Adventure Racing Food Plan

This column is part of a series of gear reviews based on tests in the 2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race, a weeklong competitive event in southern Chile. The race stretched 300+ miles and included trekking, kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, and wilderness navigation. Team took second place.


“What do you eat out there?” That’s a common question I get from readers about my diet while participating in events like the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race, which lasted a week and required three food drops over a 300+ mile course. The broad view is that most racers in long endurance events take in 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day. You don’t eat meals, you snack all day long. My personal goal is to eat between 200 and 300 calories per hour — hour after hour as I race.

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We brought ‘em by the dozens: GU energy gels and GU Chomps

To get all the food into your body, you need to like what you eat. Variety helps there. You also need to know how many calories and what kind of nutritional package you’re getting with each type of food.

For the Wenger Patagonian race, I organized about 90 percent of my food at home. I packaged up 10 bags, each representing one day on the race, with a load of food. In each day-size bag there were energy gels, bars, nuts, candy, dry fruit, and other goodies.

My team used traditional “energy food” as well as grocery store items. Sure, GU and Clif SHOT gels are great, quick energy. But in a long race you can only eat so much soy, cane sugar or maltodextrin-based goo.

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A trick: Just add water — hot or cold! — to “cook” Mountain House’s Pro-Paks

At the long, slow pace of an endurance race, sweet tastes quickly become old. The body craves salt and “real” foods like meat sticks and cheese. Salted nuts work, too.

Dehydrated or freeze-dried food from companies like Mountain House and AlpineAire are wonderful. These food packets come in tons of flavors and types, with soups, pastas, stews, and breakfast items included. Most recommend hot water to be poured in to soften and reconstitute the dehydrated bits inside the bag.

In Patagonia, we did not bring a stove. Instead, we used cold water to “cook” our freeze-dried food. It takes a bit longer to soften up, but we found that after about a half-hour of soaking the dinners were softened and ready to eat.

My favorite product in this realm was the Mountain House Pro-Pak meals, which are vacuum-packed bags with enough food for one “meal” for one person inside. I toted along two or three bags for most days. They weigh just a few ounces and cost about $6 a pop. With flavors like Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, and Chili Mac you cannot go wrong.

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Jolt of caffeine in the field: Java Juice coffee extract packet

The Pro-Pak meals have several hundred calories apiece. On the race, I would add water, reseal the bag, and then let it sit in a backpack pocket for 30 or 40 minutes. When ready, I’d eat it caveman style with my hand or squeeze it out of the bag like a giant, salty energy gel right into my mouth. Manners go out the window entirely in a race like this!

Other non-traditional items in my food stash included pudding cups, chorizo meat sticks and hard cheese (both purchased at a Chilean grocery store), croutons, rice crackers, pumpkin seeds, syrupy fruit cups, Ensure energy shakes, and Java Juice coffee extract packets for making a brew on the go.

More standard, I brought along a stock of energy food from GU and Hammer Nutrition. GU energy gel has been a longtime staple for fueling my body. The easy-to-eat packets are 100 calories apiece, and their formulation provides quick, noticeable energy when your body is low on power.

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Kind of like gummy bears: GU’s chewy Chomps energy food

More palatable even, GU’s Chomps are gummy energy chews. They have about 100 calories per pack. Even after days of racing, I still liked to eat these fruity, candy-like treats.

Hammer Nutrition has some excellent energy food. The company’s gels are palatable and easy to eat, but nothing out of the ordinary. Hammer Bars, in contrast, are awesome and unique. They cost $2.50 apiece and come in Cashew Coconut Chocolate Chip, Almond Raisin and Chocolate Chip flavors.

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Hammer Nutrition’s Bar and Perpetuem drink mix

Hammer bars are soft and easy to eat, and they are not overly sweet. They taste nutty and have ingredients like agave nectar and quinoa — a great alternative and a nice change of pace for the energy bar category.

One more Hammer callout. . . the company’s Perpetuem drink mix is a “meal you can drink” kind of thing. These powder packet stir into water to make a creamy brew that has about 270 calories. Great quick energy out there, and good tasting to boot.

Last, I need to give a nod to Honey Stinger. This small energy-food company has some crazy good products. The company’s bars and gels, which come in many flavors, are all good and all very sweet. They are made with honey, as would be expected, and the bee juice provides a quick shock of sugar to the bloodstream when you’re running on low.

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Yum! Honey Stinger Waffles

The king of Honey Stinger’s line is its Stinger Waffles. These unique delectables are modeled after stroopwafels, which are traditional baked pastry treats widely for sale in Europe. Stinger’s take on the stroopwafel is a thin disc with two hatch-marked halves and a honey concoction in between. Yum.

