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Why Backpackers Need to Eat Protein

Protein helps hikers regulate their metabolism, repair tired muscle, and boost their immune system.

Chris Melby has a beef with backpackers who neglect protein. As a professor of nutrition science at Colorado State University, he knows its importance in regulating metabolism, repairing tired muscles, and boosting the immune system. “Protein can come from a variety of sources,” he says. “You don’t need to grill a steak on the trail.” To keep your engine running on all cylinders, keep these 4 principles in mind.

Prime the pump The amino acids in proteins create the enzymes that regulate metabolism. Without them, your body can’t produce energy. You need plenty of protein (12 to 20 percent of daily calories) so your body doesn’t start to break down muscle tissue.

Shop the deli Animal products contain complete proteins–that is, entire sets of the nine essential amino acids your body needs. Pack foods like beef jerky, hard salami, powdered milk, and Romano and cheddar cheeses, all of which provide more essential amino acids by themselves than plant sources such as peanuts and soy.

Combine and conquer Not a fan of meat or dairy? Use combinations of plant proteins to diversify your amino acid intake. Add almonds, peanuts, and walnuts to trail mix. Cook a one-pot dinner with beans, rice, and corn. Spread peanut butter on a wheat tortilla. The general rule: mix legumes (peas or dried beans) with nuts or grains.

Fortify Hiking at altitude diminishes appetite even as your protein needs increase. Try frequent, small portions of chicken and beef soup. You can raise your amino acid intake by adding 2 ounces of whey-based protein powder to your water or electrolyte drink.

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