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Eating And Drinking on Mountain Expeditions

Food is an essential condition to achieve any sporting challenge. But diet has even more significance in performance if the duration of physical activity is lengthened over time, whether it is intense and precise physical resistance or whether it takes many hours a day for several days, and even weeks, to achieve the objective.

Mountaineers participating in high mountain expeditions should take care of the diet before, during and after each day. The energy supply they need to compensate for the high physical wear and tear that each climb represents is extraordinary. But the desire to eat and drink are limited by the fatigue of many days of effort, extreme cold conditions and hypoxia or lack of oxygen that occurs at altitudes that exceed 4,500 meters.

The foods selected for these marches must have a series of characteristics: small volume, concentrated in energy, easy to digest and requiring a lower oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in digestion.

Important energy expenditure

Over 3,500 meters high, a climber who makes an intense effort in the ascension has an energy expenditure that easily surpasses the 5,000 kilocalories (it even needs about 8,000 Kcal./day), up to three times more than the Daily amount required (1,800-2,000 Kcal.) by a sedentary person of the same age, weight and height.

The energy of the food should allow the mountaineer to march at the estimated pace, not forgetting the strength he needs to carry the backpack and counteract the cold of the environment. The proportion of energy obtained from food will be similar to any sport of resistance: between 60% and 70% in the form of carbohydrates, 10% to 12% in proteins and 30% in fats.

The fatigue that accumulates after days of intense effort, together with extreme cold and hypoxia, favor the loss of appetite. The key not to stop eating or drinking during the ascent is in the proper selection of food and beverages.

Acclimatization to food in height

During high mountain expeditions two types of diets are distinguished. The meals that are consumed in the base camp and those that are taken during the march. In the first case, climbers have more time to eat and enjoy, in general, a quieter environment, although this depends on various factors such as mountain type and weather conditions.

Sufficient feeding and hydration is essential to allow prolonged effort and to avoid cases of hypothermia and hypoglycemia

The mountaineer stays in the base camp for a few days and returns to it after the ascents to the nearby peaks to acclimate to the altitude. The meals at this time should be reparative, with a significant carbohydrate load, which will provide reserve energy, in addition to protein, nutrients that will serve (along with the above) for muscle recovery. The contribution of fats is essential, since it is the largest energy source.

Having a minimum reserve of fats helps the body to fight against the cold. However, the type of fatty foods will be carefully chosen, since they require more effort in their digestion. Products rich in fats, such as sausages, meats, eggs, fritters, whole milk or cheeses, among others, should be discarded. Nuts, combined with dried cereals and fruits, can be taken as an energy snack.

During the ascent, which can last for several hours or days, it raises another type of food. It is the so-called "attack food" or "ration march". It should be composed of foods of high energy value and easy digestion. Rapid and intermediate carbohydrate snacks such as energy bars, dried fruit mixed with dried fruits (dates, fig bread, dried prunes), cereal flakes and chopped fruit, among others, will not be lacking in the backpack. .

In moments of maximum effort or when you are near the summit, you can resort to glucose or dextrose gels or tablets. These products provide an immediate energy pulse that the mountaineer must take advantage of quickly. Afterwards, another ration of energy foods will be taken, so as not to feel weakness, since if it is not done this can appear the fearsome "pájara", that will compromise the return in good conditions.

In the mountains, the fight against exhaustion must be preventive: food and hydration sufficient to allow a prolonged effort and avoid situations of hypothermia and hypoglycemia.
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