The picture below is from a 2017 backcountry elk hunt. I cringe thinking about how poor my food bags used to be and how much better I could have performed if I had just done a little more work on the front end with my nutrition…
For the most part, even going back to my high school and college days, I have always paid attention to the benefits of proper nutrition, and I ate fairly well and tried certain fad diets or eating habits. However, as far as hunting season went, I ate like an idiot. I gave myself the excuse, "during hunting season, anything goes, and in the off-season, I'll get back into proper shape." It made it “fun” for me to fly off the rails during the fall. Football season, holidays, my birthday, etc.
In my older age, I have realized how fucking stupid that was… I've also realized how purposeless almost all of the food I was eating in the backcountry truly was. I know for a fact I left an immense amount of performance unused just because I wanted to be a dumbass and have “fun” eating instead of eating to perform.
In 2020, I started to eat a strict macro diet while I was training in the off-season, and I realized very quickly the giant leaps in performance that came with eating with a true purpose. It honestly blew me away. Those brick walls I had been hitting in the gym over the years that I could just never seem to break down were absolutely blown up with being properly fueled in the macro food categories. My VO2 max was climbing week after week, my strength was skyrocketing, my resting heart rate was falling, and my overall performance gains were undeniable.
Because of that, I've literally become addicted to eating macros and supplementing my body correctly. Just ask my wife; it drives her batshit crazy that I am constantly calculating what I'm eating and trying to figure out how it's going to benefit me. Over the last three years, I've gotten very comfortable and knowledgeable about my body's macro requirements for what I am trying to accomplish. Whether it's to gain weight, lose weight, gain strength, gain endurance, etc., I know what to manipulate to have my body perform accordingly.
To add some color here - I am 6' 1", usually weighing in at 230-235 lbs and floating between 12 and 15% body fat. Currently, in my day-to-day at-home life, I'm eating about 2,800 calories with a macro breakdown of 50% protein (1.5g per pound of body weight), 30% carbs, and 20% fats. So, to do the math for you, that's - 350g protein, 210g carbs, 62gfat. For me, this level of breakdown on a consistent basis is where I am able to make progress where I want but not gain any weight or lose any weight. Progress is my only goal when I head into the gym. Some days are endurance-based,and some days are strength-based but always centered around getting better.
Having said that, I haven't always eaten just one breakdown of macros. Over the last three and a half years, I have been all over the map—playing with the percentage breakdowns to see what changes my body would make—and that is what ultimately led me to the breakdown of today, where I can maintain body weight but gain performance. Because of that, I know what to change for myself to accomplish the goal needed.
The goal each September is to perform at my highest abilities while chasing elk in the backcountry at high elevations. I've tailored my macro breakdowns to do precisely that and supplement where needed with three rules in mind:
One day's worth of food, packed and ready to go.
This is my macro breakdown heading into the hunt. 3,895 calories with a macro breakdown of roughly 25% protein, 38%carbs, and 40% fats. Or again, with the math, 238 grams protein, 374 grams of carbs, and 177 grams of fat. This is what's in my food bag for a day—and before you ask, “Are you going stoveless??”—yes, yes I am. But not to be cool…let's just say I am prone to having some stomach issues and freeze dried meals have proven to hold me behind some trees for a lot longer than I ever would have liked. So yeah, that's why I'm stoveless.
Clearly, the new goal is to serve my overall endurance capabilities better, but also needing to perform at my highest level whenever the elk presents an opportunity to do so. That could be any time of day, so I am planning for anall-day performance. Let's go macro by macro:
This is the building block of the body. Every cell in the body has protein, and you need to add new protein into the body to help repair the breakdown of cells and to create new ones. I will have a lot of muscle breakdown on this hunt.Heavy pack, constant movement, lots of miles, and it's a damn bull elk to hopefully pack out. Even though of the three macros, this is the hardest one on the body to digest, potentially leading to a stomach issue, I am unwilling to eat anything less than 1g of protein per one pound of body weight. However, this is precisely the reason why I am cutting back on my grams of protein eaten.
Carbohydrates are easily digested and quickly converted into glucose for high-performance energy. Also, unused carbs are stored as glycogen within the muscles, it's their fuel for later use. Running the muscles out of fuel would obviously be a bad thing on a backcountry hunt, so I'm not trying to do that. Where it gets tricky for me, though, is I don't do very well on high carbs. I get very sluggish, bloated, and honestly pretty damn lazy. So it's a fine line with carbohydrates for me, and why I have them capped at 374g and my personal rule there was not to go over 400g.
These are essential for supporting cell function, organ protection, and function, bio-availability in the digestion of other nutrients and helps in the production of the body's hormones. I do very, very well on a high-fat diet for endurance, so this is my macro that rounds out the rest of my calorie count and is essentially my safe fall. I've also noticed having a high level of fat in my system allows me to have a higher level of underlying energy to draw from over very long periods of time, and for that, I absolutely love them at a high total in my endurance-based macros.
Now, having said all of this and laying it out, please know - this is FOR ME.
I know what works for me because I have manipulated my food choices over and over again throughout my life. Believe it or not, I've been vegan (I fucking know right), keto, carnivore, I've carb cycled, and I've let myself get straight-up FAT! I've always been curious about these things, and I've wanted to find out for myself how to do them and what I liked best. In 2020, I found macros, and I LOVE THEM. If I have tried something new in the last three and a half years, I have only found myself to come back to them. So, I'm not telling you to eat these macros in the backcountry…but I am saying you should probably give macros a go and see what your body likes.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
A day of food for me can not be more than two pounds in pack weight (shit, I almost made it...)
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
Get as close to 4,000 calories a day as possible