Before any kind of journey, planning is the first step. Something that we had 6 months to do. Our hiker’s permits were reserved much before the start of the trek in August (supposedly one of the drier times of the year for optimal trail conditions). We had made multiple trips to and from gear shops, grocery stores and compared prices, weight and reviews over and over again.
Of course, being the foodie/dietitian that I am, I did not want to opt for convenience. Instead, I took on the challenge of trying to plan our own dehydrated meals – a much more cost efficient way to go about it all (store bought freeze dried meals, otherwise known as “astronaut” food, can easily range anywhere from $8.99 to $14.99 per meal). The plan was for 7 days, but of course, there are always risks – prepare, plan and mitigate whatever risks you can in as smart a way as possible; then, prepare an extra day’s worth of food because … well, “just in case”.
“Bring your Poles and your Prunes!”
We were told that the two most common health concerns on the West Coast Trail were: 1) rolled ankles and 2) constipation. How does one prepare for this? As my friend Andrea puts it, “Poles and prunes” of course! Train: practice scrambling on roots and changing elevations with a pack on your back, and get a pair of hiking poles to lend a hand for balance. Invest in a pair of good hiking boots, stretch before and after hiking, and watch your step carefully during the trek. The last thing you want is to call for medical evacuation when you’ve done all this planning, took a ferry and got yourself all that way.
Being away from your regular routine can make it more challenging to have regular bowel movements…. let alone being away from the comfort of your own potpourri-scented toilet. Hence, fibre and fluids are just as important as good footwear. Believe me, when I say it’s a glorious day when it happens fast and with ease! After all, they are composting toilets (though, surprisingly much better than your average outhouse)… and, it is 7 days! A happy gut equals a happy hiker.
The daily recommended amount of fibre per day is 25g or more for women 19-50 years of age and 38g or more for men of the same age group (Eat Right Ontario).
I am by no means a sports nutrition expert, but I do know the importance of balanced meals for satisfaction (satiety). The goal was to pack food that were nutrient dense (limiting the weight, though it does get lighter as we continued to journey through the trail), and have a balanced fuel source. Carbohydrates are great for providing an immediate source of energy. However, since we are going to be hiking, what we need is endurance rather than short bursts of energy. For that reason, it helps to have fibre, protein and healthy sources of fat in the mix to feel satiated throughout the day. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to do this right, but I aimed for a 50% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 30% fat ratio and based the macronutrient needs off of what I suspected our (my partner and I) energy and protein requirements would be to maintain our weight including an activity factor.
A couple of things to keep in mind when packing meals for these treks is how much fuel you plan on bringing – that will dictate how many meals you’d need to rehydrate or cook.
For each day, I packed 2 hot meals (breakfast and dinner). Breakfast was easy: I’m all for oatmeal in the morning, its quick to rehydrate and keeps me satisfied for a good couple of hours. Since we’d be on the road during lunch hour, something portable and convenient…. something I can snack on without needing to stop too often. Babybel cheese, and whole wheat roti (Indian flatbread) with 2 tablespoons of all natural peanut butter. “All natural” means that there is only one ingredient: “peanuts” – often something I’ve suggested clients to look for when selecting a nut spread, suggesting to avoid the added sugars, fat and emulsifiers. Compared to bread or bagels (which are much more dense), roti was much more compact to carry. When compared to a tortilla, there was a larger percentage of energy from protein compared to carbohydrate in the roti. It did the job, but by the third or fourth day, the peanut butter had caked and was very dry to get down. Perhaps opting for a more spreadable peanut butter with emulsifiers added would have been a better choice in this scenario? After all, it is just seven days. And of course, loads of trail mix, and homemade cereal bars!
A total of 3.59kg of food! Brace yourself…