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It’s often said that if you do enough exercise, you can eat virtually anything you like. And after a couple of hours of hard walking or cycling, it’s very hard (in Britain, especially) not to pass up the opportunity of having a piece of cake or a cream tea of scones and jam in a local café... it can be all too easy in fact, to eat too much!
Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have a balanced and slowly continuous food intake, where possible; little and often being the key. You don’t need to eat a whole energy bar in one go for example, have a little bit and often. Endurance athletes know the problem, the best of them have a highly trained musculature that takes a long time to suffer from the glycogen exhaustion that a lot of beginners are effected with when blood and muscle glycogen levels fall. It is said that, at least for running, you only have enough glycogen storage for a 90 minute sustained effort, walking perhaps 3 or 4 hours, so you need to be replenishing long before you anticipate an energy crash coming.
With this in mind, we have put together some simple nutrition tips for the best things to eat and drink to provide you with sustained energy whilst staying active and training for a big walking or cycling trip.
STARTING THE DAY
The first, and one of the most important things, is starting the day right. A cooked breakfast might seem like the way to go, but with a very high concentration of fats, protein and salts it can leave you feeling sluggish in the morning as you set out, whilst your body tries to digest everything. A better, and just as filling alternative, would be a nice bowl of porridge, perhaps with banana and honey or yoghurt stirred in. If you’re extra hungry, some toast with marmalade on the side wouldn’t go amiss. This will set you up with slow release carbohydrates as well as a good supply of initial sugars to get you going.
A very popular breakfast hailing from Switzerland is Bircher muesli, a creation of Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss doctor and nutritionist. He developed it for patients at his Zurich sanatorium in the late 1800s with the aim of making his patients eat more raw fruit. The rolled oat based muesli is often soaked overnight in Swiss yoghurt making it easily digestible and then lots of mixed fresh and dried fruits are added. Within this you will get a mixture of complex carbohydrates, fruits, salts, sugars and fats. Fruits are an excellent source of elements, such as potassium in banana and vitamin c in berries and citrus fruits. It is also thought that vitamins help with energy processing, as well as promoting general wellbeing.
DURING THE DAY
Once you are out and about what should you take with you? Of course there are an array of different sports bars, sports drinks and energy gels, which can be confusing. These vary in quality, some are nutritionally balanced and some are little more than sugar. Either way, they are not always necessarily the best option, and there are good alternatives that can be found in most supermarkets, usually in multiple packs.
If you want to keep things more affordable, go for items such as Snickers bars or peanut M&Ms which have a good slow and fast energy release ingredients – glucose and protein. Nuts are more expensive, but if you add a few to some some dried fruit (such as raisins) and M&Ms, you have a reasonable trail mix that you can graze on throughout the day. Also, it’s always recommended to have a packet of Jelly Babies to hand as they are pure glucose, which gives us a hit of energy and are much more palatable than energy gels. A couple of apples are also handy. However, too much fruit and vitamin c can lead to RBM (rapid bowel movement), so don’t overdo it!
If you’d rather have a convenient bar to suit all needs, energy bars which have a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat, such as the Clif Bar are great. They generally aren’t chocolate covered so won’t melt easily, but can crumble. Anything labelled as a 'nutrition bar' is intended as a meal replacement, providing vitamins and minerals and often having more calories and protein.
Rehydration is also very important, as you need to get a balance of liquid and salts without flushing the salts out of your system (hypernatremia). The easiest way to do this is to buy a tub of rehydration powders to fill your water bottles with in the morning and then take a trusted brand of soluble rehydration tablet to put in your bottle for further refills during the day.
ENDING THE DAY
When it comes to any strenuous exercise, the way you end your day is just as vital as the way you start. So once you’ve finished a long days walk or cycle, a lot of people feel either too tired to physically consume anything, or eat far too much without thinking about it. In Britain, it also seems to be customary to end your walk at a pub with a cold beer. This is definitely not to be sniffed at, as beer drinking is sociable, contains over 300 calories a pint (plus vitamins) and is easily consumed. The thing to remember is not to drink too much and remain hydrated, so a couple of pints is fine. Alongside your drink of choice, you should ideally eat something easily consumed straight after the exercise and then a little later have some protein to help with muscle repair.
