Let’s be honest here: we all know that the nutritional quality of our diets aren’t the most impressive when we’re out bagging peaks on thru-hikes, section hikes, and backpacking expeditions.
Trail mix, candy bars disguised as performance bars, instant noodles, and comical amounts of dehydrated veggies aren’t exactly poppin’ with the micronutrients are bodies are craving to recover from a long day’s rigorous push on the trail.
We put in miles upon miles during long hours of endurance work, get beat up by the elements, and don’t even get me started on how much sweating will go down on a typical day on the trail.
Synthetic clothes + a hot ass day + many, many miles of trekking in altitude = being so stinky it’s hard to handle being around yourself.
If we are going to demand our bodies work this hard in the name of adventure, it’s only fair we provide them with the vitamins and minerals it craves to perform and recover like a champ!
Don’t let lack of access to fresh, unprocessed, whole foods packed with the killer nutrition turn you into a weak sauce! Always stay strong sauce!
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Here are some of the most beneficial supplements for bush walking:
What are electrolytes? We are talking about salts here: sodium, chloride, potassium, and small amounts of magnesium and calcium.
This is listed as number one for a reason, people! If you were to only take one supplement with you on your long-distance hiking adventure, electrolytes are hands-down the most important supplement to take!
Essential to maintaining adequate hydration in every cell of your body, metabolism, performance, & helping your muscles function properly.
As you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes (particularly sodium) which leads to dehydration. Dehydration can quickly turn into heat exhaustion or a heat stroke.
“But can’t I just drink a bunch of water to rehydrate and be on my merry fairy way?”
Well, you can… but if you lost a decent amount of electrolytes through sweating, simply drinking a ton of water can result in a dangerous condition known as hyponatremia aka over-hydrating.
This is where your blood sodium levels drop like it’s hot because you’re diluting them with so much water. The results include super fun symptoms like vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, headaches, and in extreme cases— death.
If you’re concerned you or an adventure buddy might be experiencing this, duck out of the heat and chow down on some salty snacks.
- Note: Fluid and electrolyte loss will be even greater in hot weather so be prepared for your summertime mountain missions with plenty of supplemental electrolytes.
- DIY electrolyte mix from Backpacker Magazine: “1 gallon water in jug with lid + 1 tsp. salt replacement with potassium + 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. baking soda + sugar, Kool-Aid, and/or honey to taste.”
- Tablets and liquid drops are the most convenient. Bulk powders are the best money saving option.
- My Favorites:
Vitamins are essential to energy production, maintaining a strong immune system, recovery, and so, so much more.
Cover your bases and fill in any nutritional gaps you may be experiencing with a high-quality capsule multivitamin.
- Don’t let the name fool you: multivitamins also provide necessary minerals essential for metabolism, #superstrong bones, as well as muscle & nerve function.
Tablet vitamins are often damaged in the heating process when they are being created, causing you to miss out on the very thing you are paying for. Opt for capsule vitamins!
Avoid tablet vitamins considering they are not only sensitive to heat and moisture conditions but they contain coatings, binders, and fillers that can irritate your gut— not something you’re going to want to deal with on the trail.
These are high in Omega-3 fatty acids which is a goddess-send when it comes to preventing and reducing inflammation, stiffness, and joint pain. Injury, stiffness, and joint point is prevalent amongst backpackers climbing up and down steep mountains day after day.
Stay ahead of the game by giving your joints some omega-3 lovin’!
It’s common for hikers to pop an ibuprofen after a long day’s journey in the backcountry in attempts to ease their achey-breaky joints. But you don’t want to be popping one of these every day and here is why:
- Ibuprofen blocks muscle recovery, a critical recovery process when hiking long distances day after day.
- Ibuprofen is known to have negative effects on the kidneys, stomach lining, and even the heart in high doses.
- Fish Oil is known for it’s concentrated form of omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to invest in a fish oil that is tested for environmental toxins like heavy metals (shwiddily shweeee!).
