Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day Nutrition and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration were key to making Rim to Rim to Rim possible. When I did R2R2R in 2013, I never thought it would be impossible, but did not finish strong. This year, I knew hydration and nutrition would make the difference and was very strategic about it. A few days before I left, I went to the grocery store and went crazy getting the foods that I thought would help me the most. And it was totally. Worth. It. I finished R2R2R this year feeling strong, fast, and like I had done (almost) everything right.
In the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about keeping myself hydrated and maintaining a salt balance. Indeed, I overheard rangers talking to dayhikers at each of the water stations, warning them that there is more to hydration than water. The rangers suggest eating salty snacks along with the water to avoid hyponatremia—a condition where you actually drink too much water when doing an endurance activity. This time, I used salt tabs, which are empty pill cases filled with salt, to make sure that I was getting a lot. Salt tabs are an old ultra marathoners’ trick and I’ve used them on some bigger dayhikes on hot, sunny days. I knew they would serve me well on R2R2R.
For me, the secret of nutrition on R2R2R was making sure I got enough calories. The body can usually absorb up to 300 calories per hour during exercise, but as a hiker, I usually only eat every 2 hours. On R2R2R, I decided to attempt eating ever 1 hour.
The problem is that I have a hard time choking down food, especially if it is hot and I am exerting myself. Last time I hiked, I brought bars and usual hiker fare food.
This time, I knew I needed to drink my calories. I always have thirst, but rarely have an appetite on a dayhike.
Although it’s pricey, I bought a large container of Hammer Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water Powder and mixed them together to create a Super Powder. My friend Leo who I hiked R2R2R with and is also a cyclist said that Perpetuem had been a life saver for him on a 17,000 foot gain endurance race.
On R2R2R, I drank a serving of Perpetuem+ Coconut Water Powder+Water every hour. The Super Powder made up about half my calories on the R2R2R. I never felt like I bonked or had run out of energy. Although Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water have no caffeine (or at least the flavor I got has no caffeine), I didn’t realize it until after I got home and checked the ingredients. The Super Powder gave me a boost that I would have expected from caffeine.
I think the Navitas Coconut Water made a big difference in boosting the Perpetuem to help with electrolyte balance. Leo used just the Perpetuem and afterwards said he wished he had had a little something extra, especially between Cottonwood Camp and Phantom Ranch on the return, a section that is hot and exposed.
Another lifesaver for me on R2R2R was moist instant foods that I would rarely consider bringing on a thru-hike. I loved having the Munk Pack instant oatmeal squeezes. I could down in 30 seconds and it didn’t require any chewing and saliva left in my mouth. The Clif Shots worked the same way—quick calorie boosts that didn’t require chewing. I also wanted some bland, easy to digest “real food”—stuff that backpacker would never usually carry. For me, that meant boiled eggs and new potatoes that I covered in salt. They were so moist and easy to digest. The ProBar Bolts and Natural High freeze dried banana served a similar function. They’re so easy to stuff in my face, down some water, chew, and swallow, that I would be able to roll into a water stop, eat an entire pack of ProBar Bolts or the entire freeze dried bananas, and chug some water in just a few minutes.
It’s funny, but when I’m pushing hard, I go for sentimental foods. The only solid food I ate the whole trip was some Blue Diamond Almonds and Navitas Mulberries. Blue Diamond is based in the town I grew up, Sacramento, and I ate a ton of them as a kid. Before my boyfriend and I were dating, he sent me dried mulberries. I had never ever seen dried mulberries before and they were such a luxury to have a such a superfood. Ever since, mulberries have had a special spot in my heart, and I knew I wanted them on this trip.
I didn’t end up eating the Boom Chicka Puff or the Pop Chips. They just seemed like they required too much chewing but to be quite honest, I couldn’t be bothered to open the bags. One of few things I wish I had done differently is to repackage those chips into a ziplock bag. I was that lazy—saving every bit of energy for pushing hard and fast. I also didn’t eat my Epic Bison Cranberry bar while I was hiking. I had specifically purchased it as a luxury item to help with the big R2R2R hike—perhaps as motivation to get to the next checkpoint. While I was hiking, the idea of eating a meat product just didn’t seem like something my stomach could handle. But as soon as I finished, I downed it in what seemed like one bite. I hoped that it would help me rebuild muscles by eating it within the golden hour.
In total, I drank 14.5 L during my hike. I drank 1.5 L before I started and 1.5 L when I finished. Most of the liquid was as the Perpetuem. At each water station, I downed at least 1 L on the spot to “camel up.” Then, I left each water station with 2 L of water.
The nutrition and hydration for the R2R2R is a little different than I would have expected, but I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to the strategy I need to be my best.
Liz "Snorkel" Thomas
Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.