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#100536 - 07/28/08 09:56 AM Calorie balance while hiking.
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
A recent thread discussed calories in food and whether one could eat enough on the trail to make up for calories expended by exercising. One poster stated that he could not choke down enough food per day to maintain a constant body weight. I have the same problem; I don’t seem to be hungry enough to replace calories burned during a days hiking.

One point that seemed clear to me was that it is difficult to reliably estimate how many calories one burns during a day of backpacking. There are conflicting sources of information. I have seen estimates of calorie expenditure ranging from 3000 to over 6000 calories per day.

One web site I found http://www.nutribase.com/exercala.htm lists calorie consumption per 30 minutes by activity. Using this site, I have come up with some incredible numbers. For example the table gives the calorie consumption for a 175 lb man carrying a 30 lb pack as being about 820 calories per hour. For ten hours, this individual would theoretically burn in excess of 8200 calories. Adding in basal metabolism and maintenance requirements would increase this to around 9000 calories per day. At roughly 115 calories per ounce of food carried, this person would need to carry nearly five pounds of food per day to maintain weight. Personally, I do not place too much faith in this particular web site.

I did find a web site that seems to provide a reasonable estimate of an individuals daily requirements based on hours of various levels of activity. Go to http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/CalRequire.html and review the calculation procedure. You need to estimate the number of hours of activity in each of several intensity categories, fill in the gender, size, and age information and the site will calculate an estimate of each day’s calorie requirements.

For me, a male, 5’ 10” in height, weighing 175 pounds, in my early 70s and hiking for ten hours a day at a moderate pace, the estimate rounds to about 4000 cal/day. I normally carry about 1.5 lb of food per day at about 110 calories per ounce or about 2650 calories per day. This means that I hike with a calorie deficit of 1350 calories per day and should loose about 0.4 lb per day or four pounds every ten days. This agrees closely with my “on the ground” experience.

Most backpacking food will contain somewhere around 110 calories per ounce. So, without needing a detailed spreadsheet analysis you can come up with a reasonably accurate estimate of how many calories you are carrying per day. Of course if your diet is mainly butter with an olive oil chaser <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />, or you simply love rice cakes, you will need to revise things. Using the 110 calorie per ounce figure together with the daily calorie estimate from the http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/CalRequire.html site should let you know where you are on the weight gain/loss spectrum.


Edited by Pika (07/28/08 01:18 PM)
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#100537 - 07/28/08 11:03 AM Re: Calorie balance while hiking. [Re: Pika]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
Umm, Pika... did you mean to re-reference the nutribase site or the exrx site in your last paragraph?

Interesting post, thanks!

MNS
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#100538 - 07/28/08 11:17 AM Re: Calorie balance while hiking. [Re: Pika]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2751
Loc: California
Most people have surpressed appatites for the first week of a trip, particularly at higher altitudes. By week 2, just about everyone gets a "mountain appatite". You almost have to force yourself to eat at first. Many people attribute their sluggishness the first few days to altitude or not being in shape, when more food would help. Although your body can burn its fat, it will not give you instant energy like regular trial snacks will.

All calories do not perform the same with respect to giving you energy. Simple carbs (candy, sugar) spike your blood sugar then quickly leave your system. Complex carbs provide a more steady energy output. You actually need both.

On 2-4 day trips, it is really impossible to gage what your long-term caloric needs are and about anything works. I think you can only validly say what your caloric needs are when you do a trip of 4 weeks with no side trips to town for burgers!

The trouble with all "calculators" is that everyone is different. It is not the rate you hike or the weight you carry, but your heart rate. Calories recommended by many "endurance athletic" charts are based on really pushing your heart rate. If you push it to the hilt all day then you will use a lot of calories. I also think age makes a difference. Older folks generally need less. We are experienced, hike more efficiently and although I "feel" like I am pushing it to the hilt, when I hike with a fit 20-year old I realize, hey, I am getting old! Also, beginners will work harder because they simply are inefficient at hiking.

Bottom line - I think it is a good idea, particularly for beginners, to keep track of the calories and weigh the food left over each trip. Over time, this helps you put together a better ration package. If you only do short trips, I would not get too focused on calories - but if you are doing long trips (say the PCT) then it is very important! Deficient calories hurt performance and excess calories (say, just 3 oz. a day), are pounds of extra pack weight.

Also, you should take rations based on your LEAN body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, but should weigh 180 pounds, use the 180 pounds to figure out your caloric need.

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#100539 - 07/28/08 11:49 AM Re: Calorie balance while hiking. [Re: wandering_daisy]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
Quote:
Also, you should take rations based on your LEAN body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, but should weigh 180 pounds, use the 180 pounds to figure out your caloric need.
Good point, WD... didn't even occur to me. Many good point in this post!

MNS
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#100540 - 07/28/08 01:20 PM Re: Calorie balance while hiking. [Re: midnightsun03]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
The exrx site. Whoops! Thanks MNS, I just edited the OP.
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#100541 - 07/28/08 04:09 PM Re: Calorie balance while hiking. [Re: wandering_daisy]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Quote:

Bottom line - I think it is a good idea, particularly for beginners, to keep track of the calories and weigh the food left over each trip. Over time, this helps you put together a better ration package. If you only do short trips, I would not get too focused on calories - but if you are doing long trips (say the PCT) then it is very important! Deficient calories hurt performance and excess calories (say, just 3 oz. a day), are pounds of extra pack weight.


I've basically always done this, which as I mentioned before just gets me down to the 2000->2600
calories a day that I seem to be carrying. However, I'm always a "short trip" guy - doing a week or less at a time (love to do more, but darn that work and family thing). ( Wonder if I'd get away for my 40th with telling she who must be obeyed that I need to do GDT for midlife crisis instead of buying a candy apple red sports car and a trophy wife <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> )

In short, I'm not going to worry about it unless I'm out for multiple weeks at a time. I don't find myself sluggish without more food, so I'm probably inclined to believe daisy on this one and simply
not worry about it unless I'm out for a month - or I accidentally lose 100 pounds that don't find me again! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
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