Backcountry Nutrition Done Right
By Morgan Dinsdale
Success in the backcountry is all about preparation.
As an avid backcountry skier, my days in the mountains have taught me that the time and effort you put in beforehand; taking avalanche courses, meticulously packing your backpack, planning routes and assembling your team, that these actions play a major role in how your adventure pans out.
Standing upon summits, looking down upon lines I’m about to ski, this is when I most appreciate the efforts I’ve put in beforehand.
The human body works the same way, in that the preparation and care you put into it determines how it performs each and every day. And a strong and healthy body is a key to success in every element of your life.
As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist I’m incredibly grateful to help people optimize their health and reach the summits in life they aspire to. To me, it’s is all about balance;, a sensible, whole-foods diet paired with time spent outdoors enjoying activities that bring you joy. Breaking through personal obstacles, summiting new heights, exploring further into the unknown, all made possible with a healthy, strong body, mind & spirit that carry me to these magical places!
The fuel we choose to bring into the backcountry plays a vital role in our success! What nourishes our bodies nourishes our adventures!
With that in mind, here are my top tips for backcountry nutrition done right!
1. Optimize your health with a strong baseline nutritional plan
When you’re out in the mountains having a strong body is key! Good health means we feel stronger, we move more efficiently and we eventually tune into our bodies. Building optimal health through nutrition takes time, the body wants to be in a state of balance but it can take time to detoxify bad habits and toxins out of our system. Strong baseline nutrition for everyone begins with whole, live, natural high quality foods that provide the macro (fats/proteins/carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc.) we need! Stick to whole foods & the outer perimeter of the grocery store and you’ll be headed in the right direction!
2. Don’t skip breakfast – Ever!
There’s a saying in the ski touring world: Start Cold! This refers to taking off excess layers at the beginning of your day so as not to overheat and sweat excessively early on in the day, which can lead to a myriad of problems. I’d like to amend this: Start Cold, Not Hungry!
Breakfast is what literally “breaks our fast” from sleeping overnight and trust me, your body needs fuel! Skipping breakfast will result in low blood sugar levels and low liver glycogen, which may result in early fatigue and a reduction in your performance potential!
Drink before you go, drink as you go & drink before you’re thirsty! Water is the one nutrient we cannot live without, so drink up! It’s also important to note that the thirst centre is located deep within your brain in the hypothalamus. Like an onion, the deeper the layers, the longer it takes for the message to get out, which means that by the time you’re body is telling you that you are thirsty you are already dehydrated. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink! I bank on 2L per day, 3L on an active day and I’ve always got extra water and a filter in my pack.
4. Plan for your Adventure
What you bring depends on what you’re up to. Are you freeskiing at the local mountain? Are you heading off on a weeklong backcountry hut trip? Are you summiting something epic? How fast or slow do you plan on getting where you’re going?
So many factors contribute to what we need nutritionally in the backcountry, so tune into this and take notes – so that next time you’ll have it even more dialled in. Refuel before you’re hungry, pack snacks that pack a nutritional punch, and, as a general rule, have more than 300 calories. Have pockets? Fill ‘em with healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, healthy bars (my favs are GoMacro Bars and Pro Bars) or some pocket chocolate so you can refuel on the chairlift!
5. Extra Snacks & Emergency Rations
Always pack emergency food rations! You never know when you’re going to get stuck in the mountains and you don’t want to be waiting in the cold without any fuel. Calories keep us warm, staving off hypothermia! You wouldn’t go into the backcountry without an extra jacket. I’ll never go without a handful of extra bars (all over 300 calories), a thermos of vegetable broth (valuable electrolytes found in this soup broth that warms you from the inside out) and a stainless steel water bottle, which can be used to heat water in the backcountry that can be thrown into a sleeping bag to keep you warm outside in or drunk to keep you warm inside out!
6. Tuning into your Body
Our bodies tell us more than we know; the key is to listen! Craving something salty? Your electrolyte balance is probably a bit off. Fatigued for a few days in a row? Perhaps your protein intake needs a boost. Down in the dumps in the winter? Likely some foods rich in vitamin D will help. Your body is the ultimate guide to what you need, to what fuels you best, so pay attention to it! Because the best feeling in the world, aside from standing atop a mountain peak, is feeling good from the inside out!
About Morgan Dinsdale- RMU Ambassador and aspiring ACMG Ski Guide Morgan Dinsdale joining us from Jackson Hole, WY. Morgan fell in love with snow and mountain life while growing in Ottawa, Canada, moving to Whistler after university. She's been incredibly fortunate to call some of the World’s most incredible mountain towns home – from Whistler to Jackson Hole to Revelstoke to CMH’s Bobbie Burns’ remote backcountry lodge in the heart of the Purcell Mountains. She lives to share her passion for both the mountains, and health and wellbeing with others through her business, Backcountry Nutrition.