THOUGHTS FOR FOOD FROM A TRIPLE CROWNER: HOW QUADZILLA FUELS UP FOR THE BIG MILES
It’s probably your number one job on trail–eating! It’s likely the number one topic of daily conversation amongst The High Mileage Set, too! But what kind of fuel do you need to hike 8,000+ miles? Jack “Quadzilla” Jones shares what’s all in a day’s work as he embarks on his Calendar Year Triple Crown. Hope you’ve got an appetite!
For breakfast, I just like to pack up, get going, and eat bars. Clif Bars, granola bars–whatever is quick and easy and high in carbohydrates and sugars. I'm still never hungry in the mornings, and it's just easier to get bars down. I'll do roughly 400 to 600 calories of bars in the first two-ish hours of the day and that kind of gets my day started, gets the metabolism going as the day progresses. I just try and keep moving, and I'll have more bars and nuts–a lot of peanuts–sometimes Pop-Tarts, more nuts, beef jerky, and a variety I can eat as I walk. Whatever I can fit into my Versa fanny pack. My goal is to wake up, pack up, and keep making miles until about lunchtime.
When I stop for lunch, I eat things that are a little more substantial—cheeses, nuts, and potato chips. The goal here is to get more long-lasting fuels in me–a lot more fats and proteins whenever I can. I've been carrying out these smoked sausages from town–they're fully cooked, and they keep really well, so lunch might be one or two sausages along with three or four ounces of cheese and then a handful of nuts or trail mix. I just mix it up with whatever I get in town. My last resupply was macadamia nuts; now, I'm onto pecans. I'll carry out tortillas and add mayonnaise with pepperoni, lunch meat, or sausages and cheese, and then refill my snack pouch with more bars or Honey Buns.
My snacks throughout the day are usually sweeter things because, especially as it gets into the afternoon, it's just more difficult to down heavier things like cheeses and nuts. Sugary stuff is just easier to eat.
I'll usually walk until four or five p.m. Out here in the desert, it's two or three. I'll take another break and eat more of the same foods I had for lunch. Then I'll start a cold soak for dinner–ramen or Knorr side dishes–oftentimes the rice. Then I walk until seven or nine p.m. or whenever I feel hungry, and I'm still snacking along the way. I take out my cold soak and add tuna–lime chili is a favorite–then several tablespoons of peanut butter. It makes for a pretty good peanutty noodley-type dinner and has a really nice amount of calories. I think ramen has 450 calories, the tuna has about 100, and the peanut butter adds three to 400 more with maybe a few side scoops I eat, too. That one dinner alone will account for more than a fourth of my daily energy expenditure.
From there, I'll hike another one to three hours, depending on how far I need to get. Then, at camp, I snack some more, maybe potato chips or whatever I can get down, and that's a typical day.
When I get into towns, I prioritize getting in as much high-quality protein and calories as possible. I avoid things like pizza and pasta because most of those calories come from flour, which is not very nutritionally dense. While it fills you up, it doesn't meet your body's other nutritional needs for proteins and micronutrients, fiber and vegetables, and all that. It depends on what town I'm in and what's available, but I do a lot of burgers and rotisserie chickens.
If I have the opportunity to cook, I'll buy one or two pounds of steak and grab some feta. On the A.T., there were mornings I'd make eight to twelve eggs and eat them all. I try to get all my carbohydrates from rice and potatoes–again, staying away from pasta. I'll add some sort of vegetables in with my meal, make a big salad, and stir fry in a bunch of spinach and kale, onions, and peppers. And when I've pretty much eaten as much as I can for that day, I'll finish things up with a pint of ice cream and drink a half gallon of chocolate milk-sometimes I mix them together into several milkshakes, and that's just to get more calories in me when I can't stuff any more solid food in me.
In town, I also like to grab those protein shakes, like Muscle Milk or whatever else will give you 25 to 40g of protein. I do one right away when I roll in just to get that protein into my body and then drink some chocolate milk at night and carry one out for the next day, too. It's really crucial to get high-quality sources of protein in you. A lot of people ask me if it's true you can only absorb twenty grams at a time or whatever, but that's an old myth–your body can absorb much more than twenty in one sitting. I gain a very noticeable boost to my recovery and my performance whenever I go into town, and I eat well versus what I eat out on trail.
There are a lot of mistakes I see other people making in terms of their nutrition. I'm about 2800-2900 miles into this journey now, and my body and energy levels feel great. I think a lot of that comes down to simply eating well and giving my body the nutrients it needs to rest and recover.
One big thing I see is people undereating–people just do not bring enough food out with them. Depending on everyone's size and how far they're walking, they really should be carrying at least 3500 calories with them per day. If you're a bigger person, that should be closer to 4500-5000, ideally, more than that, even though it is really challenging to get that many in a day with random hiker foods. What gets carried out tends to be too heavy on carbohydrates and sugar. I do eat a lot of those things, too, but I really focus on intentionally eating fats and proteins and then kind of using the carbs to fill in gaps. I don't want them to be my primary source of calories, so having nuts, trail mix, cheese, tuna packets–all those sorts of things–will go a long way in sustaining you versus the Snickers and Honey Buns.
I understand it's harder to eat this way, but you have to be disciplined and focus on the foods your body needs versus just getting 2000 calories of sugar. In towns, it's easy to consume all the pizza, but it's empty calories. You really, really need to hit the protein, the high-quality sources when you can, and save those junk food cravings for ice cream and whatnot to fill in the holes at the end of the day. You almost need to force feed yourself. I eat until I am stuffed, to the point where I almost feel sick! But that is what you need to do–for a Calendar-Year Triple Crown anyway. If one has more time in town and fewer miles to do, then they really don't have to go that far, but getting enough calories takes work. You'll fall short if you're just eating until you're comfortable!
In 2022, Jack"Quadzilla" Jones hiked the Calendar Year Triple Crown, the three longest national scenic trails (AT, PCT, and CDT) in the United States, all in a single calendar year. Quadzilla previously hiked the AT in 2016, CDT in 2018, and parts of the PCT and the CT in 2021.