Food Tips for Mountain

The mountain is the stage where we will develop sports activities; and it has a different environment than the one we are used to living.

Temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity are some of the many variables to which we must adapt, using knowledge related to these changes and techniques to optimize our energies.

Knowledge of the physiological aspects that are altered in man subjected to altitude and extreme variations in temperature is closely linked with feeding techniques in extreme conditions.

In any sports activity and ours there is also a considerable increase in energy needs derived from greater physical activity.

It is considered that an adult person requires around 1600 cal / day to maintain his normal basal metabolism level (energy expenditure in standardized resting conditions) this same person requires a higher amount of calories for a sedentary activity (office work): around 2500 cal / day.

In the mountains, the caloric consumption tables are only an approximate idea of energy consumption, since these consumption have a multifactorial influence, depending on the physical and technical level of the athlete, the terrain (flat, slope), weight, intensity of effort, temperature, wind and other factors that give it a large margin of variability.

Approximate energy consumption for different mountain activities


Consumption Kcal / hour


700 - 1000

Mountain biking

700 - 1100

Hourly energy consumption: the table has been designed for a 75kg athlete at an intense pace and the range of variations is due to the multifactorial influence already indicated in the previous paragraph.

In general, activities that mobilize more important muscle groups and that are carried out on sloping terrain require greater energy expenditure than those that mobilize few muscle groups or that are carried out on flat terrain. These activities are usually performed in cold situations that further increase calorie consumption.

The mere review of the amount of calories involved in sports activity is already an example of the importance of knowledge of proper eating techniques. In the dietary field, the different balance of substances in the body must be attended to, the water balance is one of the most important given the ease with which dehydration can occur in endurance sports carried out in the mountains.

Also important is the energy balance (carbohydrates and lipids), the structural one in which protein stands out, the balance of macroelements, microelements as well as vitamins. It should be noted that a negative balance can produce a decrease in sports level and deterioration of health.

The functioning of the organism depends on the production of energy, which comes from our reserves and / or the food we eat. The main energy reserves are located in adipose tissue, muscle tissue and in the liver. ATP and muscle creatinine phosphate reserves are very low, which does not diminish biological importance, as they allow very fast reactions in short sporting efforts or in dangerous situations. Muscle glycogen stores allow for longer-lasting efforts.

Liver glycogen stores are also used during exertion and fats are mobilized.

In low intensity efforts the mobilization of fats is greater than in high intensity efforts in which the body uses a superior performance fuel: glycogen.

We will see below the foods that contribute to energy production.

Food composition

The substances we ingest provide us with carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, water, mineral ions and vitamins that we need.

The components that contain energy are in the form of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, the first two have a clearly energetic component, while the structural or plastic aspect predominates in proteins.

a) Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates must be the ones consumed in the greatest quantity, due to their rapid absorption, rather direct conversion into energy, absence of harmful residues in their combustion, and having the highest energy production per volume of oxygen, making it the energy source. most important for most athletes. Carbohydrate reserves are depleted two or three hours after physical exercise has started, so they must be ingested constantly to replace what has been lost and avoid fatigue.

Carbohydrates are divided into fast absorbing carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) and slow absorbing carbohydrates (Polysaccharides). It is very important to differentiate these two types because slowly absorbed carbohydrates must be consumed prior to physical exercise, since they provide the body with energy for a longer time; while fast absorbing carbohydrates must be consumed while exercising to recover what is burned, since these quickly provide energy to the body, but the duration is very short; reason why small portions must be ingested continuously.

In the normal diet, the consumption of polysaccharides (cereals and their derivatives, potatoes, legumes, and their derivatives) should be increased instead of abusing monosaccharides and synthetic disaccharides (sweets, sugary drinks, jam, etc.). We will find fast absorbing carbohydrates in honey, fruits.

There are sports products like the famous Power Bars and Power Gel that contain short-chain polysaccharides, which have the advantage of reducing absorption time compared to conventional polysaccharides.

b) Lipids or fats

Fats are the energy reserves that the body has, since as carbohydrates are consumed, fats are in charge of providing the necessary energy to the body to continue with physical activity; therefore, it is recommended that gauze be added to an athlete's diet, in normal amounts, with the predominance of unsaturated or vegetable fats such as walnuts, almonds, olives, peanuts; on saturated ones of animal origin such as milk, eggs, etc.

