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  1. #1
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    Default Calories and LD hiking...

    this may be an odd question but here goes...I have often heard it said that a LD hiker burns roughly 5,000 - 6,000 calories a day and consumes maybe 2,000. I recall how much weight I lost on my thru hike and how I actually felt a bit weaker near the end of my thru hike. So, the question is for you medical experts....what is the limit of this calorie depletion? Would there be a point that one simply gets to weak and the hike would end due to illness or overall 'wearing down". Or can the body adapt to this in some way? (I don't understand how that would be possible but...) I guess what I am asking is would it be physically possible to be a "perpetual LD hiker"? Or is there a limit?

    On reflecting back, I wasn't the most judicious shopper on my resupplies...I would just grab the usual hiker stuff (Knorrs, snickers, peanut butter, etc.) at whatever convenience store or Dollar General I happened into. Would one be able to maintain longer with "better" dietary choices acquired via maildrops? Some of the people I hiked with and/or have met on the trail over the years have certainly seemed more knowledgeable in the science of nutrition than myself As always, thanks in advance for any replies.

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    this may be an odd question but here goes...I have often heard it said that a LD hiker burns roughly 5,000 - 6,000 calories a day and consumes maybe 2,000. I recall how much weight I lost on my thru hike and how I actually felt a bit weaker near the end of my thru hike. So, the question is for you medical experts....what is the limit of this calorie depletion? Would there be a point that one simply gets to weak and the hike would end due to illness or overall 'wearing down". Or can the body adapt to this in some way? (I don't understand how that would be possible but...) I guess what I am asking is would it be physically possible to be a "perpetual LD hiker"? Or is there a limit?
    .
    For most, that 5000-6000 figure is myth. Overweight and badly out of shape guys, maybe, but I bet a buck the actual figure is more like 4000 or so for the average hiker.

    Just one actual data point, similar for my hiking buddies, I carry around 3000 calories (~1.5-1.6 pounds) worth of food per day, eat 95% of that (always some waste), supplement with big meals in town stops, and don't lose weight. I'm 6-1, 185 pounds, for reference. I know these calorie numbers very accurately, due to a thorough book-keeping study some years ago. Folks that don't keep accurate track of what they eat along with subsequent weight gain/loss records, just plain don't know what they burn.

    Online or phone app "calculators" I think are grossly off on the high side.

    Now come the claims of 6000+....

  3. #3

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    I carry around 3000 calories (~1.5-1.6 pounds) worth of food per day
    What does that consist of? Just curious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    For most, that 5000-6000 figure is myth. Overweight and badly out of shape guys, maybe, but I bet a buck the actual figure is more like 4000 or so for the average hiker.

    Just one actual data point, similar for my hiking buddies, I carry around 3000 calories (~1.5-1.6 pounds) worth of food per day, eat 95% of that (always some waste), supplement with big meals in town stops, and don't lose weight. I'm 6-1, 185 pounds, for reference. I know these calorie numbers very accurately, due to a thorough book-keeping study some years ago. Folks that don't keep accurate track of what they eat along with subsequent weight gain/loss records, just plain don't know what they burn.

    Online or phone app "calculators" I think are grossly off on the high side.

    Now come the claims of 6000+....
    I am 6' and started at 215#. Finished at 170#. Found out early the following year that I had Lymes which I am fairly confident that I picked up near Erwin/Damascus....don't know what, if any, effect that had on the weight loss and feeling of depletion. Or was it diet and poor eating habits? Probably a combination of both. I remember telling someone that if the trail had been one mile longer, I wouldn't have made it.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vanhalo View Post
    What does that consist of? Just curious.
    A whole variety of things, the usual, though I do try to keep the calories/ounce ratio high with higher fat foods, like nuts, peanut butter, etc. I shoot for 130 calories/ounce average, including packaging. that would be 3120 calories for 1.5 pounds of food. I bet my real average these days is more like 125, since I carry more coffee now (zero calories per ounce!). I carry granola with Nido (whole milk powder) for breakfast, one freeze dried meal for dinner, than bars and other stuff for the rest of the calories. We recently "discovered" the 400 calorie "pro bars" that we love the a mid-day long-calorie intake.

