Electrolytes for outdoor winter activities?


Hey there - I’ve been on keto since August, and the weight loss is going great. I haven’t done much exercising until recently - winter is my season. I’m a hiker and climber, but have noticed myself bonk pretty hard when I’m out. I believe it’s an electrolyte issue, and have started adding packets to my water regularly.

However, those aren’t terribly practical when I’m winter hiking or ice climbing. I simply don’t have enough water with me to get all the packets I’d need. What would you all recommend as ways I can get electrolytes from food which would be easy for me to carry? Anything quick and simple? Especially during a cold environment. Thanks!

(UsedToBeT2D) #2

Salt in a ziplock bag.

(Edith) #3

Being outside in the cold for many hours burns a lot of calories. It could be electrolytes and/or it could be that you do need food energy during your activity.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #4

What you describe is typical. Keto since August and still experiencing lower overall energy during sustained exertion. The reason is that you’re not yet efficiently fat adapted. As soon as your leg muscles run out of glycogen instead of seamlessly switching to fat they crap out. This is a temporary phase many folks, especially athletes, go through. Jeff Volek has specialized in studying this phenomenon as it effects elite athletes - see this for example.

When you’re cold and running out of gas you need more fuel. A lot of folks will tell you to eat more carbs because they will digest quickly and get glucose to your muscles quickly. This is a self-defeating strategy, however, since in addition to getting additional glucose energy to your leg muscles it prevents your leg muscles adapting to utilize fatty acids and ketones for fuel.

I suggest in prep for your hike/climb eat fat. While you’re hiking/climbing eat fat - don’t wait until your legs crap out. If your legs crap out it’s too late. Zero (or nearly zero) carb good sources of fat you can carry easily are: crème fraîche, double/clotted cream and/or whipping cream. These can be packed into individual squeeze tubes. An even better and faster accessible fat is MCT oil. Be careful with MCT, however, since it can also act as a laxative when ingested too much too fast. You can also get lots of fat from some nuts, like macadamias. Keep in mind, however, that nuts - especialy macs - contains carbs so you must account for those when planning your daily meals.

Hope this helps.

(Bob M) #5

Ideal fats for me to gain weight. Add butter, and that’s all I need to pack on weight.

(Joey) #6

As @amwassil notes, Volek (and Phinney) delve into real science on this very topic. Sounds quite relevant to you. Read all about it here:

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff S. Volek & Stephen D. Phinney :+1:

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #7

The OP is winter hiking and ice climbing. He needs high energy food both to stay warm and provide fuel. I winter hiked many years - not so much on ice, though - so I have some experience to draw on. He could do it with carbs, but that would just keep delaying fat adaptation for him.


I never gain fat from the food that I use up for activity (or anything else) but I imagine all of us are like this… :wink:
If I am sedentary and eat the mentioned stuff beyond my normal, somewhat fatty protein sources in bigger quantities, it’s not good for me either (but I hardly gain, I just don’t lose fat) but if I have an active day in winter, I need more fat even if I want to lose from my excess…
(Once I hiked in spring but there was snow and I forgot to bring enough food… My meal afterwards was serious and of course fat must be raised, I can’t just eat 2-300g more protein, my normal amount is high already. The mentioned items are easy and quick to eat too. Of course different people would choose different items, I don’t even know what would be best for me as I never had this situation… But I would hardly overeat on such a day, I never did that, not even with some more carbs.)

