FITTING NUTRITION INTO YOUR BACKCOUNTRY HUNT
Year after year, the hunting industry’s elite athletes find ways to be successful on their backcountry hunts. Whether chasing crusty old rutting bucks or majestic bugling bulls they always seem to find a way to get it done, with a high percentage of success typically occurring on the last day or two of the hunt. When asked what their keys success are, most will point to 4 areas; Effective Scouting, Confidence with their Weapon, Proper Fitness, and Several Days to Hunt. While 1, 2, and 3 are critical components, these legendary hunters will tell you that without number 4, the odds of success drop significantly. Speaking to a small group of novice hunters during a Peax hiking event Brian Call said, “Give me enough time and I’m going to be successful, with enough days I’ll figure it out”. But more days on the mountain comes at a cost. The longer a hunter is in the backcountry, the more fatigued they become, and a focus on proper nutrition quickly becomes a primary focal point.
There’s a never-ending list of brands out there promoting backcountry nutrition for hunters with their energy bars, freeze-dried meals, drink mixes, and healthy backcountry snacks. It can be overwhelming to try and sift through all the options and learn what it really takes to stay properly fueled and keep the body performing at peak levels day after day. To help shorten the learning curve, we’ve done the research and consulted with a couple legitimate brands, Gastro Gnome Meals and Backcountry Fuel Box, that truly know what they are talking about when it comes to backcountry nutrition and thriving on the mountain. Here’s what we learned.
Macronutrients, like proteins, fats, and carbs, all play vital and different roles in nutrition. Unfortunately, most hunters dumb it down and only calculate calories needed and then look at the back of the package throwing food in their shopping cart that meet their caloric needs. That might work for those 2-3 day hunts, but it’s not sustainable over 8-10 days. This approach leads to “bonking” which is the non-scientific term for when the body’s glycogen stores are depleted, and the body becomes extremely fatigued. Bonking typically occurs at the most inopportune times, like chasing that big bull or buck that just dumped over the ridge into the next basin or after the harvest is complete and long pack out begins.
In general, ALL macronutrients need to be included in a proper diet and none should be overlooked. Mathew Weaver of Gastro Gnome Meals says “It really is essential that each macronutrient is included in the diet to provide the body with the sustenance it needs to perform at maximum capacity.”
Consuming foods balanced in macronutrients is critical to staying on the mountain. Protein is the building block to construct muscle and other body matter. While hiking many miles a day, your body must be able to rebuild broken muscles, digest food, and perform many other functions that require amino acids. Fats pack an energy punch. For every gram of fat, your body receives access to 9 calories, whereas only 4 calories for carbohydrates and proteins. Fat’s essential role in the backcountry is just that, calories. The only way to get foods to the glorious 200 calories per ounce mark requires the use of fats. Carbohydrates can be broken down into three categories that each have a different function in the body. Sugars, starches, and fiber. Fiber does not provide the body with much energy, but it can assist in moving food through the digestive system properly and keep you feeling satiated. Starches and sugars are very similar, except sugars will spike blood sugar much quicker than starches. This means they can assist when a burst of energy is needed, but they are also spent by the body very quickly and must be replenished often.
Eating regular meals each day can provide a moment of comfort but you no doubt need more fuel than those are able to provide. Energy bars, gu’s, trail mix, jerky, hydration supplements, etc. are also a part of the nutrition equation. Not only can they provide variety to your day, often a snack is a welcome treat that can be packed with energy. Cody Rich founded Backcountry Fuel Box to help others tackle the mountain that is…. Backcountry Snacks.
Variety in snacks is most important. Cody’s advice, “Mix it up! We all get sick of eating the same thing day after day - especially when backpack hunting. The result is that we end up eating less each day since the last thing we want is the same protein bar we’ve eaten the last 4 days.” Having new snacks for each day of your hunt will give you something to look forward to and keep you fueling your body with those critical macronutrients!
Many hunters underestimate the single most important aspect of their backcountry nutrition.... hydration. Without proper hydration, other nutrition efforts are of little to no value and the result is a lack of physical strength, poor organ function and a deterioration of cognitive abilities. Normal water consumption for everyday activity is around 64 oz but in the backcountry the amount of water needed by the body is significantly greater due to elevated physical activity and time outside. 100 oz or 3 liters per day is a good target. This would include water used for cooking.
While exerting yourself navigating through the backcountry the body loses more than just sweat. Amino acids, sodium and potassium are all lost during perspiration and replenishing these along with water aids in recovery and can help prevent cramping and overall fatigue throughout your hunt. When supplementing your hydration with drink mixes it is highly recommended to read the nutrition label and avoid mixes with excessive amounts of sugar. We highly recommend E-Charge electrolyte mix by Sthealthy Nutrition. E-Charge is an exceptional electrolyte mix with no artificial colors, sweeteners or GMO’s and is formulated to replenish and restore essential nutrients that:
- Support heart and vascular health.
- Support normal blood pressure and balanced fluids in the body.
- Help with the symptoms of dehydration after excessive sweating or loss of fluid during illness.
- Help athletes replenish electrolytes lost during intense exercise.
The best takeaway from our time with Gastro Gnome was “if you can’t pronounce it, chances are it’s not real food.” If you read the nutrition labels, you'll see that it’s all wholesome, natural ingredients that you would use while cooking at home. Many other freeze-dried meals are packed with ingredients that offer little nutritional value and only serve to increase the overall calorie count. Keep it real and support brands that use real food, you won’t regret it! For snacks, take Cody’s advice and have a wide variety of snacks at your disposal that will allow you to eat more and increase your caloric intake. Remember that staying hydrated is the key to maximizing your nutrition in the backcountry and only use clean drink mixes to supplement your hydration. When it comes down to it, ensuring proper nutrition while backcountry hunting can be simple:
- Eat real food
- Include all macronutrients (Proteins, Fats, Carbs)
- Pack a variety of snacks
- Drink, drink, drink (100 oz per day minimum)
Oh and of course, don’t forget your PEAX Backcountry Ti Spoon. It’s Long, Strong, Lightweight and a must have on your next backcountry hunting adventure!