Nutrition and health on the hill

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08/03/2010 at 14:06

In the March edition of TGO there was an article on what to take in the way of nutritious food on the hill. I was wondering if in future such articles might include a little more advice. Recently a friend and I were on a walk in the Lake District. We weren't as fit as we thought we were and the route was steep with a rocky ascent alongside a gill. The trouble was the gill and it's immediate surroundings were largley covered in snow that was frozen and hard as iron. With no crampons and ice axe we had to avoid the snow and contour round the hill before we hit another snowfield. We tried climbing up a clitter slope to find a crossing higher up with no success. As time was getting on we abandoned the walk and started down the slope. The slope was steep enough and rocky enough with loose scree that we had to use the heather as a ladder to help us down. By the time we got to the bottom of the slope I was exhausted and we stopped for a break.

What surprised me was that despite what was intended to be a late lunch break, with all the exertion I couldn't face my food and despite my concerns that I might be dehydrated I didn't drink much. Clearly my system was stressed. What could I have done to improve my situation? I don't suppose this is a common situation but if anyone could include points like this in an article say on nutrition it would be useful. My friend and I stopped again about forty-five minutes later for another break and by then I could drink more and I ate something. By the time we got back to our B&B I could detect very litle sign of dehydration but my appetite remained below par until the following day.      

08/03/2010 at 14:39
Don't know about avoiding the situation, Major Cynic, but when I'm going out on 'big' mountain days I usually chuck in one of those gel energy sachets. Not the most gourmet of edible items, but when my system's so stressed that I have difficulty eating 'normal' food, I can still get one of those down.
08/03/2010 at 14:58

Thanks MK. I have tried some of those in the past and found them too thick and syrupy but on a recent trip in to a caving shop I may have found something more like a liquid drink. Still 'thickish' but more like drinking runny honey then trying to digest a 'fudgey' drink. I'm struggling here with descriptions.  

I haven't tried it yet but when I felt the plastic 'tube' it definitely felt more like a liquid.

Also I wasn't really looking to avoid the situation but what I was looking for was an explanation of what had happened to me, and some suggestions to ensure a healthy recovery. Your response has reassured me that I'm not alone in experiencing this, which is most welcome. I didn't think I was, but as I've never heard anyone mention this problem before I did wonder.     

08/03/2010 at 15:08

If you're exhausted and stressed you don't want to eat. It's not an uncommon response. Unfortunately if the situation persists, lack of fuel will only make things worse. You'll be less able to make decisions and of course your physical performance will nose dive.

Try and carry something in your pack that you'll find reasonably tempting according to your tastes, whether that be pepperamis, chocolate, peanut M&Ms, a pork pie, whatever ....

My Arse

08/03/2010 at 15:21
Isn't it an effect of adrenaline to do away with ones appetite temporarily? Could be that even though you weren't indulging in a thrill junky activity it was stressful enough what with the marginal conditions and all to get your 'fight or flight' response going.
08/03/2010 at 15:27

Fig rolls, people, fig rolls! small and robust, easily carried in pockets and eaten in ones, twos or threes, lots of carbs, taste goooood, wash down with a mouthful of water...

seen me round many a long walk/run, they have!

08/03/2010 at 15:56

I'd recommend eating and drinking little and often during the day, which means that you will remain fairly well topped up and should be able to cope more easily in a difficult situation. When in that difficult situation, I'd suggest chocolate as it gives you a lift and is easily eaten. Not sure about these energy gels and things personally, I tend to think they are more about marketing than science, certainly for hillwalkers!

Eating larger amounts tends to slow you down -- it certainly does me -- because your body is working hard digesting all the stuff you've just thrown at it!

I wonder if a stressful situation might make your body say "OK, no food just now, I need to concentrate on getting us through this and not on digestion tasks"?? Pure speculation on my part! [Edit: Ah, just seen Benco made a similar point.]

Our site has suggestions for good stuff to eat in the Useful Info section.

Edited: 08/03/2010 at 15:56
08/03/2010 at 16:06

Quite often I don't feel hungry after a long day and find some soup and bread is suffice. However I do feel the need to take on lots of liquid (no alcohol as I don't partake) but that is probably because I don't take on enough during the walk.

