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Supplements For Hiking

An overview of science-based supplements for hikers


Hiking is an interesting activity in terms of exercise physiology. It involves hours of intermittent cardio, which varies considerably in intensity, combining the zone 1, zone 2, and zone 3 heart rate zones. It uses a variety of leg muscles based on the terrain, and sometimes stretches the calves on steep uphill inclines. Then there's the impact on your knees, our joints are weaker than our muscles, and the knees come under significant stress during the downhill portion of the trail. What about the weight of your backpack? Strap 10kg onto your back and over a few hours the impact on your strength and stamina is huge. And what about multi-day hikes? Nutrition can often take a back seat as we prioritise the weight and convenience of dehydrated hiking food.

The Goals Of Hiking Supplements

This article is going to look at the best supplements for hiking based on 3 goals:

  • Improving performance

  • Reducing the negative impact from physical stress

  • Reducing the negative impact from sub-optimal nutrition *Note: Supplements without enough evidence have been excluded

The last point to consider is, what are your goals? Not just with hiking, but with health? Health optimisation is something which takes a certain amount of effort and for many people, the effort is not always worth it, "good enough" is all they're looking for. This is totally fine, everyone is different, and beyond the science all we have left is opinion - you will find many doctors and nutrition experts disagreeing with each other. With that said, some of these supplements will be aimed towards people who want to optimise everything and consider the possible long-term impact on their overall health - not concerned about any inconvenience caused by bringing supplements along for the hike.

I will rank these in order of importance, based on the science, and their impact on the 3 goals mentioned above.

The Science?

The nutrition, fitness, and supplement industry are full of conflicting opinions and ever-evolving knowledge. As humans, we have a hard time accepting the fact that our knowledge of the human body is actually quite poor, and microbiology, biochemistry, and genetics are incredibly complex. On top of that, the industry is full of influencers, shady marketing, and professionals with opposing viewpoints. The solution to all of this is objective analysis of the data and research. I'll be linking to which provides an objective assessment of the current research. The website is paywalled, but the relevant studies are still accessible. You'll notice their statements are not opinionated - they use terms such as "likely", "potentially", and "limited evidence" - this is a sign of objective and accurate conclusions and generally means you can trust the author.

Where To Buy Supplements In Japan?

The supplement industry in Japan is pretty poor, there's an absence of foreign brands and a lack of range. Your best option is purchasing online from iHerb, or from Amazon, I'll provide links for convenience. There is no brand affiliation in terms of the products, but in terms of quality, sometimes the brands do matter. A few years ago used to be a great resource for 3rd party testing of supplements before their business model changed. During this time they discovered concerning levels of heavy metals in KAL products, so I recommend avoiding that brand. Recommended brands with a good track record and 3rd party testing include Jarrow Formulas, Life Extension, AOR, and Swanson. If you want to see comprehensive 3rd party testing, the only option now is to pay a membership fee with, or email the company directly. Any respectable company will be happy to supply a COA (certificate of analysis) for their products.

The Essentials

The Extras


Essential Supplements


1. Protein Powder - Both Whey & Plant-Based

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If there's only one supplement you bring with you while hiking, it should be protein powder. Most hiking food and snacks do not provide enough protein to support muscle recovery from the high amounts of vigorous exercise that occur during a full day of hiking. And although some protein bars can be good, most of them contain heaps of additives which are less than ideal. Including protein shakes with your hike will lead to less muscle soreness, better recovery, more strength and endurance gains, and consequently more energy. In addition, if you're at a calorie deficit from a full day of hiking, a higher intake of protein will help to reduce muscle loss.

Whey or plant-based? Either one is fine, however plant protein requires a slightly higher dose to obtain the same benefits as whey protein. Personally, I do both, mixing whey and plant protein leads to an amino-acid profile which is higher in glycine and proline - the two amino acids that dominate collagen protein and theoretically assist with collagen synthesis (joints, tendons, etc.). When choosing a plant-based protein, make sure it's a blend that contains a balanced amino acid profile, they will mention this on the label.

If you're choosing whey protein and have issues with bloating (or gas) from milk products, focus on buying whey protein isolate instead of whey protein concentrate. It's a little more expensive, but easier on the gut and also a bit higher in protein content.

Choosing one that tastes good while on a budget requires a bit of trial and error, but if you don't like the flavour don't give up, some of them can be really nice. The cheapest options for protein in Japan can be found on Amazon, but iHerb have a much larger range, especially for vegans.

Dosage Information

  • Acute dosing spread throughout the day.

  • 30-40 grams per serving.

  • The ideal range for total daily protein while hiking is 1.5g to 2g per KG of body weight.

Main Benefits:

  • Improved recovery.

  • Reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness.

  • An increase in long-term strength and endurance gains.