- Krill Oil offers stellar omega-3 benefits but with less fishy smells and fish flavored burps.
- Derived from algae, this stuff is basically a plant-based unicorn considering it’s a vegan source of DHA & EPA. This study found that algal oil is comparable to salmon with it’s DHA absorption.
Seaweed and Algae
- One of the few plant based sources that contain DHA & EPA.
- Making these a staple of your backpacking meals can be challenging considering their low caloric density.
- Try adding some dried seaweed to a ramen soup to up your backcountry Omega-3 game.
- High in protein, fiber, magnesium, and manganese.
- Flaxseed oil is the richest source of ALA, although it is lacking in DHA & EPA.
- Flaxseed oil may potentially lower blood pressure. Be sure to consult with your doctor if you are taking medications, herbs, or other supplements that lower blood pressure.
Other omega-3 plant based sources include: chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds.
- Sprinkle a spoonful over your dinner.
How much protein should I be eating when long distance hiking?
As a rule of thumb, about 10-35% of your calories should come from protein. The more athletic your lifestyle is, the higher on that scale your intake should be.
Ascending and descend mountains all day long with a pack weighing roughly about 20% of your body weight places extreme demands on your muscles and the subsequent recovery.
Meeting these protein requirements will help you stay strong, recover faster, and move quickly.
With the food weight and volume constraints that come with long distance hiking, it can be a serious challenge for hikers to get adequate protein in the backcountry.
Meeting the lower end of this protein requirement for me could look like carrying 15 eggs, 2 cans of tuna, or 3 packs of tofu per day.
Meeting the higher end of these protein requirements looks like 25 eggs, 4 cans of tuna, or 4.5 packs of tofu per day.
I don’t know about you but I am not about that life. It sounds expensive, bulky, and heavy af! Good luck fitting that into your bear canister, yikes!
How can I get more protein into my diet when backpacking?
- Swap out your figgy bars and trail bars for ones with added protein like GoMacro, No Cow, ProBars, Orgain Organic Protein, Quest bars . Or opt for an all natural bar like Rx Bars or Clif Whole Lotta bars that are higher in protein than their whole-food ingredient competitors.
- Protein powder is lightweight, compact, and easily digestible. The proteins are readily available for your muscles to use so your body doesn’t start breaking down your muscles for the much needed amino acids. Bonus points if you get a protein powder that includes a multi-vitamin. Keep it efficient!
- Try adding a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal in the morning. Just be sure to add more water to avoid your last being so thick you could stand a spoon in it!
Protein Supplements vs. Whole Foods
You want to be meeting your nutritional requirements with as much whole, unprocessed food as possible.
BUT it’s okay, arguably beneficial, to lean on supplements like protein powders and bars for a short period of time (ranging from a few days to a few weeks at a time).
These supplements allow you to supply your body with the necessary fuel for extreme pursuits like hiking hundreds of miles through the wilderness without access to refrigerators or a sufficient amount of fresh produce.
In other words, do what you got to do!
The main issue with nutrition on the trail is not getting enough fruits and vegetables. Unless you are an edible wild plant expert, getting your hands on enough greens is nearly impossible during extended backpacking trips.
Supplementing with a greens powder could be just the nutritional insurance your body and mind needs.
When I went on my first backpacking trip (nine weeks through California’s wilderness), I invested in a fortified fruit juice and a vegetable juice extract supplement to insure I was meeting my nutritional needs in the wilderness.
A girl’s gotta thrive no matter where she is, ya know?
- Shake some green powder up in a cup or mix it with hot water for a warm, chocolate or berry flavored treat.
If you are low in iron, your hiking pace will dramatically decrease since your muscles won’t have the energy they need to get to work.
- Transports oxygen to your muscles through your blood.
Iron is depleted through exercise, heavy sweating, and blood loss. So if you are a menstruating woman dedicated to long distance hiking, going to your doctor and asking for a ferritin and hemoglobin check can be a very smart move.