Don't forget, it was only a couple of generations ago, that good hikers were completing extraordinary walks relying on jam sandwiches, homemade cake and a thermos of sweet tea (and some still do!) Food to is meant to be enjoyable and walking sociable, so the key is to listen to your body and perhaps don’t turn up that chance for a cream tea!
Top Five Self-Guided Walking or Cycling Holidays for Beginners
Considering an active self guided trip for the first time? We've prepared some information for you on how our self-guided holidays work that should help answer many of your questions. If you have never done one before or are looking to renew your interest, here are our top five self-guided walking and cycling holidays for beginners.
This centre-based walking holiday is ideal for first time self-guided walkers. Being centrally located you can choose the walks you do each day from the suggested walking routes and maps we provide. You can walk as little or as much as you like. If you prefer not to walk on any day and explore you can do that too. Find out more >>
This trip will give you a taste of quintessential English countryside walking. A lovely introduction to walking in England that can lead to taking on one of our most popular self- guided walks, the 18 Day Coast to Coast. Find out more >>
Interested but a little daunted about walking the Alps? This centre based walk in the lovely town of Meiringen is a popular choice to experience the Swiss Alps. This is a great choice for families, couples and individuals to experience a range of walks from Introductory to Challenging. Find out more >>
For keen cyclists this trip is a great introduction to self-guided bike tours. With clear directions and travelling on low traffic side roads, you can enjoy the wonderful countryside and local Scottish hospitality. Just be careful of enjoying too many whiskeys before getting back in the saddle! Find out more >>
This is an iconic walking route across Europe. The section we offer in France is popular, well signposted and graded moderate to challenging as you change landscapes over 200km. The 12 day Way of St James will allow you to get your boots dirty on a long distance linear walk that will have you wanting more! Find out more >>
Independent Travel vs. Self-Guided Holidays
As we mentioned in the earlier article ‘Guided vs. Self-Guided Waking Holidays – Which is Best for Me?’ self-guided walking and cycling holidays are constantly growing in popularity and in this article we will look at one of the most common questions we get about our self-guided holidays … ‘Why should I choose to do a self-guided holiday when I could just do everything myself?
To answer that question here are a few reasons that our clients choose a self-guided holiday over going it alone.
- Research – You save A LOT of screen time not scouring the internet researching ideas and reading reviews. Our routes and accommodation have been refined through decades to make sure our clients experience the true character of each destination.
- Competitive pricing – Travel companies can get a better price than an online aggregator ever will thanks to their volume. Full stop.
- Connections – Our self-guided holidays are designed to make sure that your journey flows seamlessly and fits in with the timings of local transport connections and other elements that can leave you waiting around wasting the precious time that you have in each destination.
- Luggage transfers – Having your luggage transferred for you each day literally takes the burden off your back and gives you more energy to enjoy your walk or ride.
- Booking accommodations – Ever tried to book a B&B in a small town on the internet? This can be quite a hassle if English is not the hotel manager’s first language and you need to search for alternatives
- Up-to-date and well thought out route notes and maps – These get updated more often than a guide book does and they always benefit from local insights and knowledge.
- Emergency Support - If something goes wrong on your trip when travelling by yourself, who are you going to call? Self-guided trips offer 24 hour emergency contacts, which can be the difference between you getting back on the trail in a matter of hours or aborting the trip completely.
- Stress - Then there’s that ‘survival mode’ feeling that hangs over your head when you’re going solo. Rather than thinking and worrying about trip logistics all day, isn't it worth treating yourself to a trip where someone else takes on this thankless task, so you can focus on all the amazing reasons you came to the destination in the first place?!
We don’t doubt that independent travel has a place and we hope that anyone looking to travel independently finds this site a useful resource, but when seeking out the paths less travelled in more popular parts of the world a self-guided holiday offers the flexibility and freedom of independent travel and benefits of an organised tour.
Our Most Popular Self-Guided Walking and Cycling Holidays
Guided vs. Self-Guided Walking & Cycling Holidays - Which is Best for Me?
Many of our clients enjoy travelling on a guided small group holiday, but a growing number of people are looking to travel on their own or with a small group of family and friends without a guide. With this growing trend Sherpa Expeditions has become a leader in self-guided walking and cycling holidays throughout the UK and Europe. But what’s all the fuss about? In this article we will look at the differences between guided small group holidays and self-guided holidays and hopefully help you choose which style is best for you.