  • Prevents muscle loss during a calorie deficit.

Where To Buy:

The Science:


2. Creatine

Wait, creatine? Ahead of electrolytes? Yes, because you can get sufficient electrolytes from food, but you can't get the benefits of supplemental creatine from food. Moreover, the performance enhancing benefits of creatine and its rigorously studied safety profile make it the most popular supplement in the fitness industry (excluding protein powder).

What benefits can you expect? Mainly, a small but noticeable increase in the time-to-exhaustion for high-intensity activity, such as carrying a heavy backpack up a steep incline. In addition to physical benefits, creatine has been shown to offset the impaired mental effects of sleep deprivation, which is a common occurrence when you're waking up at 4am to catch the sunrise. This point is valuable for hikers, as when we get tired we're more likely to make mistakes such as tripping over or rolling an ankle. What's even more interesting, is that studies have shown vegans and vegetarians experience an increase in cognitive performance when supplementing creatine - due to an absence of the nutrient in plant-based foods.

But the best news? You don't even need to bring creatine with you while hiking. Once the muscles are fully saturated, it takes 3-4 weeks without creatine to return to baseline. This means you can supplement creatine before your hiking trip, and then leave it at home.

Dosage Information

  • Either acute or long-term.

  • Ideally used 1-4 weeks leading up to the hike.

  • 5 grams per day achieves peak saturation in 4 weeks.

  • 20 grams per day achieves peak saturation in 1 week.

  • Pre-planned supplementation does not require acute dosing while hiking.

Main Benefits:

  • Increased endurance for high-intensity activity.

  • Improved cognition during sleep deprivation.

  • Improved cognition for vegetarians.

  • An increase in long-term strength and endurance gains.

Where To Buy:

The Science:


3. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte which is commonly lacking in the modern-day diet. The recommended daily intake increases proportionally with the amount of physical activity, and with the amount of sweat perspired during exercise, or simply from hot summer hiking. It's quite effective at preventing muscle cramps and reducing their severity, and supplementation is also associated with improvements in cardiovascular health.

Electrolyte supplements usually contain some magnesium, but the dosage is too low to correct the deficiency incurred from common hiking foods, therefore, it's recommended to supplement magnesium separately to obtain the aforementioned benefits.

Dosage Information

  • Acute dosing, during or after the hike.

  • Up to 500mg per day.

Main Benefits:

  • Preventing muscle cramps and reducing their severity.

  • Correction of a deficiency incurred from common diets or hiking food.

  • Improvement of cardiovascular health.

  • Reduction in blood pressure (notable for caffeine consumption).

Where To Buy:

The Science:


4. Electrolytes

Electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc.) are common and well-known even outside the fitness industry. They're effective at preventing dehydration when high amounts of water are consumed during times of prolonged exercise or heat exposure. They're also effective at preventing muscle cramps, potentially more so than magnesium.

Dehydration or inadequate electrolytes while hiking doesn't only affect you physically, it also affects your cognition, so maintaining adequate levels can help you feel less tired and fatigued.

So why is magnesium ranked higher on this list? Because electrolytes are not always necessary - if you're not sweating much or it's not particularly hot, then it's feasible to obtain sufficient amounts from snacks and food (depending on your food). However, if you're hiking with a lot of sun exposure, in hot environments, or consuming a lot of water, then electrolyte supplements should be prioritised over magnesium. And if you want to cover all bases, supplement both.

Dosage Information

  • Acute dosing during heat stress, high amounts of sweating, or high water intake.

  • Can be taken as needed throughout the day.

  • Dosage depends on individual products.

Main Benefits:

  • Preventing muscle cramps and reducing their severity.

  • Improvement in hydration state during excessive sweat or water consumption.

Where To Buy:

The Science:


Additional Supplements


1. Glucosamine & Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin have been well established over the last 15 years as an effective supplement to reduce joint degradation in athletes and also to reduce joint pain in people experiencing osteoarthritis. A few notable studies on cyclists and soccer players showed that glucosamine supplements (which included chondroitin) prevented collagen degradation and therefore aided in cartilage recovery.

These studies indicate that the benefits of supplementation only occur over the long-term, typically after 3-4 weeks of supplementation, there doesn't appear to be an acute effect of taking glucosamine sporadically. With this in mind, there's a chance you won't need to bring it with you for those weekend hikes or overnight hikes - just make sure you've been supplementing 1 month before the trip. However, if you're hiking for multiple days or weeks, it appears worthwhile to bring a bottle with you if you're concerned about joint health.

Dosage Information

  • Long-term, minimum 3-4 weeks prior to hiking.

  • Might not be required during 1-2 day hikes.

  • 1500mg - 3000mg per day, must include both glucosamine and chondroitin.

Main Benefits

  • Prevents collagen degradation after 3-4 weeks of supplementation.

