Fasting: the benefits, the variations, and how to choose the best option for YOU.

fasting

Fasting has experienced a renaissance of late, and for good reason. When practiced correctly, it confers myriad benefits, enhancing one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. There are many variations of fasting and it’s important to know how to choose which is best for you. 

Most likely you or someone you know has experimented with some form of fasting in recent years. Fasting- the practice of abstaining from food for extended periods of time- has a rich history of use across many cultures. It’s been used therapeutically since at least the 5th century bce when Greek physician Hippocrates recommended it for various ailments. He believed it was the key to allowing the body to heal itself, and once said, “to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.” 

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting is a hot area of research and there are many proven benefits to employing some form of fasting on a regular basis. This includes improved body composition (favoring fat burning and muscle preservation), increased energy, appetite regulation, better gut health, improved immune system function, enhanced brain and heart health, longevity and disease protection, and improved willpower. Most of these benefits stem from the process of autophagy, which essentially is the body’s way of taking out the cellular garbage.

Fasting Variations

There are several different ways to fast. These range from shorter periods of caloric restriction, which is not a true fast, but yields similar benefits, to a multi-day water fast, which can be quite healing, but is also fairly stressful on the body.

Consider the following options: 

  • Intermittent fasting: daily fasts between 12 and 18 hours 
  • 24-hour fasts: one or two 24-hour water only fasts per week 
  • Alternate day fasting: water only or one meal per day, every other day 
  • Bone broth fasting: bone broth only for multiple days
  • Caloric restriction: five consecutive days of 500-800 calories 
  • Multi-day water fasts: water only, usually for 3-7 days

How to Choose the Best Option for You

Keep in mind that fasting is not for everyone, and more is not always better. Furthermore, there’s no one-size-fits-all protocol. Your gender, your health history, and your goals all come into play. 

Although water only and multi-day fasts can be a powerful healing tool, they can also be quite taxing on a body that is already stressed, sick, or very active. If you have poor health, hormone imbalances (especially thyroid), or adrenal issues, consider a shorter fast or fasting less often. Keep in mind that research has shown that most of the major metabolic benefits can be achieved after as little as 12 hours of fasting. 

Gender is also a consideration. Women’s hormones tend to be more sensitive to fasting than men’s, so women should be a bit more cautious. For instance, females might start with shorter intermittent fasts, and gradually build up before moving on to longer fasts, such as a 24-hour fast. Pay attention to how your body reacts and do not over-stress your system.

It’s recommended that you check with your doctor before undertaking any form of fasting. It can also be helpful to work with a knowledgeable practitioner to tailor a fast to your current health status and activity level.

Fasting is an accessible and free tool that can have powerful impacts in your quest to live a long and healthy life. Choose the option that’s right for you and begin your journey on the path to enhanced vitality!

This article was originally published in Wishgarden Herbs.

Interested in more strategies to keep you at the top of your wellness game all year round? Download your free wellness guide to increase your energy, optimize body composition, and keep sharpen your mental health.

How to Prepare for Big Physical Goals

by Guest Contributor Heather “Anish” Anderson

An ACE certified personal trainer with over 30,000 backpacking miles, Heather became the first female triple triple crowner and the first female calendar year triple crowner when she hiked the AT, the PCT, and the CDT in one March-November season in 2018. She holds the overall self supported FKT on the PCT and the female FKT on the AT and AZT. She is also an ultra marathoner, peak bagger, and mountaineer working on several ascent lists in the US and abroad. Heather is a speaker, and is author of the book Thirst, which chronicles her PCT record.

It’s that time of year again…where we start reflecting on the past 365 days and making resolutions for the next 365 days. So many of our determinations revolve around health and exercise; including those who plan to do a long-distance backpacking trip as their New Year’s Resolution.  But why do we spend so much time resolving to do better in the arena of wellness and often times not end up following through?

I think so often our goals are unreasonable. We want to attain perfection without the work. Or, don’t fully understand the commitment to lifestyle and mindset change that is not temporary. These, along with our deep-seated dissatisfactions with our own selves, are fuel for the “failure fire.” I could write volumes about this, but for this blog I’m going to focus on a few points especially with regard to preparation for a big, physical goal (like a race or long-distance hike) since that’s my specialty as a personal trainer.

First of all, I’ll start with the essential (and shockingly, often not obvious) truth that you need to know and accept: You are capable.

