This week's Monday Tip is about fuelling when you're out on the hill - what should you be eating for maximum efficiency and what general principles should you follow to keep your engine running sweetly.
Start With A Full Tank
One basic principle that'll help you go better in the mountains is to charge up your batteries in advance. You're fuelled not just by what you eat as you go, but also by the food you've consumed the night before and at breakfast.
Pasta is an ideal night before food and has the bonus of being quick and easy to prepare when you're camping, rice is also a decent option - the idea is that they're slow-burning fuel that'll keep you going over the day with a steady release of energy.
For breakfast, porridge is an ideal and very effective option. Again it's proper slow release stuff that'll help keep you motoring on through the day.
Keep Topping Up
In addition, you need to keep munching away as you go and the tougher your day, the more you need to eat to keep topped up. Whereas preparatory food is all about slow release, low GI (Glycaemic Index) foods, on the trail, medium to high GI foods that give a faster fix make sense.
We'd mostly avoid really high GI stuff which tend to have a very high sugar content - think glucose tablets or Kendal Mint Cake for example - as while they'll give you an instant sugar high, it won't last and the plunge in glycogen levels that follows, will leave you feeling worse than before.
It's better to go for more medium GI stuff - dried fruit is a good option, mix it with assorted nuts to creat trail mix and eat the occasional handfull as you go. Another good option is flapjack, with its mix of low GI oats and higher GI sugar - make you own with added fruit for taste customisation.
Off the shelf, fig rolls are a cracking budget fuel option - if you like fig rolls of course, there are also apple and other versions out there - as is Malt Loaf, which you can also, occasionally, find in banana mode, worth looking for, particularly if you find malt loaf unpalatable - what, us?
Another classic bought option are various cereal bars. They do vary a lot in composition, try to avoid sickly sweet, high sugar and fat versions for optimum fuelling efficiency - again, there are homebake recipes out there, so you can always create your own to suit.
Finally, specialist energy bars generally work well and contain an optimum blend of carbohydrate and other nutrients and make sense if you're really going hard, but they're expensive to buy for regular use. The same's true of energy gels which give a great rapid hit, but at a price.
Sweets and chocolate vary a lot, but tend towards the high GI end of things, which means that while you get an instant sugar hit, it dies fast and tends to be followed by a slump unless you keep snacking away on high sugar.
The other 'bad thing' is fat, which is also a major component of chocolate. Fat is actually the most calorie dense food option, which is why polar explorers, who burn colossal amounts of calories tend to eat a lot of it, but it's processed very slowly when you're actually on the move, so for that reason, we'd avoid it in trail-snacking mode, though you do need some fat in your diet.
One trail staple we didn't mention is the humble banana - and other fruit for that matter. Bananas are actually excellent trail food, but odd in that they vary in GI levels according to their degree of ripeness. The riper the banana, the more sugar it'll hold and the higher its GI, the greener it is, the lower the sugar content and the lower the GI. And of course bananas come handily packed in their own container, though they're a little fragile and a little heavy to boot.
For intense activity, the golden rule is to down a mix of protein and carbohydrate within 30 minutes of stopping exercise - chocolate milk is an ideal, affordable and effective option. For less intense walking however, you can still do this, but it makes sense to also down a high carb, easy to prepare, evening meal soon after you stop.
It'll fuel you up for the next day and help replenish the glycogen reserves you'll have burned while walking.