The main differences between guided small group holidays and self-guided holidays can be summarised in terms of the guide (obviously), group, flexibility and support.
It’s no secret that the more you know about a destination, the more you will appreciate the experience of travelling there and the more knowledge/insight you will come away with. On a guided small group holiday your guide is able to share their passion for their job and the destinations you are travelling through to bring to life the flora, fauna and history.
So integral to the experience is this knowledge that on a self-guided holiday we have tried our best to bottle the knowledge of our most experienced guides into our detailed Route Notes so that you can learn about the destinations in your own time, be it in some downtime before you embark on your holiday or over a glass of wine after a day’s walk or cycle. Either way the onus is on you to read up on the carefully collated information we have on the region.
Depending on the trip you choose, on our guided small group holidays you will be sharing your experience with between 4 to 14 other like-minded individuals. It’s a great way to explore Europe’s untrodden treasures in the safety and camaraderie of a small group.
While most of our guided small group holidays have a great mix of single travellers, couples and friends, we find that they work particularly well for single travellers as they find it more comfortable travelling in the company of others and it can actually work out a bit cheaper as you are able to share your accommodation costs.
Self-guided holidays on the other hand allow you to enjoy a walking or cycling holiday in the company of your own friends or family. Many of our self-guided holidays can also be enjoyed if you are on your own, although there are some exceptions where the routes are more difficult or remote routes where we consider it potentially unsafe to walk alone. Many self-guided holidays will also require a Solo Traveller Supplement if you are travelling on your own as you will not be able to share the accommodations or luggage transfer costs with anyone. See our FAQs for more information.
While your guide on a guided small group holiday will always do their best to accommodate the different interests of the group, there will always need to be a compromise between an individual’s interest and that of the group. The pace/route of the walk can also be subject to change to cater for the weakest walkers/cyclists in the group. From an organisation point of view too we are limited in the amount of variation we can offer to the itinerary/inclusions of a guided small group holiday.
Self-guided holidays on the other hand offer complete freedom and independence to tailor your holiday to your interest and travel style. From the amount of activity each day, where you stop, and for how long or the hotels along your route, most aspects of our self-guided holidays can be tailored in some way. This flexibility also makes them an ideal choice for family holidays.
Things don’t always go to plan and on a guided small group holiday your experienced guide is trained in dealing with any issues or incidents that may come up along the way (including first aid). They will work together with our local operators and head office to make sure your holiday is a seemless as possible.
On our self-guided walking and cycling holidays 24-hour emergency support is only a phone call away. Emergency contact details are provided in each trip’s Route Notes and with the assistance of our very helpful accommodation and transport partners, we will do our best to keep any interruptions to your holiday to a minimum.
So what’s the same?
No matter which style of holiday you choose we still include the following elements, which we think are critical to any walking or cycling holiday:
- Comfortable accommodation with character.
- Luggage transfers
- Emergency support
Top Picks for your first Self-Guided Walking or Cycling Holiday
- Cinque Terre Villages - 6 Days
This centre-based walking holiday is ideal for first time self-guided walkers. Being centrally located you can choose the walks you do each day from the suggested walking routes and maps we provide. You can walk as little or as much as you like. If you prefer not to walk on any day and explore you can do that too.
- Exploring the Cotswolds - 5 Days
This trip will give you a taste of quintessential English countryside walking. A lovely introduction to walking in England that can lead to taking on one our most popular self- guided walks, the 18 Day Coast to Coast.
- Meiringen: Panoramas of the Swiss Alps – 5 or 8 days
Interested but a little daunted about walking the Alps? This centre based walk in the lovely town of Meiringen is a popular choice to experience the Alps. This is a great choice for families, couples and individuals to experience a range of walks from Introductory to Challenging.
- Lochs and Bens
For keen cyclists this trip is a great introduction to self-guided bike tours. With clear directions and travelling on low traffic side roads, you can enjoy the wonderful countryside and local Scottish hospitality. Just be carefully of enjoying too many whiskeys before getting back in the saddle!
- The Way of St. James
This is an iconic walking route across Europe. The section we walk in France is popular, well signposted and graded moderate to challenging as you change landscapes over 200km. The 12 day Way of St James will allow you to get your boots dirty on a long distance linear walk that will have you wanting more!