When we think about what to eat for endurance activities, like trekking, ‘carbs’ often spring to mind…
This has been the mantra ever since I can remember: eat something beige and stodgy and take advantage of that ‘slow release’ energy.
That’s great (and convenient!) if you’re body tolerates starches. However, for those with ankylosing spondylitis who are following a low/no starch diet, finding the right food can be challenging.
So how do you prepare? What should you take with you on the move?
I love trekking and my partner and I have done several hikes on the ankylosing spondylitis diet. Having experimented with lots of different foods in the past, on our most recent trip it felt like we really honed in on the magic formula. This meant foods that were:
✔️ Easy to get hold of (i.e. readily available in local shops)
✔️ Light and manageable to pack
✔️ Provide plenty of energy
Before we get into it, one important point to note is this:
Some foods that work well for me may not suit you, so adjust accordingly. Remember, we are all different! I will try and offer some alternative food options as well.
My Trekking Meal Plan
My key criteria when going on a long trek include:
1) Sustaining – Food that will provide energy for the first four or five hours. Normally, I practise intermittent fasting, which means I skip breakfast. However, I adjust this for activities where I know I’ll need enough fuel to keep me going for several hours.
2) Easy-to-carry and easy to eat – Items that won’t cause issues in my bag but provide ample energy and protein. They should also be easy to eat either with hands or a simple items of cutlery. If you’re facing cold weather or bracing winds you don’t want to be setting up a full dinner service.
3) Accessible – Finally, it should be something easily accessible at local services, even in a small town. Of course this will vary according to where you are but most of the items I list below were easy to find in a very small town deep in the heart of Patagonia. There’s one exception here. We brought one food item from home was macadamia nuts. I tolerate them well, find them tasty and convenient and often buy them in bulk. I took 2 x 1kg bags with me on our trip.
For context, recently, my partner and I travelled to Patagonia in Argentina. We did some day treks which were 20km or more and lasted up to 9 hours on the meal plan below.
Here’s the full list (items and ingredients listed are per person):
🥚 4 egg omelette
🥓 Bacon (150g)
💡 Substitutions: Don’t tolerate eggs? Swap for some avocado or berries instead. Don’t tolerate bacon? Try cooking some chicken (you could then cut the remainder into strips and take as part of your lunch).
🥑 1 avocado (cut in two halves beforehand). Remove the stone first then use a teaspoon to scoop and eat it
🌰 100g of roasted macadamia nuts (we roasted them in butter and salt)
🍖 150g of sliced ham (we used our fingers to eat this)
💡 Substitutions: If you don’t tolerate butter, try using olive oil when roasting your macadamia nuts instead. If you don’t tolerate macadamia nuts, replace with other starch free nuts or seeds that you do tolerate. However, please be careful. Almonds are starch free but don’t work well for me on my diet and cause skin problems and stiffness (likely due to their high oxalate content). However, that is just me. As always, experiment to see what works for you.
💡 Instead of ham, precooked chicken strips or homemade beef or lamb burgers wrapped in cellophane are also good alternatives. It’s best to buy the mince or chicken yourself and prepare at your accommodation (as most premade shop bought versions will contain nasties).
💡 Pescatarian or prefer fish? Canned foods can be heavy. However, small, lightweight tins of tuna or mackerel are often readily available in shops (we found them in small stores) and are healthy, lightweight and practical.
💡 Finding it hard to get hold of good quality meats? Prepare hard boiled eggs before you head out for your trek. Easy to carry, easy to eat and packed full of nutrition.
All of the above can be wrapped in cellophane and then put in a small light dry bag inside your backpack. Tip: I recommend buying macadamia nuts in bulk before your trip as they are not readily available in most places.
🌰 🍖 Leftover nuts or ham
🍫 Dark chocolate
💡 Substitutions: Dried salted meat also makes a great snack. If you are in the US or Southern Africa look for unprocessed beef jerky (United States) or biltong (Southern Africa). This might be something worth packing and bringing with you before hand if you are unsure of availability.
🍳 Fried Egg
💡 If dining out, don’t hesitate to request substitutions. After much trial and error I’ve found it SO much easier asking for substitutions, rather than explaining dietary restrictions. For instance, asking for steak with broccoli, salad, or a fried egg instead of chips was always well-received on our recent trip.
Again, we were in Argentina and steak was ubiquitous. Chicken usually a readily available alternative, which you can find in most places. If we had had better kitchen facilities at our accommodation, we might have cooked there.
🚰 Electrolytes with water
🥛 Magnesium malate with water (for after the trek to aid recovery)
💡 Homemade electrolytes are best and contain no nasties. For one of your smaller water bottle squeeze in half a lemon, add a generous pinch of salt and shake. Alternatively you can buy electrolyte sachets which you simply add to the water. LMNT and Ultima are good brands.
💡 Magnesium malate is most easily absorbed by the body and is great for muscle recovery. I use a 100% formulation in powder form and simply add to water. The right dose depends on the individual so see what works for you. I personally find that around 1000mg (2 small scoops) works best for me at the current stage of my journey. However, start small and see what works. I use the brand Seeking Health.
More Tips and Suggestions
If possible, we always try to stay in accommodation with cooking facilities (such as AirBnBs). They often have fridges where you can store items and an oven and/or cooker where you can prepare food.
This is great for the mornings because you can cook breakfast as early as you want, take your prepared lunch out of the fridge and head out whenever you are ready.
Staying in a hotel? Use the minibar fridge to keep items fresh! Most hotel rooms contain a minibar. Simply put any items in here that you want to stay fresh.
If you are doing a multi day hike most of the above is feasible with a camping stove. Just make sure you keep the eggs protected in a box. For lunch you might want to choose sliced meats which are preserved with salt (no other nasties!) so that they last longer without refrigeration.
I hope you find these tips helpful.
What do you do when you go trekking or if you’re away for extended periods on the ankylosing spondylitis diet? Please share! Vegetarian or vegan readers with ankylosing spondylitis too, please do share your trek-friendly food suggestions. I’d love to hear from you.