You are capable of achieving your goals. It might take you a longer time or more work than someone else, but you are capable of effecting great change, massive health improvements and finding yourself able to complete things you couldn’t previously. The key is to believe in your ability to improve.

Secondly: Set stepping stone goals.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years and the number one reason people drop out of a program is because they’re not seeing the results they expected right away. The truth is you won’t see the end result without long-term work. It’s great to have a big, audacious goal. But once you have it, break down the steps you’ll need to get from where you are to that goal and focus on building from one sub-goal to the next. You’ll stay motivated in your training when you’re seeing the results you expect as you reach each subsidiary benchmark.

Take a cue from long distance hiking: when you start the Appalachian Trail, you’re going to get demoralized thinking about walking 2,193 miles. Or even across 14 states. Think instead about hiking to your campsite each day, or to the next town. These short term, attainable goals feed that sense of accomplishment you need to keep going. One by one, all these mini-goals stack up to make a whole thru-hike. In the same way, looking at your long term goal through the lens of all the mini-goals that make it up and you’ll find a string of successes that builds upon itself.

Third: Realize this is a commitment to life-change, not just means to an end.

It’s fine to make a dietary or physical activity change for short term goals, if that’s what you want. But realize that if you’re serious about becoming healthier, preparing your body to age well, or prepping for a long-term physical goal it will require life change. You’ll be undoing ingrained habits and replacing them with new ones. Chances are you’ll have to start with concreting foundational changes that may seem imperceptible into your routine before moving on. That’s why the first two steps I listed are so crucial. If you set unrealistic goals, or go too hard too soon you’ll burn out. Think of the changes you’re aiming for as a journey, not a destination. Just like you can’t get from Springer Mountain, Georgia (the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) to Mount Katahdin, Maine (the northern terminus) in 10 days on foot, you can’t completely overhaul your wellness and exercise habits in a day either.

If you’re looking to make the changes necessary to really prepare you for long term success remember to take it one piece at a time.  Set your intention not just for the New Year, but for your life. Begin making changes and focus on cementing one solidly in your foundation before moving on to the next. Start with the goal of 20 minutes of exercise every day. Once you’re successfully doing that without missing days you’re ready to take the next step…toward whatever your long-term goals are. If they include preparing to complete a thru-hike you might consider the Adventure Ready online course that Katie Gerber and I have collaborated on.

To stay in the loop for the next enrollment period for Adventure Ready, and to get on the VIP list for early bird promotions, join the email list here (plus get a free winter wellness guide!).

How to Stay Consistent with Anything

When it comes to making progress in anything, being consistent is key. As I often talk about with clients, it’s not one meal, or even one day, of poor choices that ruins your progress. It’s what you do day in and day out, over time. 

Staying consistent is something that most of us struggle with at some point, especially when we’re first implementing new habits. Maybe it’s staying consistent with your 5am workouts or sticking with your keto (or paleo or vegan or whole foods or…) eating plan. Or maybe you want to meditate daily or stop drinking sugary beverages.

Your start with good intentions. You’re so dedicated to sticking with your goal that you can’t imagine how anything could possibly get in your way. And then the dog pukes on the carpet right when you’re headed to spin class or you didn’t have time to hit the grocery store and now you don’t have healthy snacks on hand. 

Suddenly, all bets are off. Your good intentions fall by the wayside and you end the day feeling defeated. You vow to try again tomorrow. Or, worse, you let the failure feeling spiral into the F-it mentality. I ate one slice of cake, so now I may as well eat 4. Sound familiar?

Progress, Not Perfection

Implementing and sticking to your well-intentioned plan can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a few tools you can use to set yourself up for a greater likelihood of success. We’ll cover that in a moment. But first, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be perfect in your habits to make progress towards your goal. 

In fact, I recently read an article where the authors analyzed over 1000 nutrition clients to assess how consistent you need to be to see body transformations over the course of a year. It turns out that you don’t need 100% consistency to see results. Even a little bit (10-49%) of consistency in your health habits resulted in an average of 11 pounds lost and a 5-6% reduction in body fat. Of course, more consistency led to greater results, but the point is that you can let go of the idea that you need to be perfect to see results. You can miss your health habit half of the time and still see progress. Whew, what a relief!

Habits are the Foundation

When it comes to consistency, building in habits is key. Whether ongoing research determines that willpower is finite or that it behaves more like an emotion that ebbs and flows, the argument for creating habits to achieve our ideal outcome remains the same. 

