Why Eating Dark Chocolate is an Absolute Must When Hiking
We’re not making excuses to feel better about indulging in our dark chocolate obsession. It’s truly silly to engage in an outdoorsy activity such as hiking without a bar of dark chocolate for fuel.
In the 7 years since we at Salazon Chocolate launched the original salted chocolate, a lot has changed — things that none of us could’ve predicted. We’ve whipped and nae naed, twerked, planked, posed for duck face selfies, flaunted thigh-gaps, discovered the cronut, and witnessed the rise and fall of TV sensations The Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo. Countless fads have come and gone, but our founding principle remains true: salted dark chocolate is and always will be a terrific energy food.
If you’re familiar with our story, then you know that our line of hiking chocolate was conceived on a backpacking trip. This inevitably arouses the following response: “why on earth would a backpacking trip inspire the idea for salted chocolate? Stop daydreaming about desserts and come up with a respectable energy bar!” Well guess what? For years, the country’s top long distance hikers have relied on dark chocolate as an essential component of their trail diet! Now that the cat’s out of the proverbial bag, let’s review the basics of hiking nutrition and discover why salted dark chocolate is tailor-made to satisfy the needs of hikers.
Hiking is energy intensive — the average backpacker burns over 600 calories per hour! Logically, those burned calories need to be replaced as efficiently as possible. That means caloric density is a key consideration for backpackers. Calories provide energy and caloric density is simply a measurement of the average calories per weight of a given food. Caloric density depends on both the water content and macronutrient composition of a given food. The three macronutrients provide calories at the following rate:
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram
- Protein: 4 calories/gram
- Fat: 9 calories/gram
As you can see, fat has more than double the caloric density of carbohydrates and protein, which explains why fat is such a major part of the backpacker diet. It’s recommended that the average adult derive roughly 20% of their calories from fat, whereas backpackers should strive for 40%. Because dark chocolate has a relatively high fat and low water content, it’s a great choice for hikers seeking calorie dense nutrition.
Electrolytes are essential minerals in your bloodstream that keeps fluids balanced, muscle contractions smooth, nerve impulses firing properly, and energy levels high. Coincidentally, dark chocolate is naturally rich in electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The addition of sea salt to Salazon Chocolate bars provides sodium, another vital electrolyte, which makes salted dark chocolate a complete source of electrolytes.
When it comes to energy expenditure, hiking consists of highs and lows that reflect the terrain. While complex carbs are crucial for sustained energy, simple carbohydrates (sugar) come in handy for quick bursts. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly, resulting in an instantaneous surge of energy. Dark chocolate contains just enough sugar for a performance boost, without the dreaded crash. The lesson? Before tackling a steep climb, prepare your body with a flood of dark chocolate energy.
We all need a little extra stimulation now and then. This is especially true for hikers. Luckily, dark chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, two stimulant compounds that excite your central nervous system to help temporarily fight fatigue. Still feeling down? Dark chocolate is also known to boost production of “feel-good” chemicals in your brain called endorphins. So next time you need to power through, whether on the trail or at work, get your caffeine fix with a dark chocolate bar.
Staying healthy on the trail is high stakes, which is why loading up on free-radical-fighting antioxidants is a must. The combination of strenuous exercise, UV rays, and high elevation leaves hikers more exposed to the oxidative stress inflicted by free radicals. But fret not! Dark chocolate is a potent source of polyphenols, flavonols, catechins, and other antioxidants that boost immune function, reduce inflammation, and help protect your body no matter the conditions. Now you can finally stop binge-drinking red wine on the trail…no need to thank us!
The heart. It’s scientific fact that your feet won’t move without it. And I’m not fooling around when I tell you that dark chocolate is a heart’s best friend. Flavonols in dark chocolate, epicatechin specifically, increase nitric oxide production in the body, which dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption, “allowing athletes to go further for longer.” Dark chocolate not only improves blood flow, it may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and raising HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). Eat hiking chocolate on the trail. Your heart — and feet — will thank you!
Remember fiber? Turns out that dark chocolate is chock full of it. We won’t spell this one out for you. Let’s just say that without fiber, the finish line isn’t the only thing that you’ll have trouble passing…
The importance of nutritional convenience and practicality on a backpacking trip cannot be overstated. Chocolate bars are spatially efficient, require no preparation, break easily into snack-sized portions, and are shelf stable. If a big, juicy steak is what you crave, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. But your inner foodie doesn’t have to suffer — you still have hiking chocolate!
The Bottom Line
Balanced nutrition is fundamental to good health and athletic performance, so we’re not advocating a hiking-chocolate-only diet. You’ll need to sustain energy with complex carbohydrates and fuel recovery with protein. Go ahead and grab some GORP, snag an energy bar, and pack the oats. Just don’t forget to reach for that hiking chocolate next time you hit the trail!
Remember that not all chocolate is created equal. Use discretion when selecting hiking chocolate and look for simple, quality ingredients. Avoid chocolate bars that use fillers or cocoa butter substitutes. Opt instead for bars that list cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar as the first 3 ingredients.
Hiking Chocolate Recommendations
For those who need that extra caffeine boost.
Almonds are universally considered to be one of the best energy foods around. Pair them with dark chocolate and BOOM!
Do we honestly need a good reason for this one? Dark Chocolate. Sea Salt. Caramel. ‘Nuff said.