun?
Hiking is a physical practice that helps maintain your healthy body and perceive its limitations: it is a real health education. We discover the true beauty of nature. We would revitalize ourselves in general. So remember to revitalize yourself and to also consume a healthy diet to deploy the necessary energy for the hike and thus enjoy it to the maximum. Nutrition plays an important role in the success of hiking and the pleasure derived from it. For an effort of this type, the food can be adapted to ensure a good recovery after a day that must be, above all, enjoyable. The pleasure of eating must be present and the dietary energy supply should be intelligently considered. The diet should be varied while staying a pleasure.

In moderate hikes, what are my energy consumptions?
In general, the continuous effort during the hike is relatively considered of medium term (3 to 5 hours). The average energy consumption during a mountain hike, in addition to the basic metabolism, for a person weighing about 75 kg and carrying a bag of 5 kg, is around 500 Kcal per hour.

What kind of food can generally provide me with the energy needed to succeed in my hike?
The three groups of food that can provide energy are:

  • Carbohydrates (sugars), providing most of the energy we consume. They are quickly used by the body. They are found mainly in cereals, starchy foods as well as fruits and vegetables;
  • Lipids (fats), assimilated more slowly. They serve as an energy reserve and are used for long-term activities. We find them, among other things, in butter, oil, meat, nuts, olives, eggs, milk and dairy products;
  • Proteins, which are mainly key elements for the tissue development and repair, but also producers of heat and energy. We find them, among other things, in dairy products, cereals, legumes, meat and eggs.
What are the forms of energy reserved in my body?
At the body level, the essential fuel for the endurance exercise is Glycogen (sugar reserves of the body limited to about 1 hour 30 minutes of effort) and Triglycerides (lipid reserves for long efforts generally longer than 1 hour 30 minutes). Carbohydrate reserves (liver and muscle glycogen) are used to provide the energy needed for muscle contraction. Unfortunately, they exist in small quantities. However, it is possible to slightly increase the glycogen reserves by eating more carbohydrates. Thus, a diet rich in slow carbohydrates (pasta, rice, semolina ... complete) 3 days before (at least the day before) your hiking trip will allow you to have a good supply of carbohydrates for the day of the hike.

What to eat before starting my hike?
Breakfast should be taken at home or on the road 2-3 hours before starting the hike, in order not to hinder digestion and cause unpleasant bloating. At breakfast, take an energy-boosting and easily digestible snack, therefore focus on carbohydrates or what is called in medical language carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. Carbohydrates constitute the essential diet of the hiker. They are an excellent source of energy for the practice of physical exercise. The carbohydrates with low glycemic index are preferred because they provide lasting energy and reduce the risk of occurrence of reactive hypoglycemia. As fats are slow to digest, their digestion mobilizes energy which will not be available for the muscles. Gastrointestinal discomfort may also be felt in this case. Thus, we suggest for breakfast to have fruits, oilseeds, a cereal bar low in fat and bread (whole wheat bread). You can also take yogurt. It's good to favor semi-liquid or liquid food that digests better and provides water, otherwise associate drinks.

What to eat during lunch break?
For events with longer or more intense hikes (more than half a day), additional food precaution must be taken. In form of a picnic, the lunch of the hiker is reduced to a light meal (a light sandwich, vegetables and fruits). Properly prepared, isotonic or hypotonic drinks provide carbohydrates in combination with sodium, thus providing energy quickly used by the active muscles while avoiding the stomach bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. Energy bars and dried fruit should be carried in the hiker’s bag to prevent possible hypoglycemia that disrupts alertness and increases the risk of falling.

Should I eat during the hike even if I am not hungry?
Having some food should be regular during the hike (every one and half hour), without waiting to feel hungry. Regarding your solid diet, the content of your backpack for a successful hiking day might be:
  • Two handles (100 g) of dried fruit (e.g. dried apricots, prunes, figs...)
  • A handful (50 g) of nuts (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts...)
  • A bar of complete cereals
  • A small dark chocolate tablet (35g)
  • A small packet of complete biscuits
Should I drink during the hike even if I am not thirsty?
Drink a lot, at least one liter more than usual for a walk of few hours. A mountain hike, even if it does not cause a very important sensation of thirst, is accompanied by a significant body water expenditure. If you wait until being thirsty, you are always late to overcome the loss of water, drink before you feel thirsty. One and a half liter of water can be initially taken in a bottle easily accessible in the backpack. It is not necessary to provide an “energy drink” unless you make the choice not to take solid food. Whatever the duration is, do not forget to drink water regularly: at least half a liter every hour. Climatic conditions at altitude (dry air, sunlight...) coupled with physiological adaptations to acute exercise (sweating and hyperventilation) contribute to an increased dehydration of the body.

What to eat in the evening?
Dinner following the hike is very important for the post-exercise recovery, especially if you link hikes. The sooner the post-exercise meal is taken, the better the recovery is. Dinner rich in carbohydrates is essential in the restocking of the intramuscular and hepatic glycogen. An intake of a good quality of protein contained for example in meat, eggs or fish promotes muscle regeneration. Rehydration following ceasing exercise plays a key role in the renewal of the plasma volume, and thus promotes a drain on metabolites that likely complicate recovery. So if possible, it is advisable to eat soups.

Some useful remarks and practices:
For those who have lactose intolerance (lactose = sugar of milk and dairy products), avoid milk and dairy products.
For unwashed fruits and vegetables, peel the fruits (with clean hands) and refuse raw vegetables.
Avoid drinking directly from natural sources of water (often doubt the hygiene).