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    I get a pretty good balance with carrying about 4,000 Cal, about two pounds of relatively fatty (non-meat) food per day. I supplement that with large town meals of course. Over my AT thru, I started lean, lost a little in the first 500 miles, gained it back over the next 1000, lost it again in the last 500 where the going gets a little tougher again. That was three or four pounds difference max on a 150 pound frame. I returned to my job as a firefighter with barely noticeable lean mass loss.

    I agree the 6000 Cal/day is an extreme, maybe in polar or high alpine conditions. Not trail hiking. I think with some thought and experience with good diet you won't experience severe hunger. Food is pretty plentiful on the AT route.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    [QU
    OTE=garlic08;2188158]I get a pretty good balance with carrying about 4,000 Cal, about two pounds of relatively fatty (non-meat) food per day. I supplement that with large town meals of course. Over my AT thru, I started lean, lost a little in the first 500 miles, gained it back over the next 1000, lost it again in the last 500 where the going gets a little tougher again. That was three or four pounds difference max on a 150 pound frame. I returned to my job as a firefighter with barely noticeable lean mass loss.
    I agree the 6000 Cal/day is an extreme, maybe in polar or high alpine conditions. Not trail hiking. I think with some thought and experience with good diet you won't experience severe hunger. Food is pretty plentiful on the AT route.[/QUOTE]


    Can you elaborate...what would say a 2 day menu look like for you @ 4,000 calories a day assuming your resupply was done at a Dollar General store or equivalent.

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    I don't know the actual calorie burn figure for every hiker, but it most definitely was in 4000-5000 range for me throughout the entirety of my hike. I was 200 lbs at the start of my hike and out of shape, so I burned a lot of calories early and did not carry/consume nearly enough calories. I lost about 25 lbs the first month, and by Harpers Ferry I weighed about 170 lbs. I did bigger miles after losing my first 25 lbs and thus continued to burn calories in the 4000-5000 range. However, I didn't lose any further weight the rest of my hike because I consumed more food both on and off trail. I did not eat healthy enough in town (i.e. no fruits and veggies) and lived off of pizza, china buffet, burgers, etc. After living on this poor diet for several months, by New Hampshire I was weak physically, and began losing some hair (likely from lack of proper vitamins and nutrients). Point being, when in town, try and eat healthy as possible.

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    There are hiking calorie calculators online. Who knows how accurate they are, but I've tried a few, and they come close to agreeing on calorie burn for my size (150 lb., 2 MPH pace, 10 hours hiking, 1,000 ft elevation gain). With the specs given in parenthesis, my calorie burn is about 3,200 for the day. I never have enough food to cover that, so I lose weight when I hike.

    Here's one calculator.

    Specifically, to address your question, I can't see how that calorie burn could be sustainable without some kind of breakdown. When the body consumes all of its fat, it starts in on the muscle. You lose muscle mass and it just becomes a matter of time before you can't go on.

    I am not an expert on this topic, so please don't mistake me for one. Nevertheless, the information is out there and my conclusion is drawn on that information.

    Negative effect of low body fat.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    ...can the body adapt to this in some way? (I don't understand how that would be possible but...) I guess what I am asking is would it be physically possible to be a "perpetual LD hiker"? Or is there a limit?
    No, not in this sense, it would not be possible to be a "perpetual" hiker. Calories are our basic unit of metabolic energy, and although the need for them fluctuates vastly in any given period of time (based on a myriad of factors), an individual cannot operate at a deficit indefinitely. Without enough calories, eventual breakdown is sure to occur in one form or another.

