There is an immeasurable amount of information thrown around the internet about nutrition. It is overwhelming! Which information is correct? Does it pertain to my fitness level? My goals? My body type? We often hear guidelines meant for the average, relatively immobile American and think it is a blanket answer for all people. In reality, every person is different and has different needs. The hunter who goes hard all day every day will have different needs in season than out of season. Further, the mountain hunter will have different needs than the tree stand hunter. To get you started on what your needs are, you first have to understand the basics—which many people skip. This article will be the first in a series covering the major nutrients and how they pertain to the backcountry. The basics on carbohydrates:
People know carbohydrates can be found in bread, pasta, and candy but tend to forget other strong carbohydrate contributors like fruit, some vegetables, beans, and even dairy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for the brain and for exercise. Glycogen is stored carbohydrate, and the body can store enough to sustain 90-120 minutes of high-intensity exercise. If you are not eating and your blood sugar levels begin to drop, the body will have to pull carbohydrates from its stores. Have you ever not eaten enough before your workout or exercised for a sustained period of time (longer than an hour) and noticed a dramatic drop in the intensity you were able to sustain? Part of that may have been caused by your body using up its glycogen stores. Fat stores can sustain long periods of exercise, but only so much carbohydrate can be stored at one time to be used as fuel. The body can adapt to utilize fat as its primary fuel source, but a glycogen depleted athlete will experience greater perceived effort for the same given workload or speed. In other words, if you are hunting hard all day, you have to keep consuming carbohydrates.
Myth: eating carbohydrates will cause fat gain. Fact: excessive calories without balance in the diet leads to fat gain. One way we overdo carbohydrates is by filling up on what are considered simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly and easily in the body due to a simple molecular structure. In an appropriate amount, they can be an excellent resource for when the body needs quick energy, such as within the hour before a workout. Simple carbohydrates are an excellent energy source during the hunt, but you will want to limit them the rest of the year. Ideas for the backcountry: your favorite gummy candy, dried fruit, certain granola bars, honey, pretzels, and energy chews.
In contrast to carbohydrates that are simple, complex carbohydrates require more work and time for the body to digest. One benefit of this is a slow release of energy, meaning more steady energy levels and greater satiety. While refined carbohydrates are simple (e.g. white bread, white pasta, white rice), those that are labeled whole grain are complex because they contain the “whole grain”. A whole grain product contains more nutrients compared to its refined counterpart, including protein and fiber. Complex carbohydrates should be what you focus on for your carbohydrate intake most of the time. However, if eaten too close to or during a short, high-intensity workout, they can cause stomach upset due to their fiber content. Ideas for the backcountry include: brown rice, quinoa, oats, potatoes, whole grain bread as part of a sandwich, beans, and certain granola bars.
This plate is one you can use for reference to scale your carbohydrate intake up or down. A moderate day would be one that includes two workouts—one that is difficult and one more skill-based or lighter. For a day you are hunting hard (hiking mountains and chasing bulls or bucks all day), carbohydrates will make up about half your plate. Side note, when you are working hard, don’t worry about your salt intake! You will need extra salt and other electrolytes to account for what is lost while sweating.
If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: your nutrition needs as a fit, backcountry hunter are different than those of the general population. Additionally, your nutrition needs on a backcountry hunt are different than when in the off-season. Carbohydrates are critical to keep from crashing on energy during your hunt.
If you feel you need more guidance or just want more detail, Valley to Peak Nutrition is the perfect resource to educate and help you get ready for your next backcountry hunt.
- Rachel Patrick (RD)