As others have said eating small amounts often is probably better and rather than sandwiches add some bakey goods like scones and pancakes with jam (rasp for me). They are more enjoyable and taste great on the hill. Avoid them though when not on the hill.

08/03/2010 at 16:06

Aaaaahhhh! Plenty of good sound advice. I think part of it was my fault. We tried to push on when we should have taken a break and re-assessed our situation more calmly. 

Many thanks for all the tips. Most welcome. 

08/03/2010 at 18:42
I'd echo the fig roll suggestion. These were outed as 'Ryan Gigg's favourite food' and the secret to his longevity, last year, there was a lot of chat in the press about them on the back of this. They are of a greater benefit than I ever thought. An essential in my view, along with ginger nuts. Would some Nuun tablets be worth considering, as well?
08/03/2010 at 22:07
To help I use the powerade type drinks 50% diluted and Lucozade tabs to hand if necessary. If just out for the day do the marathon thing and load up with carbs the night before.Regular food takes a while to energise the body anyway.As Sean has said have tempting food close to hand.Figs are good but your digestion needs to cope with them,mine doesn't ,soon get the need to seek out the bushes.
08/03/2010 at 23:16
Mick w. wrote (see)

Fig rolls, people, fig rolls! small and robust, easily carried in pockets and eaten in ones, twos or threes, lots of carbs, taste goooood, wash down with a mouthful of water...

seen me round many a long walk/run, they have!

I used to take fig rolls on walks. I used to open the packet(s) into a sealable bag to make it lighter and less bulky without the plastic tray and wrapper. The trouble is I'd get them out after I really needed it so I had to wait about 20 minutes before the energy filtered through. From then on I would eat one or two every 15 to 30 minutes whenever I took a drink from my bladder. The bag from the first moment i start eaating the fig rolls tended to stay in a pocket for fast access. It got to such a point that I ate two full packets (some of it on the drive home to keep me awake while driving). After aa period where I ended up at home sat on the loo for a long time I decided I would stop taking them.

Fig rolls are good but in smaller quantities. Eat them before you need them IMHO. Treat it like they say you should with water and consume a little and often.

Energy drinks are a waste of time for walking. Although hillwalking can be energetic going up hills in LAkes / Scotland / Wales, generally it is less so. In this case you don't need fast acting carbs IMHO but a mixed carbs which provide quickly digested sugars (simple  sugars like fructose that break down and pass into the blood) and longer chain sugars that take time to be broken down thus spreading out the energy release. You want a smooth transfer of sugars into the blood. Leave the energy bars and glucose gels for the runners and high energy sports. You will save money and not give the marketing men your money by selling an aspiration you will not reach by hillwalking!

On another point, if you are having a bit of an epic stop, when safe to do so, then take a break to eat and drink something. It helps you by giving you a breather, by allowing you to think about where you are and to assess the situation better and provides your body with what it needs. It is especially important IMHO towards the second half to th last quarter of your day. Often the time spent sat down eating, drinking, perhaps looking at the map and generally taking the pressure off will quite probably pay off later on when you need a clear mind, fed by that food, to make the right decision.

Thats just some of my experience and my opinion.

08/03/2010 at 23:20

Another tip is nuun tablet dissolved in 1l of water is good for rehydration (and to mask thee taste of chlorine purification treatment).

However orange juice diluted half and half with water with a small pinch of salt is a good estimate of a rehydration drink. Also cola left to go flat is good too (not diet). The caffeine is good in it too. Of course cola is very sugary so not the most isotonic. You can dilute cola with water by the same mix as for orange to make it more like the isotonic drinks. Not very high tech but cheap and in all noticeable ways just as effective.

09/03/2010 at 01:31

Another explanation is to view from inside your own personality and the brain that support it. The "flight or fight" response is a base response and is wasteful in energy terms. Reading between the lines you may have been very nervous in the situation and a lot of blood sugar was being burned by the brain worrying about the situation, the inexperience itself consuming calories. If you magnified that by being not too fit, which is really that you are not familiar with the need to eat, and your muscle & liver stores of energy are not as large as a fitter person (aside - one definition of fitness) then you are creating a situation where a lesser person could have had all their common-sense challenged and made daft situations.