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    I hiked 175 miles on the Benton MacKaye trail over a 10 day stretch this past fall. I carried 28 oz of food/day and consumed 3100-3500 cal/day. I know because I developed a spreadsheet before I left. I went stoveless and basically ate the same thing every day. I had one town meal in Robbinsville on day 5. I still lost about three pounds. On my AT thru I lost 30 pounds. I am 6'1" and weigh about 173 pounds so I don't have a lot of excess weight. I was running on fumes when I got to CT. I remember sitting outside the grocery in Salisbury just eating for several hours. I think that was my saving grace and was a turning point on my hike. I figure I must burn 4000-5000 cal/day backpacking.
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  12. #12

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    I am 135 lbs and instantly shoot down to sub 130 lbs after 4 days of hiking no matter what.

    I carry 1.35 lbs a day of high quality food which includes dehydrated fruits, mixed nuts, jerky, home-made dehydrated meals etc.

    My food list worksheet is in the Long Trail Forum in a trip report if you're interested...

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    A whole variety of things, the usual, though I do try to keep the calories/ounce ratio high with higher fat foods, like nuts, peanut butter, etc. I shoot for 130 calories/ounce average, including packaging. that would be 3120 calories for 1.5 pounds of food. I bet my real average these days is more like 125, since I carry more coffee now (zero calories per ounce!). I carry granola with Nido (whole milk powder) for breakfast, one freeze dried meal for dinner, than bars and other stuff for the rest of the calories. We recently "discovered" the 400 calorie "pro bars" that we love the a mid-day long-calorie intake.
    "400 calorie Pro Bar".....thanks that's a good tip

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...OOJRE5IE&psc=1

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    There are hiking calorie calculators online. Who knows how accurate they are, but I've tried a few, and they come close to agreeing on calorie burn for my size (150 lb., 2 MPH pace, 10 hours hiking, 1,000 ft elevation gain). With the specs given in parenthesis, my calorie burn is about 3,200 for the day. I never have enough food to cover that, so I lose weight when I hike.

    Here's one calculator.

    Specifically, to address your question, I can't see how that calorie burn could be sustainable without some kind of breakdown. When the body consumes all of its fat, it starts in on the muscle. You lose muscle mass and it just becomes a matter of time before you can't go on.

    I am not an expert on this topic, so please don't mistake me for one. Nevertheless, the information is out there and my conclusion is drawn on that information.

    Negative effect of low body fat.
    Yeah, someone in my fam had to abandon after 1400mi because they weren't keeping enough caloric intake.



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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    ...what is the limit of this calorie depletion? Would there be a point that one simply gets to weak and the hike would end due to illness or overall 'wearing down". Or can the body adapt to this in some way? (I don't understand how that would be possible but...) I guess what I am asking is would it be physically possible to be a "perpetual LD hiker"? Or is there a limit?...
    Quote Originally Posted by Uriah View Post
    No, not in this sense, it would not be possible to be a "perpetual" hiker. Calories are our basic unit of metabolic energy, and although the need for them fluctuates vastly in any given period of time (based on a myriad of factors), an individual cannot operate at a deficit indefinitely. Without enough calories, eventual breakdown is sure to occur in one form or another.
    Uriah tersely answered what seemed to be your primary question(s). However, it's not just a matter of calorie deficits that eventually lead to a breakdown. Calories and cal/oz ratios aren't all there is to nutrition even in the context of hiking. For example, even though one might meet daily caloric requirements if those calories don't contain adequate amounts of Vitamin C it can lead to scurvy. If calories are the only thing that counts LD hikers would be consuming nothing but fat. Over the long term see how that works out.

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    Let us not ignore that a habitual LD hiker's character requires adaptability. This carries over to diet and maintaining adequate energy and nutritional levels. Hence, you'll see various alternative approaches all having at least some individual validity.