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #10

If you prefer more solid options, consider:

  • Cheese curds - many brands and cheeses - just look for zero carb with the highest fat and lowest protein numbers. And least additives. They will all generally be about 400 cals per 100 grams. Easily repacked into individual baggies to measured amounts.
  • Pepperoni sticks - lots to choose from - again look for highest fat and lowest protein numbers. You may even find some that are zero carb, but if not don’t buy any with more than 1 gram per stick (generally 40-50 grams total weight per stick). Check the ingredients since there might be stuff in them you don’t want to eat. I find both McSweeney’s and Grimms acceptable - Grimms contains more moisture and is easier to chew. McSweeney’s are very hard and dry. Of these two, McSweeney’s contains much more fat than Grimms and has 650 cals per 100 grams (2.5 sticks). Grimms has 350 cals per 100 grams (2 sticks).
  • Soft Zero/Near zero carb cheeses, like Boursin Bouquet of Basil (zero carbs) and Creamy Havarti (some brands are zero carb some have 1 carb per 100 grams). Boursin is very soft, so I’d freeze it beforehand, then eat like an ice cream sandwich while hiking. Creamy Havarty is semi-hard so can be eaten straight from it’s wrapper. Both of these are high fat and low protein. Boursin Bouquet of Basil has 600 cals per each 150 gram block. Creamy Harvarti has slightly more fat for a total of 410 cals per 100 grams.
  • Cream cheese. Note: all varieties of cream cheese contain significant carbs so choose carefully. But most are also high fat and low protein. Like Boursin, I’d freeze beforehand and eat like an ice cream sandwich. Cream cheese in 250 gram bricks is likely the most convenient. They can be cut in half if that makes packing/carrying easier. Cream cheese contains 350 cals per 100 grams. For example, a 250 gram block of Walmart’s Great Value Regular Cream Cheese totals: 875.5 cals, 8.25 gr carbs, 82.5 gr fat and 25 gr protein. In comparison, a 250 gram block of Philly contains 667 cals, 17 gr carbs, 58 gr fat and 17 gr protein. In my estimation, Philly is a loser.

Note, all of the above contain significant amounts of sodium so might also help maintain your electrolyte levels, if that’s really an issue.


Thank you all, this is all very helpful. @amwassil you’ve given some great advice, and I’ll definitely check out the link you posted! The recommendations for food you gave are great, too.

I can be more specific about what’s happening - I’ve noticed myself getting very lightheaded/dizzy and suddenly very fatigued, even just doing menial tasks at home. This, to more extremes, when I’ve been outdoors. Hence, my thought it has been an electrolyte issue. When it happened the couple times so far when I was climbing, more food didn’t help, but I’ve yet to be back out armed with the thought it could be electrolytes. Salt in a ziplock bag may do it!

Also, I’ve lost 25lbs since August, without exercising much, so I’m not really concerned about
a high caloric intake during high activity days outside. I’d rather just be able to enjoy the activities, regardless of what the exercise does/doesn’t do for weight loss. Lightweight fats might be an oxymoron haha, but the cheeses and whipping creams sound like a wonderful idea.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #12

It could be electrolytes, which are fairly easy to fix. The lightheadedness, dizziness and sudden ‘fatigue’ - weakness? - could also indicate you need to eat more overall not just while hiking/climbing. Until you’re fully fat adapted - and the time for that is quite individually variable - when your ingested food energy runs out or even just gets low, your metabolism tries to switch over to stored fatty acids. If it doesn’t do so quickly and easily you ‘run out of gas’ very fast. If your brain can’t substitute ketones for a drop in serum glucose, then you will feel dizzy, lightheaded - or even faint. If your muscle mitochondria are still having difficulty utilizing ketones and fatty acids you will be weak and tired as soon as the incoming glucose drops. Until fat adaptation progresses sufficiently, your glycogen levels will also remain low so you don’t have much of that to fall back on either. So for the period of adaptation, however long it lasts, you have to make sure you eat enough and not think too much about losing weight. Once adaptation is sufficiently accomplished, you will have the energy and nutrients to deal with excess fat stores.

(Butter Withaspoon) #13

For winter hikes I find I can introduce a combination of fat and carbs (salted) once I’m moving, usually 1 to 2 hours in. I figure once I’m working hard the carbs get utilised well. Macadamias and other nuts are good. I make a root veg mash with loads of butter and some salt, and carry in a convenient container/tube.

On a day at home I can increase the fat adaptation by having very low carb if needed. Volek and Phinney and Zach Bitter have been helpful