 I mention the long-winded response because of the way the human brain learns. You had a combination of factors which made you tired, the brain being tired itself from the chemical effects of stress, multiplied by the lack of blood sugars. Your brain could "learn" from that and either seek to avoid the same situation (and so rob you of years of fun) or react from learned experience and react in a similar way in a similar situation - that is how phobias form. This is not logic but higher-brain vs base-brain.

So, partly from the reach-out in this forum, accept that more fitness and keeping some food, will help avoid the situation in the future, will make it far more pleasurable in the future.

 The unique situation with our species is our brains consume more energy than other species, and in a stress situation that stress consumes a lot of energy, that then compromises brain function. The human species is one of the few that will do an illogical thing like "give up" when lower life forms just keep plodding. Hence for humans,  lack of food just can exposure an evolution vulnerability we in modern society plain don't understand.

12/03/2010 at 10:33

It's not nutrition advice you need or to critisise a TGO article as these were not the root problem.  If Mountain Rescue were assessing your decision making process here they'd identify the root cause of your problem to be you choosing to walk a route that might require crampons and ice axe but not bringing them.  Had you brought them you would have progessed easily and experienced a lot less stress.  When you met the first obstacle one thing should have been apparent - there was going to be a lot more of this if you continue.  You will have realised that the day was going to be longer and more ardious than originally thought - major stress for someone who isn't as fit as they'd like to be for a challenge like this.  Turning back should have been your decision.  

The nutrition you had with you would have sufficed had you got crampons and ice axe with you (and known how to use them properly) or had you been on a more suitable, low level route.

Stress always produces an adrenaline response which may increase blood sugar for a short period but if you continue on a route the blood sugar will drop.  You need high blood sugar to make good decisions.  As soon as you hit a problem, STOP, DRINK, have some sugar (or have a carb powder in your drink), THEN THINK SAFETY BEFORE DECIDING.

Edited: 12/03/2010 at 10:37
12/03/2010 at 11:19

Venture-out I take exception to your response. Firstly I did NOT criticise the TGO article I merely asked if it could include additional advice for out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. The advice I sought was intended to improve my ability to cope with a degree of stress which doesn't happen very often. I also wanted to find out if what I experienced was very rare, rare, uncommon etc. and to gather some advice from others who might have experienced the same problem.

My friend and I both misjudged our fitness a not uncommon male trait  . Also we don't get much hill walking in as we're from the London area, but we do do a fair amount of walking and it wasn't our first trip to the Lakes, indeed we go every year.

As for the route requiring ice axe and crampons well we didn't know what the conditions would be like as we rarely get the chance to walk in those conditions. We expected snow certainly, but frozen so hard that you couldn't even kick toe holds in it? The only time I've experienced snow like that was up on the Isle of Skye. Certainly if we're guilty of mis-judgement then maybe everyone who was up on Skiddaw the following day was as well. I didn't see any crampons and hardly any ice axes. Most people went up the tourist route relying on their walking boots to get them through. Which worked for the most part but it was a thin layer of powder snow over ice on the most well worn parts of the path, so maybe they should have. 

As for taking ice axe and crampons I don't know how to use an ice axe as I don't really expect to be walking in conditions where it's necessary, and if it becomes necesasary I'd turn back. We did have micro spikes but were unwilling to trust them on the steep slopes and steel hard ice we encountered. 

I always remember the words of my navigation instructor which were 'even experienced mountaineers can get lost'. All it takes is a short lapse in concentration. The trick is to have the right set of tools/skills to recover from that situation, which is where training and experience come in. So anyone can make a mistake. The trick is knowing how to cope with it.  

We stepped out of comfort zone a little, survived and have learned from the experience. I was hoping through this forum and possbily articles in TGO how recover from a degree of physcial stress. As for the blood sugar I think you have over simplified the picture as you have failed to take into consideration that I am a recently 'un-diagnosed diabetic' which means that it's hoped it can be controlled by exercise and diet. I have to be a little more careful about my sugar intake, but as yet I do not require medication. My sugar levles are already a little high thankyou.           

Edited: 12/03/2010 at 11:23
12/03/2010 at 17:51

> It's not nutrition advice you need or to critisise a TGO article as these were not the root problem.

Whilst reading the first couple of sentences got me thinking 'what has this got to do with a TGO article on nutrition?', as I read the rest of the post, it became clear that the OP was asking for advice, and not criticising the TGO article.  It also seemed pretty cleared that he was wishing to learn from the experience.

