Should we really eat starchy morning, noon and evening hiking?

Most of you have probably heard that you have to eat pasta before a big day of effort to get energy. Myth or reality ? And if we eat rice or semolina, does it work too? You will know a little more by reading this article.

The hiking diet is very important and does not only apply to long treks of several days. It is also valid for short day hikes. Without fuel, a car does not work. If you put the wrong fuel, it does not work either, or not well. It’s the same for your body. You need energy, but not just any energy. And this energy comes from food processing by your body.

All forms of energy are not equivalent. For the same number of calories, if you eat sweets, pasta or butter, your performance during the hike will be very different.

Nutrition is a complex field that evolves with research. That’s why I tried to simplify as much as possible to make it easier to read and understand. But I still need to define some terms that can serve you later in this article.

The first thing to know is that the notion of slow sugars / fast sugars is no longer relevant. She has been replaced by the glycemic index.

The glycemic index : it is an index that classifies foods containing carbohydrates (sugars) according to their effect on blood glucose (blood glucose level) for 2 hours after ingestion. The glycemic index may vary with the physical state of the food (solid, liquid), its method of cooking, its origin, its maturity, etc.
Remember : foods with a low glycemic index (pasta, wholemeal bread, etc.) allow you to refuel and release it gradually (in the form of glucose) during a long effort. Conversely, foods with a high glycemic index (confectionery, dried fruit, etc.) are quickly absorbed and quickly release their energy.

As long as we are in the definitions, a little reminder of what starchy foods are : it is a category of plant foods with a high proportion of complex carbohydrates (such as starch).

I think you already know, starchy foods are essential for a good hiking diet. I would not write an article about starchy foods to tell you at the end that they are absolutely useless for the hike. But this article does not only talk about starchy foods, I could not help but slip in some useful tips about hiking.

What are the benefits of starchy foods for hiking?

The recommended calorie distribution for an adult under “normal” conditions is approximately: 55% carbohydrate (sugars), 30% lipid (fat) and 15% protein. For sports effort, the proportion of carbohydrates can go up to 70%.

So you see the importance of carbohydrates, which occupy more than half of the total caloric intake. In these 55 to 70% of recommended carbohydrates, avoid more than 10% of “sweet products”. So about 45 to 60% of what you eat, should be starchy.

It is especially for their complex carbohydrates that starchy foods are good food for endurance efforts. They also have proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins, but we will not be interested in this article.

Starchy foods (especially with a low glycemic index) are good for long efforts because they will allow you to have energy to use throughout your effort. This is their main advantage: they allow you to refuel and use this energy as you go along. This will allow you to be more efficient and less tired.

It is still necessary to consume these starches at the right time!

When to eat starchy foods to be efficient and less tired?

  • Before the effort :

Eating starchy foods before exercise is essential to create a reserve of energy in your body that will be available during exercise. If you do not have this reserve before leaving, you will not have the time to create it, you will draw in other reserves which will tire you much more quickly, and diminish your physical performances.

The ideal is to consume starchy foods (low or medium glycemic index) at least 12 hours before the start of your hike so that they have time to turn into energy reserve. This should not prevent you from eating starchy foods the night before or in the morning before you leave. But the energy from the starchy foods of these meals will be usable only after your departure.

  • During the effort :

It is not essential to eat starchy foods during exercise if you regularly consume high glycemic index foods (dried fruits, cereal bars, etc.) in small amounts. They allow you to quickly renew your blood sugar level. This is intended to not exhaust your reserves – which would lead to fatigue and poor performance. However, be careful not to consume too much of these products during the effort, because it can lower your performance and get tired (reactionary hypoglycemia).

Some people like to have a midday meal with starchy foods. It’s a matter of taste I think, and also depends on the length of your walking days. For a 5-6 hours walking day, it is easy to do without a meal with starchy foods at noon (or to do it around 2-3 pm for example). But for a day of 8-10 hours it is more difficult. After a breakfast with starchy foods, take a little time to digest and leave quietly – not to disturb your digestion too much.

  • After the effort :

After exercise, eat starchy foods (low glycemic index) to replenish the reserves you have used up during your day’s walk. To recover as quickly as possible, the ideal is to consume starchy foods in the first hour after an effort. If after a day of walking, you settle for a soup before going to bed, there is a good chance that you will be “flat” the next day.

What types of starchy foods are best for hiking?

I gave you the definition of a starch, but more concretely here are some starchy foods:

  • cereals : rice, wheat, buckwheat, rye, flax, barley, oats, millet, etc.
  • tubers and roots : potatoes, sweet potato, yam, cassava, etc.
  • dried vegetables : soybeans, lentils, dried beans, beans, split peas, chickpeas, etc.

Their by-products are also considered as starchy foods: pasta, semolina, bread, tapioca, gnocchi, breakfast cereals, rice cakes, etc.

Before going on a hike, you can eat any type of starchy food as you are not so constrained by weight or preparation. Always favor foods with a low or medium glycemic index (pulses, pasta, whole rice, oatmeal, semolina, wholemeal bread, etc.).

