Walking and hiking are by far two of my favorite past-times. I have always had a love affair with hiking, long distance walking, and competitive walking. Along the way, I have learned some very valuable lessons. One of the things I learned the hard way (which seems to be the way I learn most things) is to keep myself properly fueled.
Eating the right foods is important before you walk and while walking.Your body works much like that of your motor vehicle. In order to operate properly it must be kept fueled and like an exotic sports car (not that I am anything like a sports car I am far more like a sedan, built for comfort not speed) it must receive the right fuel. Knowing what to eat when to eat and how often to eat is an important part of developing a walking routine. Even if you do not walk for than 20 minutes a day or perhaps you are walking to lose weight, you still need to pay attention to what you put into your body.Naturally, if you intend to do any distance, walking (more than an hour or 4 miles) the amount of what you eat should be more.
Eat the right things
As for the right things to eat, it should go unsaid that energy producing food should be on the menu, not extra servings of desert. While you can certainly reward yourself occasionally with a little desert (even if you are trying to lose weight bywalking you need to splurge in moderation), you want to focus on the amount of fuel producing food you eat.
Fuel providing food is also known as carbs. I realize that those of you who are following Dr. Adkins will think that this advice is counterproductive. You need to keep in mind that while too much carbs will turn into fat you do need to include some carbs in your diet if you plan to walk distances regularly.
The trick here is knowing when enough is enough. A good rule is to eat an average size portion of carbs the night before a good length walk or hike, but unless you are planning to walk a half marathon or a full marathon, it is a good idea to stay away from seconds.In the case of the night before an extra long walk, such as 10 miles or more, you should do what is known as carbo-loading. This is eating several portions of carbs such as pasta and potatoes. Many marathons will have pasta dinners the night before the event.
Your schedule will obviously play a factor on what you eat before you walk. If you plan to walk in the morning, it is a good idea to eat some fruit or a bowl of nutritious cereal (fruity Pebbles does not qualify) before walking. While I always enjoy a nice short walk after dinner, I do not recommend that you arrange your walking schedule this way. It is not a good idea to do any strenuous activity after eating a large meal. On the other hand, this could be a great way to keep you from eating more than you really need.
When walking it is important that you keep yourself nourished and refreshed. Walking for too long without food can cause dehydration. I follow and recommend a very basic rule
Take a drink every 15-20 minutes and eat something at least once every two hours at the minimum.
Whenever walking for an hour or more I will take along a small bottle of sports drink. If I am hiking for several hours, I will carry a Camel Pack (a small backpack designed to hold liquids) with a sports drink in it. I realize that Adam Sandler might disagree with me, but I strongly feel that sports drinks are better for strenuous exercise than water at replacing electrolytes (if I lost you with the last comment then you should watch the movie Water Boy).
Snacking while walking
Your body needs more liquids than it does solid foods, particularly during strenuous activity. In addition, the heat will drain your body of all vital liquids. However, snacks are equally as important. Snacking during a long distance walk or hike will also help provide you with the proper nourishment. It is a good idea to carry protein bars or trail mix. Another snack I like to carry is power jellybeans, but I find they are getting harder to find. These chewy snacks are sweet but also provide as much protein as most bars.
Trail mix also known as Gorp (gobs of raw protein) is a great snack for walking and hiking. This snack is easily portable and will not perish. There are numerous recepies out there for trail mix, however not all of them are actually hiking friendly. It is a good idea to make sure that the trail mix you use when walking or hiking has a minimum amount of salt. Salt will require you to drink more.
The important thing to keep in mind is to bring enough to last you the duration of the trip. In addition, it is a good idea to carry more than you will actually need when hiking in unfamiliar areas. You do not want to risk the chance of getting lost and not have nourishment to help you survive. Also, be sure to ration your water. A new hiker has a tendency to drink their water supply before finishing a long hike.
The sun can easily zap your energy even during cooler temperatures.
My favorite GORP recipe (Studentenhaver, for my Dutch friends)
1 lg jar unsalted peanuts
1 (6oz) pkg chocalate chips
1 sm pkg raisins
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. This may sound simple, but it really is a high-energy trail mix for those summer hikes - not salty, so it does not make you thirsty!
You may add whatever you like, but keep in mind the temperature you will be walking in. Unsalted peanut butter is great during the cooler months.