Do NOT self diagnose low iron levels and supplement without consulting with your doctor first. Reaching excessive levels of iron can be toxic.
- Trail snacks high in iron include:
- Dark Chocolate (oh, hell yeah)
- Sunflower Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
Tips for taking an iron supplement
- Caffeine blocks the absorption of iron so opt to wait at least 1 hour before or after your meal to enjoy your sweet ass cup of morning coffee or tea.
- Consume your iron supplement or iron-rich foods with Vitamin C for optimal absorption. BAM!
- Cooking in a cast iron skillet when training at home is excellent for getting some added trace amounts of iron into your meals.
Aids in healing wounds, repairing and maintaining cartilage and bones, and repairing inflammation after a long day of slugging up to and back down from a summit.
- Enjoy a warm cup of Emergen-C at camp before or after your many miles of hiking.
- Food and snack sources high in Vitamin C include:
- Freeze-dried fruits
- Red bell pepper
- Chili pepper
Besides some serious health effects that you don’t want to mess around with, a deficiency in B12 will throw a big, fat wrench in your endurance, cognition, nervous system function, and ability to perform high-intensity exercise.
- Essential for converting carbs into energy.
- Vital for basically every cell in your body.
- Key player in red blood cell formation which transports oxygen to your vital organs.
- B-12 rich food includes:
- Red Star Nutritional Yeast
- Contains 100% of the B12 recommended daily value.
- Maintains B12 content even when cooked.
- Sprinkle this on your dinners for some extra cheesy flavor and a B12 power-up.
- Dried egg and cheese powder
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified energy bars
- Turkey or Beef Jerky
- Red Star Nutritional Yeast
The following spices have scientific studies showing that they aid in decreasing inflammation in the body.
The more you can keep inflammation in check, the better your body is going to feel and perform, and the higher the stoke will be.
- Black Pepper- helps with easing early acute inflammation.
- Cayanne- an inflammation slayer for my spice fiends out there.
- Cinnamon- bringing that anti-inflammatory magical power and deliciousness.
- Clove- studies suggest clove may have some anti-inflammatory properties. Also good for upset stomach, nausea, and sore throats.
- Garlic- inflammation lowering properties have been known to help ease arthritis symptoms.
- Ginger- known to boost the immune system, decrease muscle soreness, and keep your joints healthy. Also great for upset stomachs, infections, and headaches.
- Turmeric- supports joints, heart health, blood circulation, digestive health and brain function. Traditionally, turmeric was used to treats colds, infections, and wounds.
- Curcumin is the main ingredient found in turmeric that supports healthy joints & cartilage; cardiovascular, immune, & nervous system health; and happy muscles.
- Chai tea is loaded with many of these magically delicious and healing spices! Enjoy a traditional cup of chai tea in the morning for a small caffeine boost (classic chai tea is made with black tea leaves + spices).
- Or opt for an herbal chai tea at night to support your body’s anti-inflammation recovery mission before hitting your sleeping bag. Mmmmm, warm tea in the backcountry makes me feel all the warm and fuzzy feels.
With over 400 biochemical reactions in our bodies that are dependent on this mineral, supplementing with magnesium can be a game changer for someone with a deficiency.
- Helps combat muscle soreness and fatigue after a long day’s trek. Also helps limit the buildup of lactic acid in your system.
- Occurs mainly in unrefined plant foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.
- Take a magnesium supplement before bed to help your body relax, especially your muscles and nerves. Magnesium doesn’t make you sleepy but it does relax you relax.
They are formulated for easy absorption (usually carbohydrate and fructose based), are easy to be packed, and can replenish the (many) calories that will burn during the hiking.
Listen to your body while deep into your training hikes and decide which supplements will benefit your body the greatest on your long distance hiking adventures.
These won’t add much weight to your pack and will supply your body with much needed and highly appreciated nutritional super powers.
Stay strong. Stay resilient.
Pin for later | 10 Best Supplements for Long Distance Hikers
What are your favorite supplements when living on the trail? Comment below!