The excess of fats in the diet increases the adipose tissue and therefore the body's fat index. In the high mountain practitioners, the possession of a not so thin layer of fat is typical of an adaptation to the cold.

c) Proteins

The main function of proteins is to repair and regenerate muscle tissue. Protein needs for an athlete are higher than those of a sedentary person, due to increased wear. In general, it is not necessary to increase the amount of protein in the diet.

In general, endurance sports such as high mountain sports require a lower percentage intake of protein and more carbohydrates than strength sports. The main sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs, and legumes.

Most foods contain carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, and it is according to their percentage that they are established as a priority source of one or the other. The proportions for an endurance athlete would be:

60-65% carbohydrates           20-25% lipids           15% proteins

These proportions are approximate, the diets of very high level athletes are almost always monitored in the medical field. If you think you are eating an unbalanced diet, you should not hesitate to consult a nutrition specialist.

It is important that consumption and energy expenditure are normally balanced. If the expense predominates, weight will be lost and vice versa. This is not bad in itself, because body mass has a seasonal component (it is weighed more in winter than in summer), daily and can vary according to the training period in which you are.


   Respiratory quotient

     Energy production

     Kcal / gram













Lipids are molecules with low oxygen content so they produce a lot of energy, but they need more oxygen from outside to burn.

d) Vitamins

The diet of an athlete must be varied and must include enough vitamins, especially vitamins of group B since they help metabolize carbohydrates.

Vitamins can be classified into:

Fat-soluble vitamins: soluble in fats and therefore usually found in fatty foods.

Water-soluble vitamins: soluble in water. They are ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vitamin B complex (thiamine or vitamin B1, riboflavin or B2, pyridoxine, folic acid or vitamin B12).

They are mainly found in fruits and vegetables. They serve to regulate metabolism, participate as catalysts of enzymatic reactions.

e) Mineral ions

They are also regulators of metabolism, coming from fresh foods.

They can be classified into: macroelements; Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen make up the majority of living matter, also in this group is the sodium that can be found in table salt (closely related to salt balance and problems associated with dehydration); potassium is found in bananas or tomatoes (related to muscle work); calcium is found in milk; magnesium is found in whole grains; phosphorus is found in fish; Chlorine is found in seafood, mushrooms, beans, and sulfur is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.

Among the microelements include Iron found in foods such as liver, spinach (involved in the formation of red blood cells that tend to increase in height), zinc found in milk, yogurt; the copper found in the liver; manganese is found in nuts and cereals; Cobalt is found in walnuts, peaches, and iodine is found in garlic, shellfish, egg yolks, parsley, basil, iodized salt, etc.

Sports Food

Solid feeding

Digestion uses the energy stored in the body for its process. This type of light feeding provides the calories that the body needs, requesting minimal work from the digestive system, with an optimal weight / Kcal ratio.

Liquid feeding

The advantages of this type of diet are a much faster assimilation than a normal diet, security in mineral and energy intake and its low weight. They can be classified into 3 types:

Isotonic drinks

Rain or snow water, although quenching thirst, does not contain the minerals necessary for the recovery of all those that have been lost during the effort. This type of drink provides these essential minerals.

Energy drinks.

Based on carbohydrates (sugars) they are essential for the manufacture of the energy necessary for muscular effort. They reduce the consumption of the own reserves of sugars, prolonging the capacity of the effort. An example of this type of drink is the famous Power Gel.

Recovery drinks.

Destined for the recovery of the elements lost during the effort (proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, etc.).

They prepare the body to maintain its physical capacity against intense effort on consecutive days. Ideal for a journey of several days.


More than 60% of the body mass of an organism is made up of water, which contains the water-soluble elements. Its excess will be eliminated by the excretory system, thanks to the cleansing power of the kidneys. Its lack affects the balance of mineral ions, since by increasing the concentration of salt the enzymatic activity and many regulatory mechanisms of our body vary.

The relationship between water deficit and sports performance is well studied and all agree that a slight dehydration produces a decrease in performance. This is better understood if you think that 72% of muscle weight is made up of water.

On the hydrosaline balance:

* We must provide the water lost during the effort.

* In dry environments we can dehydrate without the appearance of sweat.

* After training drink liquids until you regain your initial weight.

* Light colors absorb less solar radiation and reduce sweating.

* The sensation of thirst appears when there is already a certain dehydration.

* Excess mono or disaccharides in the liquid delays the absorption of water in the digestive tract

* Through sweat and urine, mineral ions are lost and must be replaced.

* The water obtained from the snow does not contain mineral salts. Avoid taking it very cold as it can cause gastrointestinal disorders

* In cold environments, do not exceed the figure of 100 gr of carbohydrates / liter (10%). In temperate environments (10-15ºC), reduce it to 50 gr./lt. (5%).

