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Food for Potential Energy
One of the most important aspects of hill walking/trekking is to maintain your walking calories intake in keeping with the terrain & amount of equipment you are carrying, and to avoid dehydration.
MACRO-NUTRIENTS Macro-Nutrients can be broadly categorised as:- Carbohydrates, Fats & Proteins. The best ratio of Macro-Nutrients for active people is:-
CARBOHYDRATES 50-60%. Simple carbs like sugar & sweets are quickly converted into glucose for instant energy use. While useful for providing quick energy, complex carbs. e.g. oats, wholemeal bread, take longer to digest and are better as a long term energy source, as they produce a more regulated supply of energy and you avoid the energy high-low swings common with simple sugars.
FATS 25-35%. These provide longer stores of energy. Do not exclude fats i.e. a fat-free diet, as they are essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates. Besides, most of the taste in food comes from fats!
PROTEINS 15% These can take days to metabolise but are essential for the body's repair processes.
WATER. Important too is to take as much water as you can carry, because water is rapidly lost through sweat and is essential to metabolise foods. It had long been thought that water was just a "carrier" of nutrients but research has now shown water to be an integral part of the body chemical process. Due to sweating, many electrolytes will be lost, especially potassium (the best replacement source is a banana). Even a 5% dehydration can result in a 20-30% reduction in metabolism, resulting in decreased performance e.g. headaches, weakness, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, disorientation. If your urine is clear or light straw coloured ok, but if it is noticeably dark yellow then you are dehydrated. Dehydration creeps up unnoticed so remember to drink regularly even though you may not feel thirsty. Alas, drinks containing alcoholic and caffeine are not recommended, unless you are in shelter at the end of the day! Alcohol increases the peripheral blood circulation leading to rapid heat loss and the dangers of hypothermia.
Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, causing excessive water loss, leading to a downward spiral of dehydration. The most alarming aspect of dehydration is one seldom realises one is becoming dehydrated, unless our companions notice some symptoms in our behaviour. Recommended intake for someone working hard is at least 3-4 litres daily. Take sterilizing tablets in case you meet streams and your bottle is empty.
SNOW. Don't eat snow! It takes more energy to melt snow in your mouth than any increase of energy gained through increased metabolism. Melt it first.
MICRO-NUTRIENTS. Micro-Nutrients are all the other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids etc. that are essential to the metabolism of the macro-nutrients. They are contained in the diet we eat, so if our diet consists mainly of food bought from supermarkets (unless it is organically produced, and even then it has to be locally produced), picked when unripe and flown halfway around the world, your diet will probably be poor in micro-nutrients. So, buy your food from the little old lady selling her garden produce as you hike past, otherwise I strongly recommend you take supplements on your hike.
If you consider how many calories prehistoric hunter-gatherers could consume while searching for food (around 5000-6000 daily), and their intake of vitamins & minerals associated with that amount of food, you will soon work out that in the relatively short span of time (in evolutionary terms) since we stopped chasing our food, our bodies are still expecting to receive much greater amounts of vitamins & minerals than our present day reduced calorific intake provides. Evolution does not move very fast!
SUPPLEMENTS. Organic food supplements are just that - they are produced from organically grown food and are not to be confused with the cheaper stuff synthesised in a lab. Organic vitamins & minerals, which are pure plant material with just the water & cellulose removed, include very important "phytofactors" found in vegetables. These assist in the efficient usage of the main vitamin, whereas synthetic vitamins without phytofactors are not so readily absorbed, resulting in expensive urine! Extra exertion (and smoking, tea, coffee & alcohol) depletes your vitamins & minerals, requiring additional vitamin intake. Sweating too causes many salts/minerals to be lost and this can result in muscle cramps. As it would be impractical to take fresh vegetables on a hike, the best way is to take a broad spectrum organic vitamin & mineral supplement.
Eat well, take adequate amounts of water and you will maintain your energy output for a surprisingly long period and recover quicker the next day! Happy Hiking!
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