For many Australians, the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea is best known as the location of one of our most significant and bloodiest campaigns fought during World War II. Increasingly, more Australians seek a better understanding of what these young war heroes experienced by tracing their footsteps, walking the very arduous and personally demanding trek.
For those that are considering walking “the trail”, using a reputable tour operator will give you the benefit of accessing guides with valuable experience, as well as knowledge of the historical and local village contexts.
The Kokoda trail is 96km in length and usually takes between 9 – 10 days to walk (averaging 4 -7 hours per day). The recommended time to do the trek is between April and November, avoiding the very hot wet season over summer.
It is vital to prepare nutritionally, particularly given the demands on your body, the remoteness of the location and the high degree of team work required to complete the trek. While you are training for the trek, try to improve your diet and become familiar with these dietary strategies.
Nutrition tips in preparation for an endurance trek
1. Carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate!!
Carbohydrate is your fuel of choice as it is readily broken down into glucose, which is absorbed quickly and utilised efficiently. Your carbohydrate needs during endurance events of > 90mins (moderate – high intensity exercise) are 6-10g per kg body weight. If you are 70kg, this amounts to 420-700g carbohydrate. (Refer to the list of carbohydrate foods below).
2. Carbohydrate loading
Carbohydrate loading allows the muscle glycogen levels to increase to a level that has been shown to improve endurance exercise, and allow athletes to exercise for longer. This same strategy can be applied to endurance hiking. 1-4 days of a high carbohydrate intake (7-12g/kg) will assist to maximize muscle glycogen level before you start the Kokoda trail.
Find out how many meals your tour operators provide. Some provide 2 to 3 meals per day and meals are prepared for you ahead of your arrival at the night stop-over. Others may provide breakfast and dinner, and you will be required to carry snacks and lunch that are light weight, and easy to prepare.
The meals provided by the operator will be a combination of local and dehydrated foods. Ensure your breakfast and evening meal contain low glycaemic index *(GI) carbohydrates, as these will help sustain your energy for longer. Low GI foods include porridge, wholemeal damper, wholegrain bread, rice and some types if noodles.
If you have to provide your own lunch, some good options include: crackers (wholegrain) or flat bread topped with flavoured tuna (in a sachet), portions of spreads like peanut butter/jam, small cans of corn/ legumes (125g).
4. Fill your pack with energy
While you are trekking, you will need readily absorbed carbohydrates which are low in fat and fibre. These will restore and maintain your muscle glycogen stores. Have snacks in your day pack like crackers, dried fruit, muesli bars, sports bars and sports energy gels. You may also purchase bananas and other fruit from local villagers along the trek.
5. Hydration, humidity and hyponatraemia
Exercising in hot and humid weather can lead to dehydration and hyponatraemia (dangerously low salt levels in you blood). In humidity, the body loses heat by sweating, but instead of being evaporated which is a mechanism to prevent the body from overheating, the sweat stays on the skin. Without evaporation, the body’s core temperature can rise leading to serious medical emergencies such as heat stroke (hyperthermia). Symptoms including fatigue, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle cramps. Each kg of weight loss accounts for 1 litre of fluid loss. During your training, you can estimate your fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after an exercise session.
Prolonged exercise in humidity may also induce sodium losses. Hyponatraemia is a serious medical condition resulting from overhydration. It leads to brain swelling, and can be fatal.
Avoid drinking excessive amounts of fluid. Sports drinks (GatoradeT, PoweradeT) have appropriate concentrations of electrolytes and carbohydrates, to promote fluid balance, prevent injury and improve performance. Drink 500ml of a fluid containing carbohydrate and sodium 1-2 hours before the hike each day. Maintain fluid intake by having small amounts every 20 minutes whilst hiking. Rehydration fluids come in light weight powder form, that can be dissolved in water. Use a hydration system water bladder bag which can easily fit in your backpack.
6. Water purification
Water bottles/bladders can be refilled at the villages along the way, however it is advisable to take purification tablets containing iodine to kill most microbes in water that can cause disease.
Carbohydrate foods – 50g serves
|Wheat biscuit cereal (e.g. Weet Bix)||60g (5 biscuits)|
|Porridge – made with water||550 g (2.5 cups)|
|Bread||100 g (4 slices white or 3 thick wholegrain)|
|Pita and lebanese bread||100 g (2 pita)|
|Rice cakes||6 thick or 10 thin|
|Crispbreads and dry biscuits||6 large or 15 small|
|Pancakes||150 g (2 medium)|
|Rice, boiled||180g (1 cup)|
|Pasta or noodles, boiled||200 g (1.3 cups)|
|Large fruit (mango, pear, grapefruit etc.)||2-3|
|Medium fruit (orange, apple etc.)||3-4|
|Small fruit (nectarine, apricot etc.)||12|
|Strawberries||1,800 g (12 cups)|
|Sultanas and raisins||70 g (4 Tbsp)|
|Potatoes||350 g (1 very large or 3 medium)|
|Corn||300 g (1.2 cups creamed corn or 2 cobs)|
|Lentils / soy beans / kidney beans||400 g (2 cups)|
|Flavoured non-fat yoghurt||350g (2 individual tubs)|
|Jubes and jelly babies||60 g|
|Fruit juice – unsweetened||600 ml|
|Sports drink||700 ml|
|Sports bar||1-1.5 bars|
|Sports gels||2 sachets|
*Low glycaemic carbohydrates – carbohydrates that break down and release glucose slowly into the blood stream and help maintain a steady glucose level.
2. Peak Performance: training and nutritional strategies for sport J. Hawley and L. Burke. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1998).
3. Von Devillard SP et al; Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition 20 (July 2004): 651-6