200,000Kcal in 10 days…
…Extreme Expedition Nutrition
Most people have heard the story of Captain Scott, the famous Antarctic Explorer whose ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition cost the lives of him and his men through starvation and the extreme cold. If you haven’t, it’s worth a read…
Expeditions are known for their adventure, exploration, excitement, and discovery, but also for their danger. Anyone that has a love of the outdoors has been regaled with the stories of famous explorers such as Scott, Shackleton, Hillary, Tenzing, and Sir Ranulf Fiennes. Their adventures are talked about with awe and wanderlust, to such a level that people still try and recreate them even today.
But expeditions are not just confined to the most epic of proportions such as the ones undertaken by the explorers mentioned above, they come in all forms and occur all over the globe. From solo to group, jungle to mountain, desert to arctic, an expedition is what you decide it to be. Each expedition will require a different set of skills, different equipment, different route plans, and just as importantly as everything else, a different nutritional plan. Keeping the body fuelled to the right level requires detailed planning, taking in to account all the factors that will affect energy expenditure. Getting this wrong can result in fatigue, weight loss, and in extreme cases, death, such as Captain Scott and his team.
The inherent dangers that come with expeditions can be offset by detailed planning of every aspect of each trip, and emergency plans should things go awry. This includes Nutrition. Working out ‘Energy in Vs Energy out’ might seem simple enough, but most serious expeditions will come with the problem of ‘you can only take what you can carry’. Indeed they often require a heavy physical burden, carrying all your own food and equipment, regularly over long distances through difficult terrain, and often in harsh weather systems. So while 600miles may not seem too bad for an un-laden, well fed person in reasonable fitness; add a 20kg pack, a few mountains, and freezing weather to the occasion and your energy expenditure will increase dramatically.
We have come a long way since the days of Captain Scott’s wholesome diet of pemmican and water (a mixture of fat and dried beef), pony meat, and biscuits. It has been estimated that the Terra Nova expedition rations were 2000-3000 calories short of what was needed each day to meet the physical demands of the trip. Today there are many different companies that sell pre-packaged dry or wet rations, energy bars, and drinks powders, full of all the nutrients you need to sustain you body and suit your expedition needs. But that doesn’t remove the need for careful planning.
Rations for one man for one day while man hauling during Captain Scott's Expedition, we now know this is insufficient food for the conditions and work rate.
Energy output needs to be estimated per day, and rations need to contain enough Calories (Kcal), with the right amount of macronutrients, which are Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat, to ensure your body can continue working to its full capacity.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy production. The body’s tissues require a constant supply of glucose, which is used as a fuel. The main source of glucose is dietary carbohydrate but it can also be synthesised from protein. If the diet is low in carbohydrate, a greater percentage of dietary protein is used to provide glucose, which means less is available for the growth and repair of body tissues. Thus, adequate carbohydrate in the diet has a protein-sparing effect. 1g of Carbohydrate equates to just under than 4 Kcals.
Similarly, 1g of Protein equates to exactly 4Kcals. All cells and tissues contain protein, therefore protein is essential for growth and repair, which is especially important during the heavy physical exertion undertaken during expeditions. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day, but studies suggest that endurance athletes require a higher intake.
Protein provides the body with approximately 10 to 15% of its dietary energy and it is the second most abundant compound in the body, following water. A large proportion of this will be muscle (43% on average) with significant proportions being present in skin (15%) and blood (16%). However, if carbohydrate stores are low, Protein is used as an anaerobic fuel, making it less available to repair tissue. Therefore, on an expedition it is advised that people consume a higher intake of protein.
Fat is the richest and most concentrated source of dietary energy available in the diet, with 1g of fat equating to 9Kcals. It is also the carrier for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The Department of Health recommend that the average diet should have a fat intake of 35% of food energy.
Once you have ensured that your expedition diet contains the right macronutrients, you need to work out how much you need individually for your expedition.
Factors that may affect your energy needs include
- Speed at which you are travelling
- Terrain and incline of route
- Weight carried
- Temperature of environment
- Basal metabolic Rate
Working to ensure a constant fuel supply and reduce energy dips and fatigue, the team will consume food every 30-40 minutes on the go, using a mix of energy bars, trail mix, and ‘main meals’, which will be broken down into 4 smaller meals to improve movement and timing.
The High5 Energy Bars are a healthy low GI snack with a balance of simple and complex carbohydrate from fruit and grains. Each bar provides one of our 5-a-day fruit / veg portions, and It’s moist, easy to chew, and will not melt in the heat or become hard in the cold. Each bar will provide us with 195Kcals, with 40g of carbs, 2.4g of protein, and 2.6g of Fat.
These will be mixed with the 4:1 Bars, which are similar but provide a larger intake of protein to aid muscle recovery and repair, at 7g per bar!
This will be along side the use of electrolyte and fuel based sports drinks, which will help to prevent muscle cramping and add an extra energy source.
High5’s 2:1 fructose ‘Energy Source’ drink is known as an advanced sports drink due to its capability to allow the body to absorb higher amounts of carbohydrate per hour from traditional sports drinks, from 60g per hour to 90g per hour! This gives a significant advantage to keeping the body fuelled.
Again, this will be used in turn with the 4:1 Sports drink which is similar to the EnergySource but contains 9g of Protein per sachet.
Towards the end of each day (if there is an end to the day!) the Team will consume a protein based muscle recovery drink, followed by their final ‘main meal’ an hour or two later.
High5’s Protein Recovery drink provides 18g of protein per sachet, and has the benefit of being able to be mixed with water rather than milk, meaning we can use it on the go with Patagonia’s plentiful supply of natural water (purified!).
Our ‘main meals’ are being provided by TentMeals, a company founded in 2015 with the aim of making lightweight, high density, camping and expedition food, that (wait for it)… Tastes good!!! Each Tent Meal provides 800-900 Kcal and weighs only 200grams! This combination means they are easy to carry on longer expeditions, and will provide enough Kcal to keep us going, while providing nutrition and a good hearty meal to keep morale up on the long cold days in Patagonia.
In hot water (we have JetBoils!) TentMeals take only 7 minutes to hydrate, and in cold water up to 30 minutes. This means we can have a hot breakfast, and stick a TentMeal in Tupperware in our pack at the same time to hydrate on the go. Simple, effective, tasty.
Below is the rough plan, that will obviously be largely flexible around our days activities. As you can see we are looking at individually consuming around 5000Kcal per day, and over 100g of Protein…. That is a lot of food!
Added up for the whole Team, that works out at 200,000Kcal for the race, what an average person would take nearly 3 months to consume.
So there we have it, Expedition Nutrition in a nutshell!