Perhaps as equally important as the gear and clothing you might take with you when winter hiking and wild camping; your food choices deserve careful consideration. If you are out on the hill for a number of consecutive days, or even working hard through adverse weather conditions on a day hike, there is a little more to a sensible process of packing your lunch box than cramming it with your favourites. Paying attention to the type and number of calories and your levels of hydration will stand you in good stead to enjoy this winter as much as a scorching summer.
Eat More, Take In More Calories
It stands to reason that the colder the ambient temperature, the harder your body has to work to maintain its core temperature. Fighting to maintain internal temperature against the cold of the environment requires more calories than in summer and in particular while at rest – you could find yourself needing up to 30% more just to maintain thermogenesis. Across the course of a full day, it has been noted that the average male’s calorific intake may be needed to jump to 5000 calories as opposed to the regular RDA of 2500. Due to this, eating more snacks (little and often) can pay great dividends. A large evening meal the night before is great tactic too. Having a small snack and taking on some water every time you stop in winter will ensure that your energy levels remain topped up. Not only does your body work harder to maintain core temperature during the colder months, there is often more physical work involved – hiking through deep snow or against strong winds. Higher levels of physical exertion equals a higher demand for calories.
Is It All About Calories?
As the temperature drops, the way in which your body sources and metabolises energy changes, meaning that it is wise to pay attention to what types of calories you are using to fuel yourself. When exerting yourself in colder conditions your body will focus heavily on metabolising carbohydrates, and switch itself off from fats and proteins. The main reason for this being that carbohydrates are easier for the body to break down. As previously mentioned, the need for energy is greater to maintain body temperature, but as well as this – the body is alot less efficient with its oxygen use because muscles and blood vessels are constricted. This means that the body begins to work anaerobically, which requires carbohydrates.
To take a broad view; carbohydrates would occupy around 50% of your diet with protein and fats taking up 25% each of the remainder. In colder conditions, increasing your intake of carbohydrates to 75% while also increasing your intake of fats will enable you to operate better and for more sustained periods more comfortably. Of course protein is an important ingredient to a balanced diet as they promote muscle repair and regrowth. In a backpacking scenario, it is difficult to carry fresh proteins and during winter day hikes it isn’t really the done thing to start cooking stake on your stove, so supplementing your meals through the day with snacks that contain nuts and seeds is a good call. Fats will release energy at a rate of about 9 calories per gram which is more than carbohydrates but will do so very slowly. Being very good for long term energy release, adding higher amounts of fat to an evening meal when on over night or multi day trips will allow your body to maintain its core temperature better throughout the night and at rest for longer periods. Carbohydrates will release energy quickly. Simple carbohydrates containing sugar like chocolate bars and jelly babies (a personal favourite, as they dont freeze) will give you a quick hit on rest stops to keep you going. Combining a good amount of complex carbohydrates with fats in your evening meal will mean that you are able to maintain body temperature at camp throughout the night. The carbs taking care of you initially and fats keeping you going until morning. Having a carbohydrate heavy meal the night before your trip will give you a good store of useable energy to begin with, and so is as sensible as having a good breakfast on the morning. It will allow your body plenty of stores to metabolise for both anaerobic function AND maintaining core temperature.
It is worth noting that dehydration is very much possible in colder conditions, and is often something that isn’t considered during winter. When the temperature drops, your blood pressure will rise as your blood flow is constricted slightly. To counter act this, your body will ship out excess water in the form of urination. Another element behind staying hydrated in winter that is often mentioned is that; because the body will not sweat as much, you will not tend to feel as thirsty. Whether a myth or not, paying attention to how much fluid you are losing is important. Your body requires water in order to metabolise food into energy, and so because the need for energy is higher – the need for water to accommodate is higher too.
Getting out and about in winter brings an added element of risk with it, and it will pay to listen to signals from your body to remain safe. In summer, if you become too hot it is relatively straight forward to slow down, remove a layer of clothing, or take on some more fluid. Once your body begins to suffer from the effects of the cold, it is quite a steep slope into suffering cold related illness such as hypothermia and often only possible to lessen the severity as opposed to pulling away from trouble completely. Signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, delayed reactions/lack of coordination, loss of concentration etc. We will look further into hypothermia in future articles, but; being sensible with your food options can be the first building block to staying safe on the hill in winter.
You can now get 20% off BlaBand backpacking foods by using the discount code SECONDSUMMIT over at New Heights, and infact – 20% off everything on the website including winter equipment like ice axes and crampons.