By Dan Staton, MS, CSCS
You know those hunts that can last up to 10 days and straight put a beating on you. You love and hate every second of it, but the sacrifice is worth that big reward. When you’re in the trenches you should feel like an athlete, often times pushing through muscle burn and fatigue. This is an extremely critical point where nutrient timing can deliver big bursts of precious energy in the mountains. Time and energy are two extremely valuable commodities in the world of hunting. You need as much time as possible to learn the animal’s behavior and calculate your approach. You need as much energy as possible to put yourself into position to notch your tag. Meal timing is also critical, in fact, you could put two hunters side by side with the exact same food intake and the hunter who eats at the correct time will out perform the other. Hunting is a physical, mental and emotional game that can and will be affected by what and when you eat. If you’ve been dreaming of hunting out west all year and blow yourself up in the first day, you’re going to be wasting valuable time at base camp. Fatigue can really put a hiccup in your hunt, I see it on a daily basis when training athletes. If you succumb to fatigue, you’re going to lack the go ahead and gumption necessary to hunt at your best. The following guideline will aid in your ability to resist fatigue and put forth more effort each day of the hunt.
There are two main physiological items taking place during the hunt – muscle breakdown and hopefully muscle building/recovery. The latter is an anabolic phase, which is required to recover faster. In order to promote the anabolic phase you must adhere to the small window rule. The optimal time to stop the breakdown and reverse the engines toward recovery is within 15 minutes of physical exertion. For example, at my CrossFit gym every athlete is encouraged to consume a post workout shake before heading home. The timing is so important that my athletes bring their shakes from home and pound them down the hatch once the workout is over. This is just a huge part of our culture because we know it works. In the world of hunting big game animals you may be exerting yourself constantly throughout the day, so the rule of thumb is to take in nutrients following the big bursts of energy. For example, when you finally reach base camp after a 5-mile hike in — as soon as the backpack comes off the window is open for 15 minutes. Maybe you hiked up to a glassing knob that was a 1,000 vertical climb, the window is now open. This should make sense and you have to be cognizant of when you’re taxing your muscles and breakdown is occurring at a rapid pace. Proper refueling prevents poor performance.
Now that you understand the timing issue, let’s turn our attention to what exactly this post-recovery nutrition should be comprised of. The foods that you consume during this period should be mainly protein and carbohydrate. Each athlete is a little different, but shoot for a ratio of 50/50, so half of your calories come from protein and half from carbohydrate. Try to minimize fats as this will slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates and proteins. I must note that fat is a extremely important macronutrient and I consume a lot of it throughout a hunt, but not when the window is open. Ideas for a post exertion meal are simple; a protein based energy bar or a liquid based meal replacement which is super convenient and takes little time. I promote Wilderness Athlete and some of their products, for example Hydrate and Recover. It’s loaded with electrolytes and vitamins and can be mixed with your water which helps replace the fluids lost during activity. They also have a meal replacement powder which is easy to pack and tastes as good as anything else out there. If you want real food then try throwing down a handful of jerky and dried fruit. Just make sure you stay inside that 15 minute window.
Many hunters do not implement meal timing. They hike to their glassing destination and forget to eat or they get back from a day of hunting and sit down at the campfire and rest for a bit. When you’re tired or even exhausted, eating is the last thing you want to do. Don’t make the mistake of not properly refueling your broken down muscles. This routine of replenishment boils down to discipline and the price tag of not eating properly could result in hunting less effectively. Hunting can have enough physical and mental stress, don’t compound it with lousy food choices and poor meal timing. Once you have consumed these initial calories to start the recovery process you should relax and wait an hour or so before consuming a larger, more purposeful meal. Once you feel the effects of proper meal timing when hunting, you will become a lifetime member of this approach.