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Protein is not always considered important by hikers and backpackers. It doesn’t provide energy—at least not in the same way as fats and carbohydrates—and it has a reputation as a mass-building nutrient, giving some the idea that they’ll end up gaining unwanted muscle they’ll have to carry around. As a result, when most people build their ultralight backpacking meals, protein needs tend to lose focus while carbs and fat take center stage.

Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders, though; it’s an essential nutrient for all forms of exercise, regardless of physique goals. Protein helps you get more out of physical preparation you do pre-trip and stay strong while you’re out on the trail.

A hiker hikes up the slopes of Mount Washington in New Hampshire with the help of trekking poles and an ultralight backpack.

Pre-trip Nutrition to Ultralight Backpacking Meals in the Field

All exercise—including hiking and backpacking—relies on muscle. Getting better at a given activity means training the relevant muscles to work better, whether that means with more force, more power, more efficiency, or (most often) a combination of all the above. Protein is the nutritional link to getting results from that training.

There is a misconception that protein, in and of itself, builds muscle. Unfortunately for all the would-be swole bros out there, it’s not protein that builds muscle, it’s training and preparation. Protein just allows those who do the training to maximize their results.

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