- Jeremy Jones, a prominent big mountain snowboarder, has climbed—and then snowboarded down—peaks in excess of 20,000 feet.
- That requires some serious fuel, so we asked him what kinds of foods he packs for his most arduous adventures.
- Turns out, the classic Harris-Benedict formula is not the best way to calculate your caloric demands for your next big outdoor adventure.
For Jeremy Jones, snowboarding isn’t a few hours out on the slopes, followed by a fancy dinner at the local lodge. It’s an extreme sport that requires extensive, careful planning. That’s because he’s not your typical snowboarder—he’s a big mountain snowboarder.
His adventures begin deep in the backcountry, in uncontrolled mountains away from resorts, Jones tells Popular Mechanics. “Much of my focus is on places few, if any, people have snowboarded. To do this usually requires walking a few days deep into the mountains that you can only get to by hiking,” he explains. “We bring all our food and camping gear, and live in the mountains for days and sometimes weeks.”
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Jones, who has climbed—and then snowboarded down—a 21,400-foot-tall mountain peak in Nepal, knows what it takes to fuel up for both extreme sports and extended periods of time spent outdoors. So whether you’re a snowboarder, too, or perhaps an avid hiker about to set off on the Appalachian Trail, he’s got some insight on the grub you should bring along for the journey.
First things, first: which kinds of foods will be portable enough, and sufficiently energy-dense for an athlete, or an enthusiast about to set off on a long adventure? Jones says he brings along a camping stove so that he can have some form of warm food, a welcome respite from the harsh elements. That way, he can cook up hot oatmeal in the morning, or pasta, quinoa, or ramen for dinner.
On long trips, when space and weight constraints are critical, he crams loads of dehydrated beans and veggies into his pack. Dehydrated foods are key, because carrying everything you need to live in the mountains for weeks on end is no small feat; Jones’s pack can weigh up to 75 pounds when he sets off. Once he begins his ascent, though, he ditches as much weight as possible and tries to keep it all to 20 pounds or so.
Away from base camp, he turns to various trail mixes, power gels, and bars. Back at the tent, he immediately reaches for protein-packed foods like pistachios, and usually a form of recovery drink with electrolytes.
“We are often so tired at the end of a big day that we are stumbling back to camp or our car,” Jones says. “I have learned that if I recover/refuel myself right away and get a good night’s sleep, I can ride hard day after day for weeks on end.”
Portion sizes are less upfront, and Jones says that he doesn’t rely on any formal methods to calculate his food needs. Instead, he portions out his foods into small piles for each day and estimates what he needs that way. “Through the trip, I will monitor our supplies and see if we need to cut down on our intake or if we have to much,” he says.
If you want to take a more data-driven approach to your caloric needs, you’ll have to go a step beyond the classic Harris-Benedict formula, according to “Dr. Mike” Roussell, who holds a degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University.
The Harris-Benedict formula helps estimate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or your energy expenditure for one day. Once you know your BMR, you can multiply it by a given number that corresponds to your activity level to determine what your caloric intake should be. Most commonly, you’ll encounter this formula on calorie-counting apps like MyFitnessPal.
Citing U.S. military data, Roussell says that the Harris-Benedict formula will “likely underestimate your needs.” For instance, rucking (walking briskly with a loaded backpack) can burn two to three times more calories than walking, alone.
“This means that a 170-pound individual can burn almost 900 calories per hour traversing hilly terrain. Everyone’s metabolism is truly different, especially in extreme situations,” Roussell tells Popular Mechanics. “The best thing to do is to monitor your food intake during your training to see how much food you need on an hourly and trip basis to sustain your energy levels. This is akin to bringing a lens into focus. You’ll learn what your body needs and then will be able to expertly fuel it for your trek.”
The good news is that if you overpack, the body is surprisingly adaptive and resilient. If you eat significantly less calories than you’re expending, your body becomes “conservative and efficient” with your calorie intake. In the case of prolonged hiking, there are two major factors at play, according to Roussell.
“The first is muscular efficiency. During the training process, your muscles get more efficient and thus you’ll burn less calories. This happens to everyone,” he explains. “If you run one mile per day for 30 days, on day 30, your body will burn less calories when running that mile than it did on day 1.
“The other factor at play is food access. It is very difficult to pack out enough calories to support your true calorie needs when going on sustained hikes, so people are very likely to be in a calorie deficit, and thus their metabolic rate will slow some as the body try to conserve energy.”
When all else fails, remember this: even Jones tended to overpack food when he first started out. So chances are, you could afford to downsize.
To learn more about Jeremy Jones, big mountain snowboarding, and nutrition in even the most extreme environments, tune in for this week’s episode of “Friday Fuel Up with Dr. Mike Roussell,” presented by American Pistachio Growers. Bring your burning questions to Facebook.com/AmericanPistachios on Friday, October 1 at 1:00 p.m. E.T.
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