You could sit around wishing you were one of those kinetic people with endless stamina on the trail--or you could eat your way to better endurance. Start by choosing energy-boosting foods and consuming them in power-maximizing combinations. "A combination of high carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low fats at each meal produces a higher energy level by stabilizing your blood sugar," says Bob Seebohar, a sports nutritionist with the University of Florida who counsels endurance athletes. Seebohar recommends the following backpacker-friendly superfoods, and the recipes at right.
The natural sugars in dried fruits work as fast-acting carbs--perfect for a boost at the bottom of a big hill. All varieties are jammed with nutrients, but plums are a standout with lots of fiber and antioxidants--compounds that boost the immune system, which can be compromised by endurance activities like 12-mile hikes.
Combine carb-rich fruits with protein and fat for balance. Try sunflower seeds and chocolate-covered soy nuts.
Dense calories, protein, and a dose of healthy fat make nuts of all varieties nutritional powerhouses, with walnuts and almonds leading the pack. Walnuts are packed with antioxidants and heart-helping omega-3s, while almonds contain a significant amount of calcium and nearly as much potassium per 2-ounce serving as a medium banana.
Combine with carbs like raisins, pretzels, or pasta.
This staple of the endurance athlete is still a smart choice, but noodles made with whole grains or ground legumes pack a nutritional punch that puts their white-flour brethren to shame. Our heartiest and tastiest find is Barilla Plus; a quarter-pound serving of this penne, rotini, spaghetti, or elbow macaroni provides a whopping 20 grams of protein.
Combine with fat and protein from foods like nuts or hard sausage.
Pack jerky--beef, turkey, salmon--because it's lightweight, edible on day 5, and loaded with protein (11 to 18 grams per serving for most brands). Its high sodium content also helps replenish salt lost through sweating. Salt is an important electrolyte that regulates your body's fluids and keeps you from feeling sluggish.
Combine with fattier, high-carb foods such as cheese and crackers, tortillas, and grits.
Oats provide those slow-burning carbohydrates that make you feel full longer, stabilize blood sugar, and are known to reduce bad-cholesterol levels. Bypass those sugar-laden instant packets; instead, opt for unadorned rolled oats or steel-cut oats. McCann's new Quick & Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal cooks in 5 minutes instead of the usual 30.
Combine with your favorite varieties of nuts for protein and fat.