It's not essential to carry axe and crampons, provided you're happy to retreat or take a different route, which is what the OP did.

13/03/2010 at 09:13

OP: "I was wondering if in future such articles might include a little more advice."  You're implying that the article was not comprhensive enough - in most people's book, that's a criticism!  You can't say you were just asking for it to be better in future because we're not the people who will be writing future articles.

I think Captain Paranoia's definition of retreat/different route or when to carry snow tools is very diferent to mine. 

 "We tried climbing up a clitter slope to find a crossing higher up with no success. As time was getting on we abandoned the walk and started down the slope. The slope was steep enough and rocky enough with loose scree that we had to use the heather as a ladder to help us down. By the time we got to the bottom of the slope I was exhausted"

"we don't get much hill walking in as we're from the London area, wasn't our first trip to the Lakes, indeed we go every year"

I wouldn't consider continuing on and climbing up onto difficult steep scree and heather to be a retreat or a suitable alternative route for people with the experience of mountains that he has outlined.  And by his own account it doesn't sound like it was!

 As for ice axe and crampons: many people carry their crampons inside their sacks.   And yes, many of the people who you will have seen out will not have had snow tools with them but as you have correctly said - they probably should have, even for the ice paths.  Mountain Rescue are getting busier every year and their statistics from 2008/2009 show the makority of their call outs that winter were to recover people who had slipped on icey paths, the majority of the injuries were lower leg injuries, breaks and sprains from slips on icey paths.  What you see every weekend in winter is what MR refer to as Sheep syndrome - they're doing it so it must be OK. Lion syndrome - accidents only happen to others, I'll be alright. Tunnel vision syndrome - we've travelled all this way, we've walked this far, we're not turning back now.  MR coined these terms after interviewing recovered victims and analysing the findings.

 "As for taking ice axe and crampons I don't know how to use an ice axe as I don't really expect to be walking in conditions where it's necessary, and if it becomes necesasary I'd turn back."

In the light of the statistics and your recent experience you may want to revise what you believe to be the occasions where proper crampons are neccessary.  You most certainly did not turn back. 

13/03/2010 at 09:13
I don't accept any criticism for not taking into account your medical condition, you didn't reveal that in your earlier post.  It's not for me to take that into account that's for you to do.  Please be very careful on the hill I had a walking partner die last year walking alone with your condition.

 I won't say I'm not criticising you, I am, but I'm not criticising what you did that day.  You are correct all mountaineers started somewhere and learnt from many mistakes along the way.  I've done exactly what you did that day.  What I am cross-examining however, is your analysis and evaluation of that day.  You need to learn the right things from that day first.  The same mountaineers learnt by being very honest with themsleves about where their first mistake in the event chain was made.  And I'm asking you, on that day was it that you're nutrition was wrong?  Would an isotonic carb drink have made that route any easier/safer to walk all day?  Would you have achieved your goal?  Or was it as your mentor suggested, that you did not have the right tools and techniques to recover?  In this instance axe and crampons. 

Had you needed MR assistance they would have interviewed you to determine the root cause of the incident, would they have said "Bring a carb drink in future"?  Or would they have suggested that you get yourself ice axe and crampons and learn when you need them and how to use them?

 I'm honestly not trying to bash you, it's just I'm out a lot in winter and see a lot of accidents waiting to happen, people who think they'll get away.  I've been running free winter skills sessions for people on the LFTO forum this year and will happily meet with you and your walking partners and do the same.  I could meet you in the Lakes on either day of the next two weekends.  I could lend you an axe but you would need to get a pair of crampons that suit your boots.  I can advise on that.  PM if you are interested.

13/03/2010 at 10:08

 Major Cynic , find out about and get some low GI foodstuffs into your cupboards (there are probably plenty there already .Remember that with something like a choc bar ,you may get a hit of energy ,but that will be followed with an over -reaction .Give your pancreas a break and take stuff on the hill that releases it's energy slowly ,and move away from sweet processed bars .The sweetest thing you would want to be taking in is a digestive or two .Apples and bananas come in thier own wrappers .

 I understand that you all got off the hill safely after a day of adventure ,and that is the best outcome that you could have expected .

 Don't forget to learn about low GI  (glycaemic index ) foods


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