Is Protein Good for Hiking?

When packing for a hike, how much protein do you need? Is protein good for hiking? Can you survive without it? This article will answer these questions.

High protein foods can help you to enjoy your hike more. They do this by increasing satiety, meaning that you will feel fuller for longer. Protein is also important for recovery from exercise, and it can prevent muscle loss during prolonged calorie deficits. A hike that lasts 5+ days needs to be fuelled by a high-protein diet.

As you can see, the length of your hike (and its relative intensity) is a very important factor in how useful protein is going to be. Read on to learn more about why protein can be important during a hike.

Is Protein Good for Hiking?

Protein is a crucial macronutrient, and anyone who consumes a typical Western diet should consider increasing their protein to calorie ratio. This means replacing low-protein foods with higher-protein alternatives.

This can help to boost your metabolism slightly, improve your recovery and adaptation to exercise, and it can help with hunger regulation. A high-protein diet is associated with better weight management [1].

The more active your lifestyle is, the more protein is required. If you hike regularly then you will want to ensure that you are consuming a high-protein diet so that your body can recover from each hike.

But what about during the hike itself? How useful can protein be? And is it completely necessary?

Protein During a Hike

The truth is that if your hike is shorter than two-days in duration your protein intake during that hike is not going to make much difference. You aren’t going to lose muscle mass, and eating a lot of protein won’t magically transform you into an expert hiker.

In fact, most hikers should concentrate more on getting enough carbohydrates into their diet, as carbs are the body’s preferred macronutrient for instant energy. That’s why you often see people who are participating in endurance events consuming carbohydrate drinks and even high-sugar snacks.

Hiking recreationally is obviously not the same thing as participating in an Ironman Triathlon, so you probably don’t need to start consuming energy gels. But a good amount of carbohydrates before, during, and after a hike will help you to feel good.

There are several benefits to eating more protein while you hike:

  • It can help you to feel sated between meals, allowing you to enjoy the hike more
  • It can protect your muscles and allow them to recover faster
  • It can fuel your hiking, helping you to hike for longer or at a higher intensity

What About Longer Hikes?

If you are participating in a hike that could take several days, or even weeks/months, then a high-protein diet becomes much more important. There are two main reasons why:

  • Longer hikes will lead to a prolonged calorie-deficit, which makes muscle loss more likely. Protein can help to prevent this.
  • Longer hikes make it more difficult to consume enough calories. Choosing higher protein foods can help you to feel less hungry between meals.

It’s not an issue on a day-to-day basis, but as your hikes lengthen in duration the importance of balanced nutrition becomes more and more crucial. You want your diet to be high in protein, but also high in carbohydrates and some healthy fats.

Four Ways to Increase Your Protein Intake While Hiking

As you can see, it is useful to follow a high-protein diet during short hikes, but not crucial. But as the length of your hike increases, so does the need for protein. In this section, we will take a look at four ways to increase your protein intake while hiking.

#1 Protein Powder

This is a very simple and sensible solution. Want more protein in your diet? Why not add some protein powder to your pack? Protein powders are calorie-dense (very useful when packing light), easy to prepare, taste nice, and they are (obviously) very high in protein.

#2 Meat & Cheese

While carrying a freshly-cooked roast chicken isn’t a great idea, nor is packing a room-temperature wheel of camembert, there are many types of meat and cheeses that are perfect for hiking.

You want to focus on smoked meats and cheeses which are designed to survive for long periods of time without refrigeration. String cheese or babybell are good examples of cheeses that have a decent amount of protein and can be stored in your pack for days without spoiling.

#3 High-Protein Snacks

Finding high-protein versions of regular snacks is a great way to increase your daily protein intake while still enjoying your favourite foods. Fancy a chocolate bar? Why not swap it for a protein bar? You can also get high-protein versions of popcorn, crisps, brownies, muffins, and cookies.

Obviously, many of these snacks aren’t particularly healthy, but if you are replacing regular cookies with high-protein cookies, then it isn’t an issue. As you are burning hundreds of calories on your hike, you can afford to be a little more flexible with your diet.

#4 Meal Replacement Shakes

Meal replacement shakes such as Rootana are a great way to increase your protein intake while also consuming enough healthy fats and low-GI carbohydrates to fuel your hike. Rootana is a superior choice to protein shakes because it provides you with all the macronutrients needed for exercise, rather than just protein.

Is Protein Good for Hiking: Final Thoughts

Is protein good for hiking? Yes, protein is important, but sometimes people overthink their diet and worry too much about what to eat during a short period of time. If you are hiking for less than a day, the food you eat isn’t going to make much difference to your health or performance either way.

That’s not to say that it isn’t important to have good nutrition. That’s crucial in the long term. But on a day where you are burning so many calories through exercise, eating a sub-optimal diet is not going to harm you.

For longer hikes, your protein intake becomes much more important. It is crucial for recovery, for adaptation to exercise, and keeping you sated between meals. Meal replacement shakes such as Rootana are a great way to increase your protein intake without unbalancing your macronutrient intake. Rootana can help to provide you with long-lasting energy, it is quick to prepare, and you can pack several meals in your backpack without it getting too heavy.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424378/

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