  17. #17

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    Probars are good tasting, and I've found enough variety that I don't hate them. The nice thing about them is that they have vitamins (or claim to), so alongside the carbs and fats you're getting some actual nutrition. I always take vitamin supplements anyway when hiking, but its nice to get some of it in food form vs. pills. Hiker hunger is a thing - one dinner on the AT in Pearisburg I ate 3/4 of a pan pizza, breadsticks, salad, a pint of ben & jerries, half a box of fruit loops with whole milk, then still woke up hungry in the middle of the night to polish off the last 2 slices of pizza.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    Can you elaborate...what would say a 2 day menu look like for you @ 4,000 calories a day assuming your resupply was done at a Dollar General store or equivalent.
    I've never actually shopped at Dollar General and don't know what they have. At a normal chain grocery store, I'll buy a box of rolled oats, a bag of walnuts and box of raisins and mix that all together to make muesli. I'll buy a stack of flour tortillas and a box of Wheat Thins and some cheese and/or peanut butter to go on those. I'll buy a can of cashews and some more raisins for snacks, and a box of Fig Newtons. Maybe some instant potatoes. Then I'll fill up the food bag with fresh fruit and veg, as much as I can carry. I generally resupply for at least four days. I skipped a lot of towns on the AT.

    I'm a stoveless hiker so my grocery stop is different than most. And I calculate based on miles per pound, not pounds per day. I can hike 10 to 12 miles on one pound of food in the long term. I carried eight pounds into the Hundred Mile Wilderness and that was perfect. And I don't think about individual meals. I dip into the food bag at every stop. When I'm halfway to my next resupply I'll check that I have about half my food left, and all's well.

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    Many hikers have bought into some dietary and nutritional fallacies.


    1) It is not primarily about eating more... more calories, more food/food like products, which so often is nutritiously dismal foods - junk food... to meet your nutrient and satiety requirements. It's about eating highly nutritious food and expanding in that direction. If a LD hiker relies on junk food he or she can expect low energy levels, roller coasting energy levels, muscle mass loss, and lack of satiety. It is NOT just about calories.


    It is my assertion when we see emaciated LD hikers it is not solely a result of inadequate long term caloric deficits but also a factor of mass consumption of nutritionally dismal food like products.....Overfed but under nourished.


    2) The mistaken belief that long term daily nutritional deficits can somehow be suddenly made up with a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly in town gorging on calories without ever having consequences.


    3) A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. That might be factual as a form of measurement capacity that offers some insight but a calorie does NOT = food and food does not equal just calories. Food is MUCH MORE than calories. Calories NEVER stand alone! And, energy production, especially when seeking to optimize it, is much more than calories.


    Here are ways I've found to staying satiated on trail considering 12-16 hrs actually moving every 24 hrs and ways I consume less food.


    Gain some dietary control in terms of being happily satiated without the need to overeat - over consume, which is the U.S. way. Preferably, this should be advanced upon BEFORE hitting a LD hike. There is some conflicting studies pointing to MSG interfering with hormones that signal the brain that we are satiated resulting in increased caloric consumption. ie; MSG makes us eat more.


    Drink more water.


    Eat fiber rich foods.


    Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Consider flavoring foods with spices rather than sugar. Avoid soda and concentrated fruit drinks. Be aware some supposed healthy fruit, energy, and vegetable drinks can be high in sugars.


    Be aware of pace intentionally seeking to expend calories, to state more accurately - nutrition, in the wisest bang for the buck. We're not all after FKT's or trying to get on the U.S. Olympic Backpacking Team. ie; don't hike like a mindless no one at the helm run away freight train that soon gets fatigued, injured, or runs out of fuel. Vary physical, emotional, and mental output. ie; is there really always a need to ascend or descend that climb as fast as possible massively expending energy levels? Isn't LD backpacking more of an endurance activity/athletic endeavor?


    Hike/walk/backpack with efficiency of motion. Greater efficiency relates to less effort required which relates to less food required.


    Carry less wt in terms of gear and body wt according to individually acceptable levels. When the question arises,"what wt(item(s) have you put back into your kit?" I'd say it's better - healthier food. Less effort needed less potential nutrient consumption required.


    IMO, Garlic gave a good example of healthier food choices at Dollar General.

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    I think the Harmony House backpackers kit is an excellent way to get what you need on trail.

    The fact that you can Amazon prime one for $50 is pretty sweet.

    It's be killer for $35. Sometimes on sale for $40

    At $50, it's still a pretty good value for what you get if you need to change things up.

    I plan on dehydrating a bunch of stuff similar and having someone mail drop me a box once a month

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