Alpine Recovery

By Linda Williamson

“What are you gonna eat when we get out of the backcountry?” 

It may be everyone’s favorite topic of conversation during the final miles of a big mountain summit, a multi-day run above tree-line, or an alpine adventure climb that borders on epic. 

So what do we eat? What do our cravings say about what our bodies are needing? How do we make a speedy recovery so we can get after it again soon? 

The biggest factor may well be prevention — how we fuel ourselves before and during our mountain adventure. I admit that before making my own nutrient-dense backcountry meals, I always came out ravenous for savory, fatty meals accompanied by a big salad. Nowadays, it’s  rare that I crave much of anything, though fresh greens and a cup of bone broth always taste good. 

Regardless of how well-prepared you are going in, we can all benefit from some intention with  our food and beverage after an alpine epic. Many factors will affect the degree to which you need recovery — namely the duration and intensity of your event — but will always include an initial recovery phase and a longer-term recovery phase.


Initial recovery refers to what you put into your body during the first few hours after your event,  and centers around hydration and muscle glycogen replenishment. 

It’s virtually impossible to ingest enough water and electrolytes to replace what you’re losing during long hours of movement in the mountains, especially when it’s cold, and especially if  you have a high salt: sweat loss ratio (you can get a rough estimate by how salty your skin is after a hard sweating session). So make sure you drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes immediately upon returning. If it works logistically, make your beverages warm to help maintain body temperature as it begins to drop post-activity. 

Try miso + bone broth for savory, salty, easily absorbable amino acids that help jump-start  muscle repair. For a sweeter take, combine hot water + lemon + cinnamon + honey + sea salt — the cinnamon helps moderate blood glucose levels and acts as a powerful antioxidant to  corral those free radicals incurred during exercise. 

It may be more practical to leave a bottle in your vehicle, pre-mixed with some kind of recovery drink or ready to mix up as soon as you return. This gives you the option of replenishing  electrolytes while also getting calories at the optimal ratio of carbohydrates: protein. 

While the  data varies on exactly what that ratio is (somewhere around 3:1 or 4:1) and how quickly you  need to consume it to best restore muscle glycogen stores (between 30 minutes and an hour after exercise), don’t get hung up on the details! Eat or drink a caloric beverage with a good amount of carbohydrate and some protein as soon as you can after getting back to your  vehicle, home, or end point. I like to snack on almonds + figs while I drive back; pre-pack leftover roasted sweet potato + molasses + walnuts, tortilla wraps stuffed with hummus, or a classic PB&J on hearty bread; or use Skratch Recovery Drink Mix when I need something shelf stable to sit for days in the car.


Longer-term recovery begins an hour or two after you get out of the backcountry and  continues for several days after your event. During this phase you’ll want to focus your nutrition on managing the damage that was incurred during your event, promoting rapid tissue healing, and restoring digestive function and the intestinal microbiome, which take a beating from fiber poor backcountry foods and the physical stress endured in the mountains. 

Again, your specific needs will vary with the intensity and duration of your event, the physical environment (cold, heat, altitude, etc.), your fitness level, and your bio-individual characteristics. Experiment to learn what your body needs and how you respond to these variations. Regardless of how long you feel the need to “recover”, the following recovery foods will serve  you well as a mountain athlete whenever you consume them.


In case you’re not interested in the nitty-gritty, here are the primary take-aways on what to eat to best recover after your alpine adventures.

Immediately after returning from the mountains...

In the days following your event...



Inflammation is the natural result of intense exercise, released  by leukocytes, cytokines, and other products of the immune system. To aid in tissue repair and help balance immune cell activity, prioritize anti-inflammatory foods in the first few days after your event and any time you undergo intense activity. 

Cold water fatty fish — salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines, etc. — and certain microalgae are inflammation fighting  superstars. They provide polyunsaturated fats rich in omega-3s which counteract the more inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils and most nuts and seeds. Walnut, flax, and chia are exceptions in that they contain plant-based omega-3s (ALA) that can  be converted in the body to the more bioavailable form (EPA and DHA) found in fish and algae. You can supplement with cod liver or high quality fish oils, flax or walnut oils, or microalgae: aim for 3 to 6 grams per day during your recovery period, less when incorporating the whole foods into your diet. 

Turmeric root, specifically the curcumin within, is well-known for its anti-inflammatory  properties. Incredibly, this Indian spice also reduces muscle damage and the perception of the  intensity of muscle pain while actually increasing muscle performance! It yields this effect when  taken before, during, and up to 72 hours post-exercise, so even if you can’t sneak turmeric into your backcountry meals (pro tip: it’s delicious with rice noodles and powdered bone broth, dehydrated vegetables, and packaged salmon) you can still reap benefits by including it in your  recovery meals. A golden milk latte is a tasty way to pack ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric into a creamy, rehydrating beverage that’ll calm and soothe. If you choose to supplement, be sure your formula includes black pepper, which aids in absorption. When eating it fresh or dried, simply grind a little black pepper into any meal or beverage that contains turmeric. 

Perhaps most important for supporting tissue repair is consuming a variety of nutrient-dense,  antioxidant-rich foods to help counteract the build-up of free radicals (or reactive oxygen species) generated during sustained endurance activity. This is as easy as thinking: COLOR!  

Fruits and vegetables that are brightly-colored, contain hues of purple, blue, red, and orange, or are dark green inevitably contain a bounty of antioxidants to support tissue repair. Drink tart cherry juice, pomegranate juice, beetroot juice, and watermelon juice; eat blueberries, winter squash, sweet peppers, purple cauliflower, beets, and radishes; and use dark leafy greens and especially pungent fresh herbs in every meal following your event.


