Dialing in your nutrition strategy in the backcountry can make an incredible difference in your momentary and overall stamina (not to mention enjoyment) during your hunt. How you eat can promote recovery, prevent constipation, and fuel the intense climbs and long days.
Your nutrition strategy can and should match your style of hunting. It stands to reason, if you are setting up in a tree stand to hunt whitetails, you will have much different nutrition needs compared to an elk hunt in which you are continually climbing and moving. The body can and will adapt for a certain amount of time if it is not receiving its preferred type and amount of fuel. However, it will run longer and more efficiently with proper nutrition.
There are three fuel types your body uses: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Protein has received a lot of favorable exposure in the media lately, and it is certainly crucial for muscle building and numerous functions in the body. However, it is not an ideal energy source for the body. If the body is using protein as its fuel, it is either breaking down muscle or is converting protein to carbohydrate in the absence of other carbohydrate sources. Either of these scenarios is not ideal, the latter because it is inefficient. Your food plan should certainly include protein, but it should not comprise the bulk of the food you are packing in. Eat a moderate amount of protein throughout the day, and include an easily digested protein in your dinner such as meat, fish, dried edamame and quinoa, beans and rice, or a protein shake with whey.
The body will always burn some combination of carbohydrate and fat and then will rely more on one than the other depending on the intensity at which it is working. At rest, the body’s preferred source is fat. As exercise intensity increases, the body will depend more and more on carbohydrate. At very high intensities, carbohydrate is absolutely crucial.
Consider the chart:
Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred fuel source for stop-and-go exercise, as well as movements with high intensity. This will come into play during a long day of hunting that involves chasing bugles or spot and stalk tactics, as well as any hunt involving steep grades. Keep in mind that since it is somewhat continuous (lasting all day), there will certainly be an endurance aspect to it. As you plan your meals, consider exercise intensity (along with duration) on a continuum and which fuel will supply the energy. On an intense hunt, boost your intake of carbohydrate sources, and eat a variety of them to allow the body to use more energy at one time without stomach upset. When you need fuel fast, foods with simple sugars will do the trick: dried fruit, sports drinks, and gummy bears. For longer lasting energy, choose sources that are more complex and contain fiber, such as whole grain cereals or bread.
Fats are hailed for their generous contribution to calories per amount of food and can be added easily to meals to boost calories. For hunts that are more continuous or require lower intensity work, fat intake should make a more significant contribution to energy needs, while carbohydrate intake should be moderated to match the body’s fueling preference. Heart healthy fats that can be added to the backcountry meal plan include olive or avocado oil (pack in a small squirt bottle), nuts, seeds, nut butter, and tuna packets.
Tailor your nutrition strategy to match your hunt, and include nutrient-dense sources of the fuel types. This will allow for more efficient usage of the food weight you pack, optimized recovery, and stamina on your hunt. Stay tuned for more tips on fueling in the backcountry.