Mara here. I have a major sweet tooth! Hiking for donuts is so up my alley. Ambassador Sarah gives some great tips on how to properly fuel your body during hikes as well as tips on training for an epic hike.

A few months ago I was on a steep hike, training for summer mountain peaks, trying to breathe and ignore the pain in my shins from the angle of the slope, when my friend asked me if I would do the twenty minute Fitness and Nutrition presentation at our outdoor club’s climb school this April.  For some reason, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I said, “Sure, why not? As long as someone gives me the information.”

Once I got home that day, I thought about it some more.  Yes, I give presentations for work quite a bit, and yes, I have summited some peaks and backpacked, but I would hardly call myself an expert in either fitness or nutrition.  I was never athletic in high school and while I work out at a gym and try to hike often, I’ve never stuck to any training plan. In regards to eating, I definitely didn’t have a very nutritious balanced diet in my 20’s (though it’s better now), swaying between eating too much unhealthy snacks, to eating mostly salads and vegetables in small amounts in order to lose weight. I’ve often used food as a reward instead of seeing it as fuel.  One of my favorite traditions on the way to go climb is to stop in Sisters, Oregon for a donut beforehand for a special treat, and I’ll admit I love the feeling of being able to order whatever I want on the way home from a long hike or climb.

I knew that I would keep my commitment to do the presentation, and so I reached out to the person who has done the presentation for several years.  She sent me her researched and experienced notes and I also reached out to a friend of mine who is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist to help make sure I was giving out legitimate advice.  The great thing about teaching others is that you learn a lot yourself. While the presentation I gave for the outdoor club was focused on how to prepare to climb a mountain, it also translates well for hiking goals and training for any physical challenge.

There were two takeaways from the presentation that I remembered from when I took the same climb school course in 2016.  One is that you will enjoy your hike or mountain so much more if you are physically prepared for it and the second one was that when you are on a strenuous hike, that is not the time to diet or worry about calories.

Here’s some additional advice from my friend, Theresa Hedrick, who is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist:

• When hiking, the goal is to fuel your body like you would for an endurance event.  Before you go on a hike, don’t go on an empty stomach and make sure you are hydrated.
• Consume carbohydrates before you go to fuel your hike (especially if it is a hike that is several hours long) and make sure to eat a combo of carbs and proteins after hiking to restore glycogen supplies and repair any muscle damage.
• Pack extra food since you never know what might happen on a hike, short hikes can turn into long hikes.
• Trust your body; eat and drink water or sports drinks intuitively.

As far as training for mountain climbs or increasing hiking mileage, the biggest thing I have learned is to start early in advance of your goal, train often, and vary routine.  Of course one of the best ways to prepare your body for hiking is to hike, but that isn’t always an option if you live far away from the trail. Cycling, cross-training, yoga, stair climbing, running, or interval training are all options.  I have a friend who will load up his backpack with 20-30 pounds and just walk around the hills of his neighborhood. He gets some strange looks, but it works and can be a great way to test out new gear. I also find far more motivation to do training hikes or workouts if I have friends who hold me accountable and go with me.

If you have some friends with similar goals, put some hikes or workouts on the calendar. Find out if you have a local hiking group near you to join. This also makes the experience much more fun.

Go out to hike or train even if it is cold, snowy, rainy, or windy.  This can be a great time to test out your gear and help prepare you mentally for challenging weather.  If you are planning a thru-hike or an overnight backpack, you will not have much control about what weather you run into, but you can control your preparations and mindset.

There are a ton of resources online for finding out about different options for food or training plans but honestly, a lot of it comes down to your own experiences and preferences and finding out what works well for your body.  A thru-hike or mountain summit is not the time to realize that the only snack you packed doesn’t taste good, is frozen or melted, or to find out you should have packed more calories. The more you go out, the more you talk with others and ask them about what they eat or how they train, the more you will learn.  Try new things, but also, this is a good time to stick to your favorites. Bring some chips to replace salt, bring foods with high water contents such as red peppers or cucumbers, have some chocolate, and test out new combinations of trail mix.

As for donuts?  They may not be health food, but they do provide a burst of energy, and more importantly, make me really happy.  So, yes, you may still sometimes find me stopping at the donut shop on the way to climb or hike. Life is too short to not have joyful indulgences and all foods are good foods in moderation right?

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