When you go on a hike of several days, you have a lot more constraints. Some starchy foods are not practical. Bananas for example, for their weight in relation to their nutritional intake. Not to mention crushing problems in the backpack ;-). Banana is not a staple throughout her life.

Here are some things to consider if a starch is good to go on a hike:

  • What is its energy / weight ratio? If you bring food for hiking and you do not want to make the first of two errors beginners I am talking about in this article, take preferably dry foods low on water – so you can easily find the drinking water or water that you can purify. Why ? Simply because these foods are light compared to the energy they bring you. This is the difference between dry pasta and cooked pasta. For the same energy, the weight of cooked pasta is much higher. To optimize the weight of your backpack, you can easily compare foods by looking at their energy / weight ratio (kcal / 4 oz or kJ / 4 oz for example). .
  • What is its proportion of carbohydrates? Not all starchy foods have the same amount of carbohydrates. For example, 2.8 oz of dry pasta contains about as much carbohydrate as 9.7 oz of potatoes. For the same amount of carbohydrates, we should therefore carry 3 times more weight. You can find the nutritional composition of most foods here.
  • What is its glycemic index? Not all starchy foods have the same glycemic index. Some starchy foods have a fairly high glycemic index such as white rice, white bread or potatoes. These starchy foods are not ideal if you want to build or rebuild your energy reserves. But it’s still much better than eating cereal and dried fruit bars for breakfast and dinner. Here is a website with the glycemic indexes of common foods.
  • Is it easy to cook and prepare ? (do not require too much time and effort) Avoid for example foods that require a long cooking and therefore a lot of fuel. Often, after a long day of walking, you rarely have the patience to cook for hours. Know that there are also starchy foods that do not need to be cooked – very practical if you choose not to carry a stove.
  • Does it require heavy packaging? Again, do not clutter useless weight! Especially in many cases, you can not get rid of your garbage before the end of your hike. I strongly advise you to avoid canned cans for example.

Here are some starchy foods commonly used and adapted to hiking:

For a meal without a stove

  • Multi-grain bread.
  • Whole wheat bread.
  • Cereal cakes (rice, wheat, etc.).
  • Semolina.
  • Muesli.
  • Cereal flakes.
  • Cereals.
  • White bread (not ideal because of its high glycemic index).

For a meal with a stove

  • Pasta – this is the top of the top because it contains a lot of carbohydrates and has a low glycemic index.
  • Semolina – easy to prepare. Semolina can be good for breakfast.
  • Rice – white rice is not ideal because it has a fairly high glycemic index, the whole rice is better.
  • Oatmeal – a good option for breakfast.
  • Freeze-dried food – always check their composition to make sure the energy intake meets your needs.

There are many others, I have mentioned here only the most common. Do not forget to vary starchy foods, it is very important to not get tired of the same food so try to have varied contributions.

I will not go into more detail after we arrive in the field of sports performance. Eating properly on a hike is very important to physically hold, but do not forget to indulge yourself. 😉 So find a good compromise between performance and pleasure.

How much to eat?

It depends mainly on your habits, your body size and the effort you will make. It’s especially important to know how much food to pack for a multi-day hike :

  • Not enough and you’re going to have a bad time and have to restrict yourself. This is also a great opportunity to say to your teammates. “You have eaten more pasta than me!” “Yes, but you had eaten one more cereal bar than me!”
  • Too much, and you will not have optimized the weight of your backpack and you will regret having carried two pounds of too much pasta until the end of the hike.

The easiest way is to measure before starting the weight of starchy foods you eat every meal in a “normal” day. Remember that on the hike you will consume more food as you will be active all day – so you need more starchy foods than a day spent working with your computer, for example. Also know that the colder it is, the more energy your body needs. As you hike, you will know your needs precisely.

To give you an example, if it is not too cold, I know that I consume the equivalent of about 10 to 15 oz per day of dry pasta (divided into 3 meals) next if I eat or not something consisting of accompanying starchy foods.

In doubt, it is better to take a little more, which makes it possible to compensate for eventualities. You may be walking a day longer than planned to complete your itinerary for any reason: bad weather, lost time, overestimated abilities, etc.

To finish…

Starchy foods are essential for the energy needed, but are not enough to have a good diet for hiking. In addition, I guarantee you that it’s not fun to eat only starchy foods for a week, morning, noon and night.

Starchy foods are an excellent base for hiking meals. We will see in other articles the importance of proteins, lipids, fibers, minerals and vitamins.

This is especially true as the hike is long. If for example your diet lacks vitamins for a few days, it will not have a great impact on your body, but you may have deficiencies over longer periods (a few weeks for example).

One last tip that comes to my mind and that was recommended before hikes: try not to eat too much differently from what you usually eat. This is often not easy, but if you change drastically, your digestion may be disrupted.

And you, what types of starchy foods do you eat before or during your hikes?

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