Some people lose weight while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Some people stay the same weight. Some people even gain weight.
I lost 18 pounds (8.2 kg) and 2 inches (5 cm) on my waist during just the first month hiking the Appalachian Trail. Actually, the weight loss was probably more like be 25 pounds because I know that I gained some muscle. My calves are huge now. But the rest of me looks emaciated. I have severe body dysmorphia. I’ve never experienced that before, and it is freaky. When I look at my naked body in the mirror, it’s not the body that I expect to see. Not the body that’s been looking back at me for the past 30 years. I’m not even sure when I last weighed this little. Maybe when I ran long distance track in high school? Not even sure I weighed so little even then. Maybe middle school? I have the body of 12-year-old me now, but with lots more hair.
Despite supplementing my diet, I might have lost another 5 pounds after that first month, but the later scales that I used were highly suspect. Also, since that first month, I lost another inch on my waist. I’m down to a 30 inch waist now.
Why did I lose weight so quickly?
If you read my previous post, you know that I got COVID. That actually didn’t affect me much, and the weight loss was months before. The reason I lost weight was a severe calorie deficit.
Normally, people need 2,000–3,000 calories per day. Hiking with a heavy backpack burns 500–700 calories per hour. Thus, thru-hikers who are hiking an average of 15 miles per day need 5,000–6,000 calories per day. I’m trying to do 30 miles per day and hiking all day and into the night, which means I likely need about 10,000 calories. I can’t consume 10,000 calories per day. Just not physically possible for me, nor can I carry that much food.
Furthermore, I recently learned that high-mileage thru-hikers are supposed to be consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. Even at my emaciated 165 pounds, that’s 165 grams of protein per day. For reference, a pound of lean ground beef has only 117 grams of protein and only 1,137 calories. Think about that for a moment. Even consuming a pound of lean beef per day isn’t enough protein and not even close to the amount calories that I need.
I need 165 grams of protein and at least 6,000 calories per day.
One pound of lean ground beef = 117 grams of protein and 1,137 calories.
Obviously, I’m not carrying pounds of ground beef with me on the trail. Here is what I’ve finally worked out just to maintain my current emaciated weight on the trail.
For breakfast, I usually have a freeze-dried meal for two people. These are meals intended for supper, like lasagna or chicken fettuccine alfredo. Even so, the combined two-person portions only have 20–50 g of protein and 600–1,000 calories total. Thus, I also throw in two packets of tuna or salmon or chicken for an additional 30 g of protein and 180 calories. Still not enough calories, so I have recently started adding two tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter) to each meal, which adds some buttery flavor as well for another 250 calories of pure butter fat.
During the day, I eat lots of nuts, cheese, peanut butter M&Ms, and Snickers (which are way better than dry, unpalatable protein bars). These trail snacks probably get me about 1,000–1,500 calories throughout the day.
When I stop for lunch, I usually either have peanut butter on carrots or apples or have two tuna packets on flour tortillas spread thinly so I eat more high-calorie tortillas. Occasionally I might spend five minutes to cook instant potatoes and add two packets of tuna. Whichever I choose, lunch adds maybe 500 calories.
I do the same thing for supper as lunch. I hike slow, so I usually hike well into the night. By the time I get to camp, I’d rather eat a quick meal than cook and wait for some freeze-dried meal to rehydrate. That’s why I cook those meals in the morning—they can rehydrate while I break camp.
Interspersed in my meals is a special treat, like a big bag of jalapeno kettle chips, Milano mint cookies, or a bag of fresh veggies like sugar snap peas or mini sweet peppers.
If you’re counting, I’m still short on calories and severely short if I’m hiking longer hours. Thus, I also consume several protein powder shakes throughout the day and with every meal. These add about 200 calories each. I try to get a protein and greens combo powder to get more vitamins and minerals, but those are hard to find in the grocery stores of smaller towns. Fortunately, even small grocery stores usually have SlimFast powder. Not as much protein or nutrients, but much smoother texture. How ironic that I am using SlimFast to try to gain weight. I don’t think they’re going to sponsor me anytime soon. “I gained 10 pounds with SlimFast!” goes against their whole marketing strategy. (For the record, I have not gained any weight with SlimFast, but I think that I have finally stopped losing weight.)
Doing all that gets me enough calories to hike 15–20 miles per day. Still far short of the 30+ miles that I need to be hiking. So there’s one last thing that I do periodically to bump up my caloric intake.
There’s this phenomenon with thru-hikers called hiker hunger. Basically, it’s when a calorie-deprived thru-hiker can consume virtually unlimited quantities of food. A small group of thru-hikers could easily bankrupt a buffet.
In the past, I used to split a meal with someone and still be full. Now I’ll have appetizers, a meal, and dessert. I’ll eat a entire large 16″ pizza plus breadsticks and a 2-liter soft drink in one sitting. Make that burger a triple patty! Do I want to super size? Hell, yeah! And can I substitute an ice cream shake for the drink? No, on second thought, give me the drink plus the shake. Oh, and I’ll take a second burger to go.
To be clear, even with hiker hunger, I get sick consuming all this food at once. Those last slices of pizza are going down slow. But I keep eating even though I’m full and feeling miserable because I know that I need the calories. I’m already hiking with a 20 pound deficit. My body doesn’t have fat reserves any more.
My Ass Is Missing
Speaking of which, the fat reserves that created my beautifully round booty are gone, as is my amazing ass. I joked about it last post, but I want to take this opportunity to apologize. I am so sorry to all my current and future lovers. No longer do I have an amazing ass that you can squeeze while we make out. No longer do I have those round curves for you to caress while I bend over to load the dishwasher. (And really, what’s sexier than a man with an amazing ass who also knows how to properly load a dishwasher?) And to everyone who never got to hold my booty directly in their hands but instead just admired my ass from afar, I am sorry to deprive you of that delicious eye candy.
However, once this adventure is over, I will endeavor to recreate my ass in all its former glory for the pleasure of all its many admirers. In the meantime, you’ll all just have to love me for my great sense of humor and charming personality, and the memory of how my ass used to be…
I’m hoping to attempt the CYTC next year and am really enjoying following your hike! This post was maybe your most fun to read, but it did make me wonder whether you might benefit from improving your uphill hiking form (based on increasing calves and decreasing glutes).
If you aren’t already doing so, try planting your feet flat when hiking uphill, instead of rolling off the ball of your foot like you would when walking flat terrain. On steeper slopes, you might also need to angle your toes outward (like a duck) to avoid overstretching your achilles.
With this foot position, you should be using your thighs and glutes to lift your body and pack, instead of pushing yourself up with your calves.
This is how I hike and my glutes get bigger rather than smaller the more I hike — maybe you can get those buns back by the time you hit Katahdin. 🙂