By Charlotte Austin
In the mountain, there are lots of factors that contribute to success: weather, fitness, experience level, training, team dynamics, gear, etc. But the factor that’s most often overlooked is nutrition. As I frequently tell my clients: you wouldn’t try to drive your car with no gas in the tank. Shouldn’t you treat your body with the same care?
After almost a decade of working in the mountains, I’ve come up with five tips for smarter snacking:
1. Calculate your calories. Most of us are used to eating when we’re hungry — but when we’re working hard, that might not be an accurate gauge of your body’s blood sugar levels. At altitude, for example, most people lose their appetites. During long endurance events, the body shunts blood away from the digestive system, meaning tummies are often upset. So rather than waiting until you’re craving a candy bar, do the math ahead of time: figure out (roughly) how many calories you’re burning per hour, then strategize for how to replace them.
2. Stay hydrated. We all know the importance of drinking water during exercise, of course. But it’s not as easy as it sounds to stay hydrated in the mountains, especially when it’s cold outside — and even mild dehydration can affect your ability to digest food. Here’s what I do: figure out how much water you’ll be carrying, then divide by the number of breaks you plan to take. On a summit bid on Mount Rainier, for example, I carry two liters of water, and force myself to drink a half a liter on each of our four rest stops.
3. Keep snacks handy. When you’re cold, tired, and bonking, you’re much more likely to refuel your body if you have calories in an easy-to-access place. I stash Muir Energy packets in coat pockets and the lid of my backpack. When it’s cold, I’ll even tuck a gel in my sports bra to warm it up before I eat it.
4. Eat real food whenever possible. Because I travel so frequently, it’s very difficult for me to stick to any strict diet. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love be full-time gluten-free, all-organic, and paleo. But when I’m buying snacks in Kathmandu for an expedition in Nepal or wandering the streets of Mexico City before leading a climb up a Guatemalan volcano, I don’t have the luxury of checking glycemic indexes. So I stick to a very simple rule: I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce. That’s why I like Muir Energy: most formulas have 4-5 ingredients, and I know exactly what each one is
5. Mix it up. “I’m really craving a seventeenth helping of trail mix,” said no one ever. Bring a variety: different flavors, textures, tastes, and glycemic indexes. I’m never without Muir Energy, but on big mountains, I also pack Wasabi peas, cheese and crackers, and dried fruit. For one-day missions, I add cold pizza, fresh berries — and a cold brew in the car at the trailhead.
This is a guest post from Muir Energy ambassador Charlotte Austin, a Seattle-based adventure writer and international mountain guide.