Route and Macros Beta
Route: 42 miles | Superstition Mountains, Arizona
Data: I’ve been keto for 12 weeks, 165 lbs, 24.5% body fat via DEXA scan (12 weeks ago), 5’10”, 43.
Normal Macros (not backpacking): 101 g fat, 102 g protein, <25 carb.
Backpacking Macros for this Trip: 253 g fat, 131 g protein and 37 g (30 net) carbs
Water Source: Puddles wherever I could find them
Base Pack Weight: All gear not including consumables (food, fuel, water) (includes thru hiking addons and winter gear) – 11.4 lbs. Gear List
Total Pack Weight: 22.65 lbs with 4 liters of water
Let’s go backpacking, but only bring cream cheese as our food source! Said almost nobody ever, except me on my second keto backpacking trip. As I approach my third month of keto, I’m through what some would consider the initial fat adaption phase, but there is still adaptation that will occur related to training and conditioning. Training fasted is great for this process with aerobic activity, but fasting on this type of trip isn’t an option at this stage for me, so substituting wholesome and yummy foods with a single fat delivery system in the form of cream cheese is what I came up with. Facepalm.Keto Backpacking Beginner's Guide
Backpacking with Only Cream Cheese?
Let’s start with the basics, this is an experiment, no less, no more. On social media there has been a small but steady stream of naysayers exclaiming that “this is not healthy”, “we should focus on health, not trendy fads”, “that’s too much fat”, etc. So to clear things up, this isn’t supposed to be healthy or nutritional. I’m under no delusion that utilizing a single food source like cream cheese for endurance sports is “healthy”, nutrition is NOT the point and if you’re focused on it, you’re missing the point.
Back to Basics
If you have embraced a keto diet and believe there is too much fat in these macros as some have mentioned on social media, we need to revisit some keto fundamentals: carbs are limited to < 50 grams as a general rule of thumb in endurance sports (<25 grams in daily life), this number can change based on level of conditioning, level of fat adaptation and other factors. Protein is a set number we want to maintain to prevent loss of lean muscle mass but don’t want to be in excess of to prevent gluconeogenesis or the generation of glycogen, which can take us out of ketosis. Finally, we have fat, our lever. Less fat will result in weight loss, more fat will result in muscle if you’re weight training or more energy / fuel on a trip like this one. In this case, I’m actually deficient on fat / calories at 3000 calories as I’m likely burning more than that on a daily basis.
What IS Healthy Anyways?
To me “health” isn’t limited to nutritional data, it encompasses more than that as I’m sure it does for others. Other components of “health” come in the form of pushing my body and boundaries, challenging myself, adapting to a single food source, fat adaptation training (think Adrian Ballinger style), limiting calories, increasing self confidence, knowledge of self, etc. Curiosity and a challenge were driving factors not “health”. Protect ya neck!
These types of benefits FAR outway any detrimental health effects of low nutritional value and lack of fiber that ~might occur from eating 3 lbs of cream cheese on a trip like this. Cream cheese is a fat delivery system for me, no more, no less. And let’s be honest, if you’re hiking from sun up to sun down, your food source isn’t incredibly important over the course of a few days. Thru hikers are a great example of quantity > quality day in and day month after month and they do fine. Despite the legendary complete lack of nutrition in their diets, they crank out huge miles day after day after day on a steady diet of complete shite. I’ve done it myself, it works, you don’t die. There are bonks. Ever roll into Hiker Town on the PCT, slam a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew (276 grams of sugar), a Snickers or two, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, a burger, tacos, fries, a Snickers Ice Cream bar and two or three beers? I have. Didn’t die and can still probably hike slightly faster than your grandparents.
Heat and Nausea
A huge factor I didn’t account for was heat. We had a heat wave roll in and temps were in the 80s. I’ve hiked in triple digits on the PCT, but this was heat was intense. I sunburned quick and had to be aggressive with hydration and electrolytes. I was fine for the first 2.5 hours each day but the combination of heat, a limited food source and my tendency to overexert led to low levels of nausea. So I slowed down and took breaks. But then there was climbing up talus and slippery canyons. And more climbing. The route was way more punishing than I had anticipated and would have opted for something else for this experiment had I known.
