Mixing it up with Sports Dietitian, Rebecca Hay

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Getting outside for some exercise on the bush trails around Sydney is definitely on the agenda this summer. So what do you put in your pack to eat and drink while you are out on the trail? 

Accredited Sports Dietitian, Rebecca Hay, shares her know-how, hints and tips on hiking food, hydration, menu planning and a nutritious and lightweight trail mix that will keep you right on track.

Bush walking is a little different to a walk around the local oval or stepping out on your neighbourhood footpath. It is harder, much harder! So how does this impact on the foods and drinks you take on a walk? Well, it means you need to eat more than you think. It means you should have a nourishing energy rich meal before you leave for your walk and you need to consume enough energy to keep your brain working as well as your muscles.

When hiking you shouldn’t wait till you feel hungry or thirsty to eat or drink. A normal breakfast is best – something like a bowl of cereal with milk, fresh fruit and a slice of multigrain toast with a little peanut butter, would be an ideal pre-walk breakfast. It contains plenty of carbohydrate for energy and a little bit of protein to satisfy the appetite. The timing of your meal is important and I would suggest this is consumed at least 60 minutes, maybe longer than this, before you leave. Make sure you are properly hydrated before you leave too, with a drink of water to wash down your pre-walk meal.

If you are out for an extra-long walk you might want to have a few different things available to keep it interesting and mix it up a bit. Don’t underestimate the enjoyment factor that snacks and meals can provide on a long haul. Satisfying food can be a real morale booster, a high point of the day, as you meet the mental and physical challenges of your trip. Avoid boredom by keeping your menu interesting. Energy foods are needed on these long walks, mostly carbohydraterich food, and some protein-filled foods to satisfy the appetite. Protein will assist with reducing muscle soreness and muscle recovery after the walk. A good rule of thumb is to pack one to two food items for each hour of walking.

For a 3 hour walk you might choose: 1 cheese sandwich, 2 small pieces of fruit and 1 muesli bar or small bag of trail mix. Eat small amounts often and make sure your food is easy to access. If you have to stop, take off your bag and rummage through it every time you eat, the ordeal will likely mean you skip eating when you shouldn’t. So, have your nibbles in easy to access spots like pants pockets, compartments on the outside of your bag or pouches on the straps of your backpack.

The amount of water to carry varies from person to person. If you know you are a heavy sweater you will need to carry more water. Advice with fluid intake is to have small amounts regularly as it is more efficient for absorption and more comfortable on the stomach. The hotter the day, the more fluid you will need. A little extra salt can help with fluid absorption too. It is not always necessary to add this to your water though. Some of the foods consumed are good sources of salt. For example, bread is a good source of sodium or use salted nuts in trail mix. I would encourage at least 500ml of water for each hour of walking, with more on a hot day.


Some of the physiotherapy team from The Sports Clinic at Sydney University and I, participated in the recent Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker event. This is a 100km trail walk from Brooklyn to Manly and took us just over 30 hours. Among the many lessons we discovered on our journey, we learnt what food worked and what food fell flat.

Savoury options we liked included vegemite and cheese sandwiches or wraps, plain brioche buns with a little butter, smashed up potato crisps and trail mix. Some of the sweet options included jelly lollies, sports bars/muesli bars and sports drink. What we learnt on this walk was that fresh food was better. We really got over sweet foods pretty quickly – I would say by the 12 hour mark we were craving the savoury or plain options more.

Of course when we finished we ate whatever we wanted as we had about 15,000 calories to makeup!

The great outdoors can easily live up to its billing if you get the food and water equations right in terms of energy and enjoyment. See you on the trail.

Author at The Athlete’s Kitchen and Sports Dietician, Rebecca Hay is based at The Sports Clinic, the multidisciplinary sports medicine centre at the corner of Western Avenue and Physics Road, University of Sydney

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