  • Reduces joint pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Where To Buy

The Science


2. Collagen (Types I, II, & III)

Collagen is a type of protein that is responsible for connective tissue in the body, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails. It has exploded in popularity over the past 10 years, thanks to an increase in human studies, a rise in anti-ageing culture, and brand marketing. Let's first address the debate regarding its benefits. The are 2 main arguments against its effectiveness:

  1. Collagen protein is broken down into its individual amino acids inside the body

  2. It's low in the BCAA's which are associated with muscle protein synthesis.

Firstly, collagen is indeed broken down once ingested, however, recent research has shown that this is not a complete disintegration of the protein. Our bodies actually break collagen down not into the individual amino acids, but into di-peptides and tri-peptides. These peptides have been found to have a unique impact on the signalling pathways which are responsible for collagen synthesis. Nic from Physionic provides a great analysis of the research on his YouTube channel, check out this episode.

Secondly, it's also true that collagen is very low in the BCAA's that are associated with muscle protein synthesis. However, the goal of collagen supplements is not to gain muscle. Moreover, collagen is the highest nutritional source of glycine, an amino acid that is crucial for a large variety of metabolic processes, including collagen synthesis, the production of glutathione (the body's strongest endogenous anti-oxidant), and mitigating the effects of excess methionine caused by high consumption of animal and whey protein.

The main types of collagen you'll see on the market are type I, type II, and type III. Type I and III are predominantly associated with skin, tendons, and ligaments. While type II is mostly associated with cartilage. Choosing the right supplement depends on your goals and budget. As a general rule, if you experience discomfort in your tendons (such as the patella tendon), then types I and III are sufficient. However, if you experience discomfort in the cartilage that provides cushioning for your joints, then type II is more effective.

One interesting note for anyone suffering joint pain due to arthritis, a specific form of type II collagen, called UC-II, has been shown to be very effective at alleviating joint pain in the majority of patients by modulating the immune response and preventing the body from attacking its own cells.

Collagen supplements tend to be more expensive than protein powder, so if you're on a budget, you can buy simple gelatin powder. It's half the price, comprised mostly of type I collagen. The only downside is convenience, it does not dissolve well due to minimal processing, so I'd recommend mixing it with a protein shake or adding it to soups and stews.

Dosage Information

  • Either acute or long-term.

  • Ideally taken leading up to the hike and during the hike.

  • Type I & III: 5 - 15 grams per day.

  • Type II: 1 - 3 grams per day.

  • UC-II: 40 mg per day.

Main Benefits

  • Reduces joint pain in athletes (types I, II, and III).

  • Reduces joint pain caused by arthritis (mainly type II).

  • Improves the biomarkers associated with skin health (types I, II, and III).

Where To Buy:

The Science:


3. Caffeine & Taurine

Caffeine, the most commonly consumed drug in the world, and for good reason. Beyond the pleasant taste of fresh coffee or the health benefits of green tea, caffeine is one of the most effective drugs for enhancing physical and mental performance. This can be especially relevant for hikers, as a lack of energy or focus can lead to accidents while navigating the variety of terrain and dangers encountered on the trail. But what about Taurine?

You might recognise taurine, it's commonly included in energy drinks alongside caffeine. But it's purpose is not to provide more energy, it helps to counteract the hypertension caused by caffeine, providing and a smoother experience with less jitters and less anxiety. Supplementation has also been shown to have a wide range of beneficial effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, with one study showing it slightly improves athletic performance in untrained healthy people. Taking taurine with your cup of coffee is basically like creating your own healthy energy drink.

If you're normally sensitive to caffeine, taurine is a great option for benefiting from caffeine with less of the unpleasant side effects. The most convenient option, if you don't want to make coffee while on the trail, is to simply bring along some caffeine pills - just make sure they are not higher than 100mg (approx. 1 cup of fresh coffee) so that you have the flexibility to take the smaller doses. This point is quite important, as caffeine interferes with sleep quality, you should always be aiming for the minimum effective dose. And this dose will depend on how much sleep you've had, how tall you are, and if you regularly consume tea or coffee.

Dosage Information

  • Caffeine:  Acute, take only when needed.

  • Caffeine: 80mg - 400mg per day.

  • Taurine: Either acute or long-term.

  • Taurine: 1,000mg - 4,000mg per day.

Caffeine's Main Benefits

  • Improves cognition, mainly under sleep deprivation.

  • Improves athletic performance.

  • Significantly reduces fatigue.

Taurine's Main Benefits

  • Reduces hypertension and blood pressure, reducing the side effects of caffeine.

  • Reduces caffeine-related anxiety.

  • Mildly improves athletic performance.

  • Improves cardiovascular health and heart health.

Where To Buy:

The Science:

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