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Nutrition for Walking

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 6 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Walking Nutrition Hiking Nutrition

As we’re all aware our bodies convert food that we consume into energy when we’re exercising and the more strenuous the exercise the greater the demand on our energy reserves. The amount of energy we need when out walking depends on a number of factors such as:

  • Our weight
  • Our age
  • Our gender
  • walking distance
  • walking speed
  • The height gain (altitude) of the walk

What Types of Food Should we Take on Board When Walking?

You will be using all manner of muscles when out walking and this means that you should be eating foods which are rich in carbohydrate predominantly and other foods which contain fatty acids and healthy sugars. If you don’t have enough carbohydrate particularly, then you’ll have to slow down your walk and, ultimately, stop altogether otherwise you’ll end up suffering from exhaustion due to a lack of energy. However, as mentioned above, there’s no exact science in working out just how much you’ll need to eat because of the many variables outlined above. When considering what specific types of food you should take, you’ll possibly have to also consider the weight you’ll be carrying on your shoulders if, for example, you are carrying a backpack. If that’s the case, you’ll want to take food which is light to carry but which can provide a lot of energy comparative to its size.

For example, a typical lunch for a leisurely day’s walking might include a couple of cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, a bar of chocolate and, perhaps, some dried fruit, a cereal bar or a banana if you prefer.

The Importance of Water and Other Fluids

At the top of your nutritional requirements however, by far the most important is water. Keeping well hydrated is the key to your success on any walk, whether it’s long or short because exercise causes evaporation in the form of sweat in order for us to regulate our body temperature and, unless you quickly replace the loss of water through sweating by drinking more, you’ll become dehydrated. This means that you can no longer regulate your body temperature and this eventually results in heat exhaustion. It’s crucial to remember that being thirsty is not a good indicator of the possible onset of heat exhaustion. You should drink at regular intervals throughout your walk as thirst simply indicates that you’ve already lost a significant amount of fluid.

Although drinking water is your best option, these days there are numerous isotonic drinks also available which not only put fluid back into your body but also improve the rate at which water can be absorbed by your body tissues. Whatever your fluid preferences, you should be aiming to drink a minimum of 2 litres a day but this will be far more depending on some of the factors discussed earlier.

Other Things to Consider

When out walking, you should be looking to abandon the principles of ‘three meals a day’. Eating ‘little and often’ should be your edict and always try to start the day with a decent breakfast, preferably eaten about an hour before you set off.Obviously, you’ll also need to adapt how much you eat the greater the distance of your walk and its level of intensity and there are plenty of useful resources online with suggestions for menus and foods to take for a range of walking distances and difficulties.

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Water can’t be emphasised enough. When walking you not only need to drink plenty, but drink often. Failure to do so can easily lead to muscle cramps in the legs that are very painful and can leave you at the side of the trail until they pass. Better to be generous to yourself with the water instead.
Red - 26-Sep-12 @ 11:35 AM
I agree with the idea of eating a little and often. Carry some trail mix (buy it ready mixed or make your own - there are plenty of recipes around) and some chocolate to eat in case your blood sugar dips. A banana also makes a good snack, but don't carry one that's too ripe or it can end up ripening and softening in your backpack during just a morning.
Tim - 31-May-12 @ 2:15 PM
A good article on trail food but a few more ideas on WHAT to actually take would make it even better as well as mentioning water purifying tablets! The tablets are lighter than extra water (as long as you can find water on your trip of course!) I take Kendal Mint Cake and/or Snickers bars along with a dried fruit and nut mixture. On longer treks I take a de-hydrated meal for extra sustenance as well as the above mentioned tablets! Hike Safe, Hike happy. Jeff :-)
Jeff - 4-Apr-11 @ 2:54 PM
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