Wednesday, February 04, 2009


To quote Bill Merchant, nutrition on the Iditarod trail is about "Fat, fat, and more fat". A reasonable estimate of expenditure on the trail is 8000 calories per day (an adult male's recommended intake is 2500 per day in normal conditions), so high fat and calorie dense foods are needed. Roughly speaking: fat is 9 calories per gram, protein and carbs are 4, and alcohol is 7.

This makes for a weird food shopping experience and a new stat-counting measure. I've never been that much of a weight weenie on my bikes, but I have definitely become a calorie-per-gram weenie for food. It makes a huge difference. 8000 calories in raw potatoes is 10 kg. Even if you could carry and cook that many potatoes, you wouldn't want to eat them. 8000 calories in butter is 1.1 kg. A lot easier to carry but also not a lot of fun to eat. For a "short" trip like the Iditarod race, fibre is just indigestible extra weight. Nutrients aren't a problem because you won't be gone long enough to suffer a shortage. The key things are: calories-per-gram, easy preparation, and palatability. Low weight is an obvious advantage. Anything that needs to be cooked over a flame will use up lots of fuel so "just add water" is better. And it doesn't matter what food you've got if you can't bring yourself to keep shoving it down every day.

At least these were my thoughts... I don't really have the experience to know how well my food plans will work out. I am setting myself back by sticking to vegetarianism. There will be food at checkpoints, but Alaskans are into meat (with good calorie density reasons) so I will have to assume I can only eat what I bring. Bearing all of this in mind, I started experimenting and creating a spreadsheet...

Powdered Milk4.9
M & Ms4.8
Torq recovery3.5
Dried Apricots1.7
Chocolate coffee beans5
Powdered Butter6.92
Pumpkin seeds5.9
Pine Kernels7

With this information I could plan my meals and get to 8000 calories in 1.6 kg. Hopefully I'll be able to eat all this, here's the menu...

  • Breakfast: Muesli with dried milk
  • Daytime: Cashew nuts with M & Ms, Almonds with dried apricots (chopped up for when they freeze), Torq recovery drink (that stuff isn't super energy dense, but it really helps me recover while training), chocolate coffee beans (yeah, I'm having caffeine on this one)
  • Dinner: Couscous with lots of dehydrated butter, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts

And there it all is in bags. Using freezer bags means I can cook and eat the couscous straight from the bag. It also means relatively minimal waste packaging on the trail. Making up all the bags certainly did show how much waste there is in food packaging though. My recycling bag was jammed full of cardboard, and the main big was overflowing with plastic by the end.


Eric said...

not much variety on the snacks... you're probably going to get sick of eating trail mix fast!

Pete B said...

I was going to say the same thing.
If it's not too late, consider mixing some other junk food items in there.

Aidan said...

I know where you guys are coming from, but it's too late! The drop bags are in the mail.

I hope it'll be ok, because it is stuff that I've tested and like. I don't generally mind eating lots of the same food but I have been in the situation (walking on the PCT) where I struggled to eat enough. I just didn't like the trail mix and it wasn't a good situation. That was mix made up with really cheap dry roasted peanuts and they were nasty. I didn't make that mistake this time. I just found a formula and got lots of it. Hope that doesn't come around and bite me.