Energy food has come a long way in recent years. Eating well in the outdoors — be it an endurance race or backpacking in a state park — is no longer a tough deed. I was satisfied in Patagonia and energized for days. On a long race, eating becomes a chore. But with some creativity and savvy shopping, you can make a perfect expedition menu.

—Stephen Regenold is founder of Gear Junkie. Read more on Team GJ’s experience in the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race at A version of this post ran originally on Gear Junkie’s blog on

Commenting on post : Adventure Racing Food Plan
Posted by Josh - 03/08/2011 11:58 AM

Great article! I did a 3 day race out of Moab a few years ago, and struggled with food. Our team leader had us pack 24 hr (2.4k kcals) on our chest and eat out them the whole time.

But I soon found out that a lot of the things that I packed (i.e., fig newtons) were somohow just not that edible while I was moving. I ended up relying on my energy gels, because I could get those down easily. At our transition points we had our support crew get us fast food hamburgers…

I do the “paleo-diet” and avoid wheat and processed sugar now. I am experimenting with a chia seed mix in my gel flask and another made from mix of honey and blackstrap molasses.

Posted by GJ - 03/08/2011 01:05 PM

RE “chia seed mix” and “mix of honey and blackstrap molasses” . . . post the recipes if they work! Would love to test it out.

Posted by Kay Waki - 03/08/2011 06:57 PM

Stephen, this is Kay from EAST WIND. Great article. Honey Stinger products sound awesome. I need to check them out when I am in US next as we don’t have that in Japan. Next time we meet at a race, I should get you to taste our sponsor Onisi brand’s freeze-dry rice products, they have 12 different flavors and they taste great.

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 03/08/2011 08:46 PM

“Onisi brand’s freeze-dry rice products” . . . awesome, I want to try!

Posted by Leigh - 03/08/2011 08:51 PM

Yum, I love Honey Stinger waffles! I also recommend Expedition Foods freeze dried meals. They taste a lot better than you think and have 800 calories per meal, which is great for multi-day events.

Posted by jpea - 03/08/2011 10:32 PM

I 2nd Honey Stinger’s – they’re awesome!

Posted by A. KARNO - 03/09/2011 10:23 AM

Great article. Love the waffles!
Thank you for mentioning Java Juice. Would love more personal feedback on caffeine reaction, etc. Hope no one added boiling water… that scorches it!
all the best,

A and Richard

Posted by PaddlingOtaku - 03/09/2011 08:53 PM

You mention two of my favorites. The Mountain House Beef stroganoff is sensational for freeze dried. And the Honey Stinger waffle will be a staple item on an inside passage paddling trip this summer. I don’t even like honey and it’s good!


Posted by Masha Glanville - 03/11/2011 11:41 AM

Nice ideas, Stephen! I also like to put a package of Ramen with some kind of flavoring powder from a stuffing mix, or dehydrated mashed potatoes or something like that into a sturdy ziplock. Then I add water and place in my pocket or the pocket of my backpack. In 15- 20 minutes – depending on the outside temps the Ramen is ready to eat and I just make a small hole in one of the corners of ziplock and squeeze out the mixture. It is salty and delicious :) I carried about 4 per trek in Patagonia.

Posted by Dave Adlard - 03/11/2011 03:02 PM

During Desert Winds, Gu Chomps were definately the chomp of choice, so to speak, along with the Gu Jet Blackberry caffienated gels. Other things that held their taste, even in the heat were Aussie style licorice, the fruit style power bars (berry blast, etc), and dried mangos. Also, teriyaki flavored turkey jerky, surprisingly. We also used and loved Masha’s ramen-in-a-bag.

The key is just finding something-anything-you can eat/stomach that gives you calories and doesn’t weigh a ton. Thanks for the great article!

Posted by Ian Hoag - 03/12/2011 11:14 AM

Good article. On day three of Primal Quest (my first expedition race) I turned to my rookie buddy and asked if his tongue hurt like mine. “Yeah.” Then we aasked the third rookie on the team. “Yeah.” Then we all asked the veteran on the team. Apparently, it was due to eating too much sugary carbs. Luckily I also had lots of trail-mix which became the staple of my diet for the rest of the race. You really do need a balanced diet that includes fats and salts.

Posted by Todd Copley - 03/13/2011 07:13 AM

i’m pretty much a Hammer nutrition products guy. The thing I like is they don’t use ANY processed sugars which is detrimental to my performance.

Posted by UpNorthica - 03/13/2011 09:35 PM

Thank you for not posting video of caveman-style eating.

Posted by Shane - 11/12/2012 06:15 PM

One thing you might consider adding to your list is Recovery e21 It’s an electrolyte replacement tablet, lightweight, and balanced with a variety of minerals. While this is not technically “food”, it can and will help during those times when you really need electrolytes to get back in balance or quiet a cramp.

Posted by Karen - 04/12/2013 01:39 AM

Would you have the recipe for the Chia seed mix?

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