Nutrition for the Outdoorsy


Kassie Amann

In the world of outdoor recreation, nutrition is something of a loaded word. Vegan, paleo, keto, gluten-free, raw, and intermittent-fasting are just a few of the diets outdoor athletes have been known to claim are the key to next-level performance in the outdoors. You probably know someone — or are someone — who follows a modified diet to maximize nutrition for outdoor sport, and you’ve probably wondered if a specific diet is the key to achieving the exercise goal you’ve set for yourself. What is the ideal diet for someone who loves outdoor sports and wants to maximize their potential?

Food is, at its most basic, is our supply of energy and materials for maintaining our bodies. Ideally, your diet is made up of the three main macronutrients you need to function—carbohydrates, protein, and fats. The United States Dietary Guidelines say that 45-65% of your total caloric intake should be carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fat. Within these categories, the type of carbohydrate, protein, or fat matters. Low glycemic index carbohydrates, lean protein, and unsaturated fats are preferable to their less healthy high glycemic index, fatty protein, and saturated fat counterparts.

Many diets alter the proportions of carbohydrates to protein to fat and sometimes eliminate one category entirely. Your body, however, needs a mix of all three macronutrients to function properly. Carbohydrates, protein, and fats all serve as the fuel for different body functions, each working as a piece of the machinery of your metabolism. Whichever diet you follow should include a focus on healthy sources of each of these macronutrients for optimal functioning.

In addition to macronutrients, there are plenty of micronutrients that your body needs at specific levels for ideal function. While the body can store some of these micronutrients for the short term, continued lack of absorption of some of these nutrients or an overdose can cause serious medical issues. For example, levels of sodium can cause hypertension if they are too high or seizures if they are too low. Potassium, folate, iron, B12, and vitamin D are additional micronutrients obtained from dietary sources that will also cause systemic issues if too low or too high. The micronutrient content of your diet helps maintain proper body function for athletic performance.

Tracking your food intake is a good way to get to know what your diet currently contains in terms of macro and micronutrients. There are numerous tracking apps that can help you monitor the amounts of macro and micronutrients you’re taking in, so you can see if you’re consuming the right amount, consuming too little, or consuming too much of any one nutrient. The USDA has a calculator tool to recommended macro and micronutrients based on your height, weight, age, and activity level, which can serve as a metric to compare with your tracked diet. Tracking macro and micronutrients doesn’t have to be an intense and all-consuming mealtime activity — doing it for a few days will give you a sense of where your nutritional deficiencies lie and what dietary changes you might want to make.

Specific diet trends and the way they are marketed in the outdoor recreation community can create the damaging perception that there is a singular best way to feed your body to be involved in outdoor sports, but there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Your diet might be different depending on your religious or environmental preferences, culture, allergies, economic status, and many more factors. Adapting your diet to what makes you feel the best and allows you to perform the best in the outdoors is a personal journey that involves responding to your body, just as you do when you’re participating in any outdoor activity. Keeping in mind macro and micronutrients that your body physically needs to function properly is a good foundation for this journey that will ensure that whatever diet you adopt keeps you healthy and strong.