I was far below my expected daily mileage each day. The last day included a lot of off trail bushwhacking and slow, hard earned miles. The route was pretty savage given my level of conditioning or lack thereof. This is only my 3rd trip in 15 months as I’ve been doing physical therapy for injuries post PCT for lower cross syndrome / exterior pelvic tilt, ankle mobility and plantar fasciitis. There were two bowel movements on day two, first was solid, second was 50/50, which was surprising, horrible diarrhea was not outside the realm of possibility for me, I had no clue how my body would react.
Lots of Heat, Not Much Water
There was also very little water and little to no recent water report data. Aside from one trickle of a stream in the last 5 mile section, there were only puddles for the entire route and the lack of recent water reports meant I was going fairly blind most of the time. I had a few close calls where I wasn’t sure if I would have to close out the route on minimal water, but it all worked out.
Mid day was the toughest with the heat and nausea would come and go, usually at a 2 to 4 on a scale of 10. An hour or two before sunset, things would slowly start to cool off and I would get a second wind. The first night I felt so good I trucked till 9 PM…. I usually hate night hiking, but was on a legitimate high and having a blast cranking out miles and listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast. Good times!
Total Cream Cheese Clusterfuckery
So this was a tough route, much hard than I had anticipated! Overall I almost felt like I was fasting the entire time, despite taking in significant calories. I was out for about two and a half days and my appetite was definitely starting to wean on the last day. Had I gone a fourth and a fifth day, the wheels would likely have fallen off. The day after I returned was definitely a recovery day for the first half of the day and was pretty tired, then I rallied for the second half and felt amazing. My appetite would wean but would always come back, so that is good.
As I talked about in one of the videos, I pulled the ripcord and pulled out my Plan B as well since I wasn’t doing the miles I needed to ….. I brought a Cliff Bar and split it into a few pieces and ate it over the course of the last two days. Small carb supplementation is part of what is called a Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) which is consuming small quantities of carbohydrates at specific time windows around exercise. Some people don’t need TKD, some really see increased performance from supplementation, say before Jiu-Jitsu, I was definitely in need.
Since my goal is to continue conditioning and improving my fat adaption, so maybe a peanut butter and bacon trip is in the future? More importantly, I just want to keep training and getting stronger, which will definitely be happening as I head to Washington for the summer for a special project I will possibly be announcing in the coming months.
A huge takeaway for me is that I could never have done this on carbs. Not in a million years. It would have been an epic shit show on my carb based diet. I was definitely riding the cutting edge of having fun while trying to avoid nausea for a good part of the trip, but didn’t bonk and my recovery when I did slow down was so much quicker my previous life with carbs. I am also continuously amazed every morning at the complete lack of soreness / inflammation; although I’m a bit stiff post trip. There are a lot of factors involved in my new love for backpacking, but keto has played a huge role in making it more fun.
I noticed on my first keto backpacking trip that I slept MUCH warmer, even overheating a few times despite near freezing temps. This trip was no exception and is helping confirm that I simply “run warmer” on a keto diet. I even left my puffy jacket at home and opted for my Patagonia R1 Layer with a long sleeve shirt. I also experienced the best sleep ever on a trip on my previous keto trip, but unfortunately that trend did not continue as I woke up at around 2 am for no reason each night on this trip. I’ll have to see how future trips work out on the sleep front.
I’m still becoming fat adapted, still learning and definitely having fun. If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to help.
Bonus: Pre-Trip Notes
I just found these pre-trip notes I made and was going to post on social media pre trip …. love the “Besides nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite” section …. haha.
I’m considering doing a 40 mile / two day trip and only bringing cream cheese this weekend. If I don’t die and it isn’t an absolutely horrendous experience, I would like to repeat the trip with only peanut butter. And then a third time with just cheese. I would do is somewhere safe where I have pull outs in case I get too sick. Besides nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, throwing up, bonking, and feeling like total shit … anything else I need to consider? Does anyone else know of any other similar trips? Would love to find similar trips to read about.