How Do You Get Enough Protein While Hiking?
Hiking is a fun way to spend a few hours (or even days). It does wonders for both your physical and mental health. But how do you get enough protein while hiking?
You require around 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So an 80 kg man would need 160 grams of protein per day. This can come from meat, dairy, plants, supplements, and meal replacement shakes.
This article will help you to find out how much protein you need and how to pack for it.
How Do You Get Enough Protein While Hiking?
How you address protein needs on a hike really depends on the length of the hike. How you pack for a 3-hour hike compared to a 20-day hike is not going to be the same. The longer the hike, the more important the weight and durability of the food you pack becomes.
In this article, we will assume that you are walking for longer than a few hours, possibly overnight, but no longer than that. Meaning that you will want foods that can survive without refrigeration for over 24 hours.
You also need to have a good idea of how much protein you require and how much protein can be found in all of the foods you pack. You don’t need to be too rigorous in this regard, just get a rough idea from the packaging and keep a quick tally.
How Much Protein Do I Need Hiking?
The first thing that you need to decide upon is how long your hike is going to last. People need around 2 grams of protein per kilogram per day, which, as we have established, works out at 160 grams for an 80 kg man or woman.
But, if your hike is only going to last for 5 hours, then you can get a lot of your protein from your breakfast and your evening meal. So, you would only need enough protein to fuel your lunch. Most people get the majority of their protein from their evening meal, so your protein distribution throughout the day could look like this:
- Breakfast: 35 grams of protein
- Lunch: 35 grams of protein
- Snacks: 50 grams of protein
- Dinner: 40 grams of protein
In this scenario, you would only need to cater for lunch (35 grams) and snacks (50 grams). Of course, getting 2 grams of protein per kilogram is optimal, but that does not mean that you have to hit it. Most people don’t even get close!
If you are hiking for 2-3 days, or even longer, then trying to hit 160 grams of protein per day is unrealistic. Aim for at least 100 grams per day, and you are going to be fine.
Why is Protein Important for Hiking?
Protein is important for a number of reasons: It is highly satiating, which means that you will feel less hungry between meals. Very important while hiking. It is also good for repairing and preserving muscle mass, which is important while exercising.
If you are only hiking for a day, then you can get away with having less protein than usual, provided your carbohydrate intake is high.
But the best option is to have a diet that is high in protein, carbs, fibre, and healthy fats, as this will be the most pleasant and effective for your health.
Ten Best Protein Sources for Hiking
Here are ten of the best protein sources for hiking. They have been chosen for their durability, ease of transportation, how easy it is to prepare them, and their high protein content.
Meal Replacement Shakes
The first thing that people think of when discussing easy ways to increase their protein intake is protein powders. Don’t get us wrong, they are fantastic and are next on the list. But meal replacement shakes are even better!
Remember, the goal of nutrition is to get protein, fats, and carbohydrates. You want something that will keep you feeling full and something that will supply you with all the nutrients required for health. A meal replacement shake such as Rootana offers this.
Not only does it have 20 grams of protein per serving, but it is also high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, slow-releasing carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Meal replacement shakes are great for hiking and camping for practical reasons too. They are easy to transport, have no spoilage issues, weigh very little (very calorie-dense), and can be prepared in seconds. Just add water to your shaker and shake.
There are many advantages to taking a protein shake on your walk, all of these advantages: weight, durability, lack of spoilage, ease of use etc. have been covered in the above section on meal replacement shakes.
Protein powders are great, and if you can’t find a meal replacement shake, then a protein powder will do, but there are a couple of disadvantages: Protein powders are not as calorie dense as meal replacement shakes, and they are not a great substitute for meals as they are very low in carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Still, they are a great way to boost your protein intake on a hike and deserve their spot on this list.
Beef jerky and biltong are great for hiking as they are high in protein, delicious, require no preparation, and are easy to transport. They are also fun to eat and a great snack choice. Chucking a few of them in your backpack is a smart way to fuel your hike without overloading your pack.
There are just a couple of downsides, beef jerky and biltong are very high in sodium. This is obviously not good for your heart health, but the more pressing issue is that they can dehydrate you. This is an issue when hiking, but provided you aren’t eating loads of jerky, it probably won’t be too much of a problem.
Jerky and biltong are also two forms of highly processed red meat, something that you should be limiting if you are trying to stay healthy. Does this mean you shouldn’t pack either of them? No, just don’t overly rely on them as a source of protein.
Beef jerky and biltong are both cured meats, but they are not the only ones out there. Sausages such as chorizo or saucisson have often been used by hikers due to their ease of transportation and their ability to survive outside of a fridge for long periods of time.
As we mentioned in the last section, cured meats tend to be very high in sodium and are highly processed, so use them sparingly.
Like protein shakes and meal replacements, protein bars are a smart choice due to their calorie density, their high protein content, and the ease with which they can be transported over long distances.
They’re not perfect, most cost quite a lot of money per bar, and they’re not as healthy as, say, a meal replacement shake. But, as a high-protein snack that can be easily dumped into your rucksack, they are pretty fantastic.
Boil in a Bag Instant Meals
If you are camping overnight, then boil-in-a-bag instant meals are a fantastic option. They are relatively quick to prepare, require minimal equipment, can be very high in protein, and taste delicious.
They may be a little expensive, and they do require boiling water, so you will need a gas fire and a saucepan, but they’re a solid choice for any hike that is going to last longer than 12 hours.
Obviously, not all cheese is suitable for hiking. Many types of cheese would spoil, melt, smell, and be really impractical. But, there are some cheeses that can survive without refrigeration for long periods of time. Cheeses such as babybell and cheddar cheese, and processed cheeses, such as string cheese, are great. They deliver a decent amount of protein, and they can be easily stored in your bag.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an interesting choice. While they have many benefits (easy to transport, no spoilage issues, cheap), and they do contain protein, they are best thought of as a high-fat snack that also contains protein. This is another hiking food that is good in small doses but should not make up a large percentage of your calories.
Canned tuna is a great protein source, but you need to be prepared to eat directly out of a can. If you are fine with that and having to deal with carrying an empty tuna can on your back for hours afterwards, then tuna is one of the best hiking snacks you can pack.
It’s easy to overcomplicate short hikes, but sometimes just grabbing a sandwich or a wrap is a great way to increase your protein intake. This won’t work for longer hikes as many of the ingredients may spoil, but for anything under 24 hours, they should be just fine. A great combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. They are easy enough to transport, take no preparation time, and are delicious.
Check out our article on the 10 best high-protein backpacking foods for some more ideas
Why Rootana is Great for Hiking
Rootana is a high-protein vegan meal replacement shake that is also high in fibre, nutrients, and slow-releasing carbohydrates. Rootana is simple to prepare (just add water to your shaker), and it is a cheap and easy way to get some delicious calories into your hike in a very short period of time.
Rootana is also free from artificial sweeteners, instead opting for natural ingredients such as oats, peas, sunflowers, flaxseed, and coconut sugar (check out our deep dive into the ingredients here). It’s a great option for anyone looking to keep their protein levels high during a hike.
Final Thoughts on How Do You Get Enough Protein While Hiking?
As we said at the beginning, the longer the hike lasts, the more planning is required. You need to prioritise foods by their calorie density (so they weigh less per 100 calories), their survivability, and how long it takes to prepare them.
This list is mostly comprised of foods that can last for days without spoiling, but there are some foods that are better suited for shorter hikes (such as sandwiches). The main thing takeaway from this article is to plan your nutrition as thoroughly as you plan your hiking route.