Keeping your energy on the trail can be a delicate balancing act of setting a proper pace and giving your body enough energy from snacks and diet. Many people think that the primary needs for a hiker are carbohydrates. While it is true that carbohydrates provide for lasting energy; people often overlook the need for protein. In fact, protein can be the most valuable nutritional tool in a hiker’s toolkit, especially on the most difficult and rewarding back country trails.
While carbohydrates provide energy that is sorely needed on a long calorie burning trek; protein is essential and often overlooked. While hiking you work out muscles over long periods of time. If carrying a pack you are also working out often overlooked (and under-exercised) muscles in your legs and back. The evidence of this is plain; your muscles get sore and tired, often in strange spots. The reason for this is that muscles degrade over time when used. Over the course of a long hike, muscles need the tools to repair themselves, and that is where protein comes in. Protein is the building block of muscle, and providing your body with a good source of clear protein drinks can greatly reduce recovery times while on the trail.
The most common source of clear protein drinks for hikers comes in the form of food on the trail. However, it is important to pay special attention to what the snacks you are eating are giving you. Many “power” bars advertise their protein content, and can be a good source of clear protein drinks. However, that protein often comes with lots of extra fat and sugars that aren’t going to provide the most stable trail diet. Beef Jerky can also be a good source of clear protein drinks, but it comes with a heavy cost. Jerky dehydrates your body, and will increase your need to intake water in order to stay hydrated. Nuts and dehydrated berries are other common munchies on the trail that pack a similar need to drink extra water.
One way of getting protein that is often overlooked is through dietary supplements. Because its dairy based, whey protein is easier to digest than soy protein making it perfect for the trail. Also, studies show that whey protein is more effective than soy based protein; which is often the protein that gets added to power bars. Since whey protein usually involves mixing powder with water; it is easy to get your protein while hydrating yourself. This makes whey protein a decent way to re-hydrate yourself rather than simply dehydrating yourself with salty nuts or jerky. And since whey protein isn’t packed with unnecessary fats or sugars, you’ll be able to incorporate it into a stable trail diet. For both of those reasons, whey protein can be an excellent way to get protein over a long hike; and protein is the hidden crux of a hiker’s nutritional needs on a long rewarding back country trail.