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PCT Supplements | Nutrition on the Trail

pct supplements

Whether you are a thru-hiker or section hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail, you will benefit from learning about what PCT supplements you should consider while on the trail.

Since I was a teenager spending weekends and summers hiking the Columbia River Gorge and Cascades in Oregon, I’ve had a deep love and respect for the mountains. I spent a lot of time hiking with my Dad, friends, and solo exploring new trails and trekking my favorites like Dog Mtn, the Timberline Trail, and South Sister. To catch a break from college and make some money during the summer, I worked on a handcrew for the US Forest Service. It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I grew even more interested in the PCT. With her in a pack, my wife and I would plot day hikes to complete sections of the PCT around Mt. Hood. To this day, I’ve completed from Table Rock on the Washington side of the Gorge to Hwy 138 just north of Crater Lake National Park.

With the pass of each year, I learn a little more about the human body, performance, how to pack lighter to save my knees and back, and how to improve my training and nutrition for the hiking season. Here are some of my recommendations for PCT supplements that one should consider.

pct supplements

Top 10 PCT Supplements

1. Electrolytes

This one is a no-brainer. If you’re hiking in the heat, you’re sweating out vital minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Drinking filtered water will not supply your body with minerals. Electrolyte tablets and powders have become even healthier in recent years without the unnecessary addition of added refined sugars and dyes.

2. Curcumin

According to research by the NIH, “curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and subsequent performance in active people.”

The challenge with curcumin supplements is the bioavailability. With most products, only a couple percent of curcumin is typically absorbed. That’s why I recommend Mercola’s Curcumin Advanced supplement that uses sustained-release technology and a self-emulsifying system to increase bioavailability.

3. Collagen

Bone broth and collagen nutrition has increased in popularity over the years due its ability to help gut, skin, muscle, joint, and hair health. With the amount of repetitive use and wear-and-tear on the tissues and joints on the lower body while trekking the PCT, collagen is a great choice to help support these tissues.

4. Mitochondrial ATP

The mitochondria is known as the “powerhouse of the cell” due to its role in energy metabolism. This supplement in particular is designed to support the role of the mitochondria when there is prolonged or intense output or decreased mitochondrial function do to disease. If you want to promote overall cellular and tissue vitality and health, including increased energy output for athletic performance while on the PCT, this is worth a try. It includes B-vitamins, creatine, Co-enzyme Q10, d-ribose, and other key nutrients.

5. Probiotic/Digestive Enzymes

This is a must, especially for those who have “sensitive” GI tracts. With the intake of less fresh food and fiber, digestive enzymes and probiotics will help digest food and keep the large intestines populated with a biodiverse range of bacteria. This balance of healthy gut flora should not be overlooked do to its role in the production of neurotransmitters, maintaining detox pathways, and the immune system. All of these will be taxed on a long thru-hike, especially with wildfire smoke inhalation impeding the liver’s ability to detox.

6. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo contains antioxidants that optimize blood to flow to the brain, supporting cognitive function and memory. With this increased circulation of blood to the brain comes increased oxygen levels, which some connect to the possible reduction of altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness. Symptoms of AMS include:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Rapid pulse (heart rate)
  • Shortness of breath with exertion.

I have personally noticed the difference in taking gingko before going to higher altitudes.

7. Fish Oil

Most people are aware of the positive impact fish oil can have on heart health. But it may also be beneficial for:

  • Promotes cardiovascular health
  • Supports brain health, cognition and memory
  • Neutralizes free radicals for healthy aging and wellness
  • Promotes healthy joints
  • Prevents oxidation of cells and volatile oils

I think the last 3 effects of fish oil are particularly important for the PCT hiker for the neutralizing of free radicals and preventing oxidative damage which occurs more rapidly with excessive exercise and limited rest breaks. This can be observed from the difference between the average marathon runner vs sprinter. Different energy systems are being utilized where the endurance runner has more oxidative damage, especially over time. Get your rest breaks, cold plunges, and good nights rest…and take fish oil…and/or catch some fresh fish.

8. BCAA

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) promote the growth of healthy muscle mass by supporting energy levels during exercise. They do this by inhibiting protein breakdown within the muscles that are exerting. BCAA may also help enhance physical performance and reduce recovery time in those engaged in strenuous exercise (thru hiking 15-20 miles per day through the mountains).

9. Adaptogens/Mushrooms

Adaptogenic herbs can be powerful for promoting health and vitality when you need it most. They work to support a healthy response to stressors. Examples include Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, Licorice, Siberian Ginseng, and Ginger.

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms (yeah not that kind) including Cordyceps and Reishi. Cordyceps have been traditionally used in Asia for strenuous, high altitude activities. Athletes have discovered that Cordyceps may help with increased oxygen uptake supporting higher endurance levels. Reishi mushroom has been shown to increase stamina, energy, and cardiovascular health. Both have been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system as well.

One thing to consider, if you’ve had mold toxicity in the past or recent exposure, fungi may not be the best choice for you. Consult with an experienced and qualified health professional.

10. Beet Extract

Anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense, high fiber, and nitrates which open blood vessels to improve athletic performance! Beets bring a heavy punch for anyone looking to trek the PCT. Research has shown that consuming beet juice pre-workout can increase cardiorespiratory endurance. And because they dilate blood vessels, they may help us acclimatize to high altitude.

11. Extra Supplement- Arnica

Arnica is a homeopathic option for those who have experienced the benefits. I use arnica as soon as I can post injury topically for strains, sprains, bruising, soreness, and inflammation. Arnica can also be taken internally for the same types of injuries as well as sore and tired joints, fractures, and dislocations. It’s a must for a hiking first aid kit.

Now, I’m aware of the fact that most of us won’t take all of these supplements on a 3-5 month trek through the wilderness. That would be unreasonable. Something to consider would be testing out some of these supplements based upon you’re own personal health and medical history. Most of us have weak points that need support based on our genetics, sports background, and needs and goals.

One recommendation is to take more electrolytes on the PCT when first starting out Northbound while traveling in the hot desert. As you condition over hundreds of miles and get a feel for how your body is holding up, consider fine-tuning your supplementation. When hiking more elevation gain and loss in the Sierra’s, maybe you’d benefit from BCAA, Ginkgo, Curcumin, and Collagen. Maybe you’re like me and need pre/probiotic and digestive enzyme support daily so that one is a must for everyday use and resupply.

Something else to always take into account is pack weight. Some of these products come in powder form, while others are in capsule. Another reason to be selective in which supplements you use and when you may decide to use them can help maintain a manageable pack weight. I’d also be frustrated to pack expensive supplements in the hot desert or Northern California only to have them melt, burst, or become unusable in the heat.

PCT supplements included are listed from Amazon, but another purchase option is Fullscript. Here you can gain access to the same supplements plus more at a discount.

Legal Disclaimer

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please contact your healthcare professional immediately if you experience any unwanted side effects. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and does not establish a doctor-patient relationship. Please be sure to consult your physician before taking this or any other product.

Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.

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