Nothing creates dread in committed athletes like bumps in their straight edged meal plans. The average athlete has usually settled into a comfortable routine of where and when they snag their next meal. So when a big trip peaks over the horizon, panic settles in.

The athlete questions whether their elevated calorie count for each day is feasible on a tight budget. Or maybe they doubt the availability of quick and easy protein at the host location. When traveling you’re no longer privy to the same kinds of food—let alone methods of procurement—so you begin to question the fate of your hard-earned muscles.

Well the verdict is in, and it is indeed possible to eat like an athlete while backpacking. Though maintaining your current level of fitness through diet will take hefty effort, strict discipline, and the proper knowledge of what your body needs to maintain its muscle mass. But quit your worryworting, because the following will help you establish an optimal diet as a traveling athlete and retain your athleticism.

Why Is Diet So Important?

Adequate nutrition marks the first tripwire to get backpacking athletes stumbling. When money is tight, the meal plan is usually the first item to be compromised. But holster up that reflex and consider the following first:

You are an athlete. Through countless days of immense dedication, you’ve managed to slap on muscle mass bit by bit. Your body is literally sculpted to achieve more. In fact, the muscle you’re packing is seen as extra to what your frame would naturally hold.

Because of this, your body will shed off the excess muscle through atrophy if you’re not giving your muscles the fuel needed to sustain themselves. Therefore, an appropriate diet is the first line of defense against a decrease in muscle mass.


Your first concern should be protein. The reason being that a decline in muscle protein synthesis rates—either from disuse or insufficient diet—leads to atrophy (1). Meeting your daily protein requirements is the bare minimum effort needed to stimulate this process.

The amount of protein required to prevent loss of muscle mass is 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight (2). Likewise, careful timing of intake is equally vital as any athlete should know; after exercise is most important for muscle protein synthesis and promoting hypertrophy (3).

So when you’re touring foreign cities, where will you acquire protein rich foods? Street food is a cheap and delicious option in many countries where you can get skewers of meat for half a dollar. In many cases, buying precooked meats from restaurants and vendors can be cheaper than cooking it if you have access to a kitchen.

If you do have a usable stove, then fried eggs are always great. Otherwise, oats or muesli in milk will cover much of your protein needs. Whatever your preferred method, protein isn’t to be skimped on. If you plan on keeping that chiseled physique, consider opening your wallet a tad wider.


When it comes to your daily calorie count, your diet should differ slightly depending on whether you’re on a high or low calorie diet. If you’re able to sustain a high calorie count while traveling(over 2200 calories per day), then make sure the foods you’re consuming are high in B-vitamins (4). If you can’t swing a high calorie diet while on the road(less than 2200 calories per day), then at least ensure your meals are full of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B-12 (4).

For the former category; poultry, seafood, and leafy greens are all high in B-vitamins. For the latter; you have dairy and spinach for calcium. Cereal grains, red meats, and seafood for iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains should sufficiently cover magnesium. Of course, the nutrients on offer overlap between the foods listed above which is great for shoestring grocery lists.

Carbohydrates are also incredibly useful for meeting an optimal caloric intake each day. Studies actually state that 70% of your calories should come from carbs (4). Speaking of which…


The Atkin’s no carb craze has spun the minds of many looking to shed pounds quickly. Yet, carbohydrates act as incredible fuel for athletes. A proper serving enhances the endurance and performance of athletes during a session of training (5).

Additionally, a diet high in carbs—70% of your calories as previously stated—also prevents breakdown of lean muscle mass (6). Without carbohydrates waiting in the wings, your body will resort to using muscles as fuel instead.

Nabbing your carbs in strange new lands is a cinch where bread is a staple. Many bakeries in Europe sell it freshly made for a pretty penny. Additionally, oats are once more a rock-solid and thrifty option. It becomes tricky where rice is the staple since rice must be cooked. Not exactly easy to pull off if you don’t have a stove or rice cooker nearby, but it’s usually sold precooked on the low anyways.


Arming yourself with knowledge is your best bet for maintaining an athletic diet. Setting a proper diet may have come naturally in the comfort of your set routine back home, but the backpacking life tends to shake things up a bit. Yet it’s really not so difficult. With careful surveillance of calorie, protein, and carbohydrate intake, you’ll be able to retain muscle mass and prevent hypertrophy. Don’t let your athletic lifestyle suffer for the sake of travel. After all, there’s no reason you can’t have both.

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