Good nutrition for outdoor enthusiasts

Mountaineering, climbing or an enjoyable hike – it all uses strength and energy. Nutritionist Neele Hoerner of the German Sports University Cologne explains how to best prepare for a mountaineering tour and what the contents of a backpack should include.

Four hikers making a break and eating an apple
Balanced basic nutrition is important

ISPO News: What should the everyday nutrition of outdoor athletes look like?
Neele Hoerner: Balanced basic nutrition is important. You should be aware of your carbohydrate, protein and fat intake, and don’t forget a sufficient supply of vitamins and minerals. The currently so ostracized carbohydrates are actually essential for you; they are the number one supplier of energy. Proteins to build muscle and to allow regeneration also have to be part of the mix. 

What should you eat the night before a tour – a large serving of pasta? 
Pasta on the night before is a great foundation for the next day; pasta contains plenty of carbohydrates. A perfect basis in combination with vegetables and lean meat. In general, you should start the intake of sufficient nutrients and carbs four days before your tour to ensure that all carbohydrate reserves are full before you set off on your hike. 

"Take foods with you that you are familiar with and able to digest"

Can you eat whatever you like?
Generally yes. It is important to take foods with you that you are familiar with and able to digest. I would not recommend taking new foods with you, just to realize during your hike that you don’t tolerate some of it, causing nausea, stomach cramps or even diarrhea. 

How often and what should you eat during the tour?
Suitable supplies include easy-to-digest yet high-energy foods such as trail mix, muesli bars, dried fruit, bananas or even chocolate for the soul. How often you should eat depends on the extent and degree of exertion. For a day trip the described snacks are enough, because any potential deficiency can be compensated for at dinner the same evening.

Multi-day tours allowing no access to additional food supplies require a provisions that can be reconstituted with water. Of course, you’ll have to ensure that you are consuming a balanced amount of nutrients. Proteins are important, as they play a major role during regeneration. 

Why do we need proteins for regeneration?
Recent studies showed that a combination of carbohydrates and proteins, best consumed right after the exertion, encourages regeneration. Protein turnover and muscle glycogen replenishment are stimulated.

Cacao is a very good example. It is rich in micronutrients and contains all essential amino acids, turning it into a super regeneration drink.

"Also recommended are sports drinks"

What other drinks should be considered?
Water is always a great choice. It does not supply any additional calories, refreshes and is usually available everywhere. Bottled mineral water may also provide additional nutrients like potassium and sodium. However, it does not provide any carbs and the amount of nutrients varies depending on the manufacturer. Also recommended are sports drinks: they taste sweet, provide carbohydrates and a high density of other nutrients.

The disadvantage is that many of them contain additional calories or artificial supplements, which may cause problems. A homemade apple spritzer – one part juice, three parts water – is the best alternative. 

Does special nutrition make sense?
In general you won’t need it, especially if you keep your nutrition balanced. This changes if you go on a multi-day hike where you cannot bring a supply of foods with you.

Supplements are also unnecessary because you can cover your body’s needs with the help of nutrition. There is no scientific proof that athletes require a higher dose of micronutrients like magnesium, calcium or vitamin D, even during high-level exertions.

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