* An easy way to calculate a reference amount of water to drink per day is: ½ liter of water for every 10 kilos of weight

During the effort, the loss of water occurs mainly on three levels:

Sweating: sweat has a temperature regulating effect. For this reason, sweating shortly after initiating an intense effort such as a high mountain climb in normal temperature conditions (75% of energy production is lost in the form of heat).

Breathing: Increasing the respiratory rate produced during exercise removes the CO2 produced by the aerobic routes, but also eliminates water vapor. The low oxygen pressure itself causes the individual to hyperventilate with the consequent dehydration in the dry air of the high mountains.

Urine: the elimination of water by this means is usually inhibited during exertion. The observation of it will be an indication of our state of hydration, clear: good hydration; very dark: dehydration.

This is for guidance only, drinking coffee or tea may have a diuretic effect.

Some advices:

* Verify before leaving that we carry enough water planning the supply places (sources, shelters, rivers, lakes, etc.)

* Drink before feeling thirsty.

* Drink constantly throughout the trip.

* Carry the canteen by hand or a water dispensing device (camel-back, aqua-stream)

* Do not drink more than 250cc each time.

* During the effort drink hypotonic drinks (lower concentration of salts than the body)

* Add carbohydrates to the water but without exceeding its concentration.

* Experiment with new drink combinations in training, never on major outings or competitions.

* After the effort to recover the lost ions by means of isotonic drinks.

* Eating foods rich in polysaccharides (slow absorption carbohydrates such as rice, spaghetti, bread, etc.

* Reduce protein intake at meals after intense exertion.

* Although alcohol is a caloric drink, it has other effects on the body that are not compatible with mountain activity. Being a dilator vessel, it generates a sensation of heat, but it helps us lose it faster. It affects the nervous system preventing normal operation.

For these reasons, alcohol should NOT be brought into the mountains.





ºC - ºF


Sea level = 1

Sea level















Theoretical boiling points of water

Factors involved in the choice of food:

The following are the factors to consider when programming the feeding for any type of outing to the mountain:

Type of activity: it will determine the amount of food to take and the caloric of it. The amount of physical activity and the time available within the activity to eat must be taken into account.

Number of participants: this factor will determine the total amount of food needed to carry out the activity. In addition, it will give us indications of how to acquire food (wholesale or per unit).

Duration: this responds to the amount of food and importantly to the balance of the diet if the stay is prolonged.

Altitude: at altitude, the body does not work in the same way as at sea level, as fats and proteins are difficult to digest. Due to the atmospheric dryness, significant amounts of water are needed.

Transport: It will indicate how our food will be transported.

Determining the type and total weight of food that can be carried (car, mules or backpack).

Personal taste: We can not go to try new foods in the mountains as this could bring us digestive disorders. Also, a food that we dislike will make us eat less.

Budget: There are countless high-tech foods such as lyophilized ones. At the time of deciding, the budget we have will direct our choice without compromising the balance of the diet.

Area to be visited: there are areas that are themselves icier. For these places it is necessary to have a more caloric diet. The place to visit will indicate the possibilities of being able to supply us if necessary.

Latitude: the closer to the poles, the colder it is generally. In these cases more calories are necessary, on the contrary if we are close to the Ecuador we will have a warmer climate and we will need more water.

Time of the year: it is important to know the state in which the water will be available (snow or ice). In addition, the times of the year will show us the temperature ranges in which we will carry out the activity.

Last food considerations:

* The departure preparation begins 2 or 3 days before taking a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates to fill the glycogen reserves.

* Plan the food that we are going to eat before departure.

* Throughout the day eat light carbohydrate-rich foods (cookies, energy bars) every

60 or 90min. Avoiding the intake of significant amounts during the effort.

* Dinner should complete the diet recovering as much as possible during the day, paying attention to mineral salts and water.

* Keep a reserve of food and liquids for emergencies.

* Avoid the hours of greatest insolation in which significant water losses will occur.

* Exit at a very gentle pace, which will facilitate the progressive heating of our body and the use of body fat, saving glycogen reserves.

* A smooth and continuous pace of walking is cheaper than a high pace, allowing you to reach your destination in better condition.

* Regarding the containers, you should avoid taking glass to the mountain. It is easy to break and a possible cut will end the exit.

* The containers must be hermetic and allow as far as possible to be reclosable.

Source: Tatoo, SEK CANALS, HERNÁNDEZ Y SOULIÉ International University, Training for Mountain Sports.

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