April 28, 2014

Be Sure To Refuel

Last summer on a 14-mile hike, one of my hiking pals became extremely weak and shaky several hours into the hike.  Because of this experience, a recent article in Backpacker Magazine, National Park Guide entitled "How Crucial Are Electrolytes?" caught my attention.   I hope the following information will help you avoid a similar situation.    

Be sure to know the weather forecast before departing on any long, hot-weather hike. 

What are electrolytes?  "Electrolyte is a medical/scientific term for salts, specifically ions. The term electrolyte means that this ion is electrically-charged and moves to either a negative or positive electrode." Here is a list of the major electrolytes in your body:


"Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Your kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant despite changes in your body."

Dressing appropriate for the heat is also important.  I like to keep the sun off my face and neck by wearing a hat.  

On a long, hot-weather hike, sweat clears away more of the electrolytes than you may realize (especially sodium and potassium). These four electrolytes--sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium--are important to keep fluids balanced, muscle contractions smooth, nerve impulses firing properly, and energy levels high.  

Below are some great food choices to help you stay refueled.  They are readily found in your local super market as well as easily stowed in your day pack:

SODIUM maintains water balance in the cells and regulates nerve and muscle function: salami, beef jerky, sun-dried tomatoes, and pretzels. 

If you didn't include on your grocery list, most convenience stores sell beef jerky. 

CHLORIDE aids in metabolism: salt, spam, summer sausage, peanut butter (salted), and sun-dried tomatoes. Many of your favorite salty trail snacks contain sodium chloride (salt).   

My personal favorite is a peanut butter sandwich made with crunchy peanut butter and topped  with raspberry or strawberry preserves.  Believe it or not, an "Elvis sandwich" made from peanut butter and banana (minus the butter)  is healthy too.

POTASSIUM helps regulate heart function: white beans, dried apricots, packaged salmon, bananas, dark chocolate, and nuts. My personal favorites are bananas and dark chocolate almonds. 

My favorite supermarket, Publix, sells dark chocolate almonds in their produce section. 

MAGNESIUM aids in heart and immune functions and keeps bones strong: brown rice, black beans, pumpkin, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews. 

Who doesn't love Brazil nuts, cashews, or almonds? 

Be sure to drink plenty of water on a long, hot-weather hike, but don't forget to refuel. Hikers who drink a lot of water but neglect to replace electrolytes can suffer from low blood sodium concentration (hyponatremia) which can cause cells to swell (including the brain). If you suspect hyponatremia, move to the shade and eat salty snacks. 

A bladder helps you stay hydrated. 

Most of the resources for this post were obtained through the internet or in Backpacker Magazine. Here is the June 2013 article if you would like to read. 

While I am not a nutritionist or health expert, I do like to be informed before I venture out on those long, hot summer days so I can Keep On Hiking. 

A good choice for dried apricots. 

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