Oxford University Cave Club

Huerta del Rey Expedition 1992

Final Report

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1992 Expedition Index

A Small Study of the Diet Underground...

A typical caver made a record of all the food that he ate while he was on an underground camping trip for four days. Unfortunately it was not possible to weigh accurately all the foods eaten, so the following results are rather approximate. The study also included the day that the caver went underground, and, for comparison, a day of his normal diet in Britain.

In general the diet while camping underground consisted of breakfast and supper, with almost perpetual snacking on peanuts, chocolate, tinned fruit and biscuits in between. Liberal quantities of margarine were added to any meal in which they did not seem out of place.

The meals were made up as follows:

Going to underground camp
Breakfast of 2 eggs, one half loaf of bread, jam.
Snacks of biscuits, chocolate, peanuts, Itona high protein biscuits, Primula cheese, cup-a-soups.
Dinner of a soya protein reconstituted meal, pasta, mashed potato, tinned vegetables, tinned peaches, tea.

Underground camp days
Breakfast of porridge with syrup, peanut butter, dried fruit, margarine, tea.
Snacks and dinner as on the day travelling to camp.

A typical day in Britain
Breakfast of muesli with milk, tea.
Snack of a rock bun and tea.
Lunch of marmite sandwiches, apple and squash.
Dinner of, for example, vegetable moussaka and salad.

It will be noticed that the diet excludes meat, this is because a vocal minority of the expedition are, for various sensible reasons, vegetarian. Those who do wish to eat meat can buy a beautifully grilled steak sandwich, typically containing 6oz of meat and oozing with juices and garlic, from the local bar. Experience has shown, however, that for reasons of simplicity and hygiene it is sensible to leave meat out of the expedition catering arrangements, although the occasional tin of fish has been known to reach the underground camp.

Cheese is generally expensive and often riddled with (cheese tasting) maggots and therefore rarely eaten. In Spain the most common source of complete protein is eggs.

The results are shown in the table, with recommended daily amounts determined by figures from the World Health Organisation and as described by D. Buss and J. Robertson [Manual of Nutrition. 8th edition. HMSO, London, 1976]. Important factors to the caver are the provision of enough energy, and this must be derived from fats and carbohydrates in sufficient quantity to prevent the use of protein as a form of energy because this is needed to build muscle. An analysis of the energy provided shows that this requirement is met by the diet underground. The calorific needs of the caver shown in the table are provided by the protein, fats and carbohydrates eaten during the days recorded. Protein is used as a source of energy if necessary, but given that body fat decreases markedly during the expedition it appears that the use of body fat allows the protein to go to muscle building. By the end of expedition (average of 8 weeks) the situation appears to have reached a stable state with new muscle having been built and most protein becoming energy.

The vegetarian diet of the expedition does mean, however, that it is important to ensure that a full complement of amino acids is provided. Again, analysis of the sources of protein in the diet shows very little imbalance with, for example, peanuts and biscuits and chocolate bars being eaten at one time. The expedition pressure cooks all its beans, which means that more of their proteins can be absorbed during digestion. Sufficient calcium, iron, and vitamins are provided by the diet. Camps of four days are unlikely to cause a problem with regard to vitamin D intake, any lack of sunlight being made up for by copious quantities of margarine. The only change proposed is an alternative breakfast for the day travelling to underground camp of porridge followed by the remains of last night's stew and rice or pasta: this provides more calories and a better balance of proteins and vitamins.

The diet in Britain is also seen to be sufficient, which is not surprising considering that the subject has been living on it quite happily for the last three years. Within the club, and on expeditions, there is no obvious difference in the fitness of those who do and do not eat meat, and in fact it is probably true that the fittest cavers in the club are ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Joan Arthur

The diet of a typical caver while in Spain and in Britain

% RDA achieved

RDA British Diet Going to Camp: normal breakfast Going to Camp:
alt. breakfast
Underground day
Energy 3350 kCal
u'grd: 6140 kCal .
100 109 122
Protein 84 g
u'grd: 96 g
116 86 88
Calcium 500 mg 269 264 309 340
Iron 10 mg 143 150 176 247
Vitamin A 750 g 468 93 177 234
Vitamin C 30 mg 199 141 148 450
Vitamin D 10 g 100 30 35 28
Thiamin 1.3 mg 223 76 103 173
Riboflavin 1.6 mg 160 94 120 247
Niacin 18 mg 238 126 136 327