Research supports the use of several potent herbs for minimizing muscle pain and soreness — including turmeric root, as mentioned above. 

Ginger has been shown to significantly reduce muscle pain in the day or two after a workout, at doses of 2-3g/day. Because ginger also has potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, as well  as the ability to calm indigestion and nausea, consume generous amounts of both powdered and fresh ginger root during recovery to reduce soreness, aid immune function, and restore optimal digestion. In powdered form it’s delicious in hot beverages, on sweet root vegetables, or sprinkled over your morning oats. Mince the fresh root and sauté with cauliflower rice topped with salmon, blend into root vegetable soups, or simmer it into a spicy tea with a tsp. of honey. 

Garlic is another powerhouse for reducing exercise-induced muscle damage, reactive oxygen  species and perceived soreness. In particular, the allicin within garlic is responsible for these benefits. Allicin is produced by an enzymatic reaction when raw garlic is either freshly crushed or otherwise injured. To get the most from this constituent of garlic, consume raw garlic shortly  after it’s been cut, cook it very gently, or take it a stabilized allicin supplement (I use AlliMax  Pro, also useful for clearing out fungal overgrowths and certain types of opportunistic bacteria  in the intestines). 

Beetroot juice was listed above for its antioxidant properties. Beets are also highly valued for  providing the nitrates that improve endurance performance and decrease oxygen demand during exercise. These properties make beets especially useful before and during aerobic  efforts, but they can also speed muscle recovery to allow for subsequent performance output.  Juicing beets concentrates nitrates; however, eating whole beets — by grating raw into a slaw  with olive oil and lemon juice, roasting lightly, or eating as sauerkraut with red cabbage and ginger — also provides benefits. 

While we’re mostly talking about recovery foods, I’d like to highlight a micronutrient that we’re nearly all deficient in and has numerous functions relevant to recovery. Magnesium is crucial for  muscle relaxation, down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system, and turning glucose into  ATP (the cell’s energy currency). It may not surprise you then that we are prone to being  depleted of magnesium after intense endurance events. To make matters worse, magnesium  concentration in our soils — and thus in our vegetables and fruits — has declined significantly  over the past 50+ years. Prioritize magnesium-rich foods such as seaweeds and sea  vegetables; soy, mung, and aduki beans; pumpkin seeds; dark green vegetables; and cacao during recovery to ease muscle tension and shift the nervous system into a rest and repair  state. You may wish to supplement, and I find that magnesium is often not provided to sufficiency in the diet. If you do supplement, choose magnesium glycinate or a chelate  complex, dosing at 100-400mg once or twice daily, ideally before bedtime, and allow stool frequency and consistency to guide your tolerance since magnesium can cause loose stools  by relaxing the intestinal muscles. 

Finally, a quick mention of protein. We discussed the optimal ratio of carbohydrate:protein consumption during the initial recovery phase, but bear in mind that your muscles will need a steady supply of amino acids for several days afterwards to repair damage endured in the mountains. Eggs quite literally set the digestibility scale for essential amino acids, so they are a fantastic option when you need quick, bioavailable protein. It’s easy to overdo carbohydrates in lieu of adequate protein, so be sure to prioritize varied sources with every meal: nuts and seeds; fish, shellfish, lamb, beef, poultry, and pork; legumes and whole grains; bone broth; and collagen or gelatin from pastured or marine sources.


Most of us have experienced some kind of digestive distress  while playing hard in the mountains — mainly because of altitude, extreme exhaustion, or simply because digestion requires that our body be in a parasympathetic state (the exact  opposite of the sympathetic state utilized during exercise). We also tend toward eating a fiber poor diet when in the backcountry, contributing to slow motility, constipation, and digestive symptoms like bloating and cramps. To make matters worse, the high-stress environment of mountain pursuits can cause detrimental changes to the gut microbiome, allowing  opportunistic species to proliferate.

A simple way to help restore proper digestive function is to simply slow down and eat food mindfully. Breathe deeply before you eat, sit for the duration of your meal, and avoid distractions such as your phone, your newest read, or emotionally inciting conversations. This  contrasts with how we eat while on the go, and allows our salivary glands, stomach, pancreas,  and gallbladder to produce the needed digestive secretions to properly absorb nutrients from  our food. I can’t emphasize enough how critical mindful eating is in addressing digestive symptoms and allowing for full utilization of what we eat. 

Second, prioritize moist, high-fiber foods when you get out of the backcountry. This will help  normalize motility and feed the beneficial microbes in your intestines. Vegetables, fruits, fresh  meats, properly-prepared grains and legumes, and otherwise unprocessed fresh foods should make up the bulk of your diet — and not just during alpine recovery! Remember that your healthy gut microbiome prefers a diverse diet of colorful, fiber-rich foods too, so it can protect  you from pathogens and produce critical nutrients such as B vitamins and K2 in the colon. 

It’s also a good idea to supplement the intestinal microbiota by consuming plenty of probiotic foods. Top your salads, eggs bowls, soups, and oats with sauerkrauts and vegetable ferments;  yogurt, kefir, and cheese; and miso or natto.


It’s worth noting what not to eat when recovering from intense alpine events. Most of these are probably fairly obvious. It’s best to avoid all inflammation-promoting foods (sugar, processed foods, and vegetable oils); known food triggers, like gluten, dairy or allergens; caffeine and other stimulants that might further stress the adrenal glands or promote cortisol dysregulation; and diuretics, such as caffeinated drinks, certain herbal teas like dandelion root and peppermint; as well as sugary drinks.


Linda Williamson is a climber, trail runner, all around mountain enthusiast, and full-time foodie. She is the face behind The Nourishing Nomad, a Functional Nutrition practice specializing in digestive wellness, traditional foods preparation, and real food for the outdoor adventurer.