Most things that have energy or provide power and mobility require some sort of fuel. Now, that could come in many ways for machines including sun and fossil fuels, but how about you? Hunting requires a significant level of energy to stay focused and able. How many athletes perform their best in a calorie deficient state? I’d tell you, not many. Those calories provide the fuel to energize them in what ever activity they are participating in. Under the same concept, you need to keep yourself running on all cylinders with the proper nutrition during the hunt. These hunts could range from a morning out, an all day sit, or even a week long backcountry hunt. Regardless, you need your body and mind to answer the call when you need it most.
When taking a basic look at nutrition for the hunter, it can be broken down into 3 components; fat, protein, and carbs. You’ve probably been led to believe that carbs are the best source of energy when active. While that may be true on a short term level, as a hunter you probably want to plan on focusing a little more on fat for sustained energy. A simple breakdown of how your body would burn it’s fuel (calories) in such a situation will shine some light on this. First, it would utilize existing carbs to give you a quick boost. After the carbs were gone, keeping in mind that simple sugars will be the very first thing to go (i.e. candy bars), then your body will move on to fat as it’s energy source. Why do you think exercise is the key to burning excess body weight (i.e. fat)? Lastly, if you run out of fat, then your body goes into survival mode and begins devouring protein to keep itself functioning.
With all that being said, keeping fueled on a cold day (where your body burns more calories just to stay warm) fat should be your friend. Now don’t take this out of context and add a bunch of fat to your daily diet. But during the hunt it is a good thing. Fat contains approximately twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrates. The other thing about adding fat to stay focused and fueled is that your body digests it slower than carbohydrates. Think of it as your body pacing itself for the long haul rather than quickly burning sugars for an immediate rush and quick let down. You’ve been there, grabbing that donut at the quick stop and being famished by daylight. Had you eaten some bacon and eggs you’d be fueled for a longer period of time.
Next you want to keep up on your protein intake. Protein is how your body rebuilds itself. Even if you aren’t going all out making 1000’ ascents all day, your body needs the protein just to maintain itself on a daily basis. Take a vegetarian or vegan for example. While they are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals they have to supplement protein into their diet, otherwise they would shrivel into nothing. You know that exhausted, tired, sore feeling you have after a long day in the field? Unless you want to start the next day that way, make sure you get plenty of protein in before going to bed that night. Your body will very much appreciate it.
Please note that I’m not saying eliminate carbs from your diet, rather carefully choose the ones you eat. There are two types of carbs – simple and complex. Stay away from simple carbs. These equate to sugary foods that really don’t provide sustainable energy. By focusing on carbs from whole wheat, sweet potatoes, or grains such as quinoa, your body will offer a more balanced source of fuel to drive you to your next goal.
Ironically, as I was writing this article I received and email from one of my favorite nutritional supplement companies, Wilderness Athlete, with the subject line, “More Fat = More Energy.” Taking a note from the WA website for one of their most recent releases Wild C8 MCT, “medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), are a family of fats that are utilized as one of the best sources of clean energy for the body and brain. MCTs are found in foods like coconut oil, palm oil, butter, cheese, and milk. ‘Medium’ refers to the chain length of the fatty acid and allows it to be converted into caloric energy more efficiently than carbohydrates. Triglycerides are transported into cells and burned for energy, making MCTs an ideal way to elevate your exercise performance, sustain backcountry endurance, or accelerate a nutrition program.” This is a little more technical description than I previously gave but I wanted to reiterate my point.
Now with all this being said, what types of foods should you eat? While there are an endless number of possibilities and opinions, I’ll tell you what I like to utilize for my hunting nutrition. For a morning hunt, or even an afternoon snack before heading into the stand, I like to have a bowl of whole, plain yogurt with some berries mixed in. While in the stand, I make sure to have a bag of trail mix weighted heavily with nuts and seeds, and some jerky. I will also have a supply of protein or meal replacement bars available
An example of a good balance of carbs, fats, proteins can be seen in the label on the right.
For a more prolonged hunt I like to opt for dehydrated meals because I spend less time cooking and more time hunting or sleeping. Of course, if I’m packing in for a wilderness hunt, I’ll use these types of meals due to weight limitations. I personally opt for some of the more specialized and nutritious meals as opposed to the ones you may go find at a big box store. Another item that I was introduced to was what some refer to as a butthole sandwich. I’ll let you figure out where it got it’s name, but a bagel, packed with peanut butter and stacked with bacon is a mountain of calories in a small package. During extended hunts away from home I will usually stash a bag of potatoes and carrots in the truck. In the event I am successful on the hunt, an easy, hot meal packed with nutrition can make a huge difference for when you are grinding it out.
How to Stay Fueled for the Hunt – Conclusion
Just remember, to be an apex predator at the top of food chain you need to keep both your body and mind running at peak performance. When planning or prepping for your hunts, keep this article in mind, make better food choices, and good luck out there!