When habits are in place, we no longer rely on willpower to do what we know we ‘should’ do. Once we’ve put in the effort to establish the habit, it more or less keeps going on auto-pilot, and we can direct that precious energy elsewhere.  

When it comes to creating habits, and being consistent, here are 7 tools to set you up for success.

Know Your WHY

This seems obvious, but it’s so often overlooked. It’s truly the foundation for everything. When you know your WHY, you’re more motivated, and the obstacles which will inevitably arise, are easier to overcome. 

Take 3 minutes, get quiet, and understand your true motivation for wanting to implement a certain new habit. Allow the truth to come up without judgment. Do you want to be healthy so you can play with your kids? Do you want to lose 10 pounds so you look better naked? Do you want to journal everyday because it helps you be a better spouse? Whatever it is, write it in a note on your phone and revisit it often. Daily is ideal. Stay very connected to your WHY. 

Start Small

Baby steps. Don’t overhaul your entire life and attempt to change all your habits at once. Let’s call this the New Year’s Eve effect. We all know that person who is a sedentary junk food eater and decides to quit smoking, go vegan, and start working out daily all within the first week of January. What happens? By January 7, they’re back to their old habits, feeling like a failure. 

Sustainable change and new habits happen one building block at a time. Focus on one new habit for at least 2 weeks before moving on to the next. If this habit is a particularly big change, give it your mono-focus for longer. Additionally, if your desired outcome is a big leap from where you are now, create ‘stepping stone’ goals. These should be ridiculously easy to achieve. So easy that failure is impossible. This prevents overwhelm and creates positive momentum.

Do the Hard Things First

Prioritizing your challenging tasks is especially important when building in new habits. Implementing new behaviors requires energy input, which is often higher at the beginning of the day. Furthermore, when it comes to something like working out, it’s often easier to fit it in first thing in the morning, before the chance arises for something to throw our well-meaning plan off course (i.e. an unscheduled meeting, an unexpected phone call, an appointment that runs long, etc.).

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remove as much thought and effort from the process as possible. For example, when it comes to maintaining healthy eating habits, try meal prepping, a home delivery service, or keeping the pantry stocked with staples for quick healthy meals. This way, you don’t end up making poor choices because you got home late and didn’t have the time or energy to make something healthy. Likewise, say your goal is to go for a 30 minute walk every morning. Set your outfit out the night before, prep your coffee or breakfast in advance, and set your shoes by the door. 

Essentially, do whatever you can to make it easy to follow through with your desired habit. 

Create Accountability

This is more important for some people than for others, so it’s helpful to know yourself. If you know that you do better when someone is counting on you to show up, then create accountability around your desired habit. 

This might be connecting with a workout buddy or a trainer who meets you at the gym 4 days per week. Or perhaps this looks like you announcing your goal to a supportive group that can hold you accountable. Or if you’re really committed, you enlist the help of a coach  who helps you clearly define your goals and then keeps you on track towards reaching them.

Track Your Progress

In the same vein as creating accountability, tracking your progress can be a powerful way to build momentum. You could use a basic wall calendar where you mark each day with an “X” when you perform your habit. Put the calendar where you will see it daily and never let two days in a row go by where you don’t have an “X” on your calendar. 

When I work with clients, we use a simple spreadsheet to track consistency. We both have access to the spreadsheet and I review it regularly, which also leverages the accountability principle.
 

Identify Potential Obstacles & Develop a Plan (ie. Worse Case Scenario Thinking)

It’s so much easier to make the ‘right choice’ when we envision in advance what might go wrong and how we’ll handle it. I do this all the time in the wilderness. What would I do if a bear ate all my food tonight? What would I do if I encounter a creep while I’m out here alone? What would I do if I got bitten by a venomous snake while I’m hiking alone? I run through all these ‘worse case scenarios’ and decide how I would proceed. That way, should any of these events occur, I’m not caught off guard. I don’t have to think through how I’ll proceed in the moment. I already know.

You can leverage this same principle with developing habits and staying consistent. For one week, pay attention to the times that you don’t follow through with your desired habit. What are the circumstances when this happens? What is your ‘excuse’? No time? No healthy food on hand? It was raining so you couldn’t go out for a walk?

What are all the ways that you currently throw you off or that could potentially throw you off? Write them down. Now, go back down the list and decide what you could do in advance to prevent that from happening or to handle the event so you could still accomplish your habit.

Perhaps the solution is to schedule 2 hours of meal prep every Sunday evening so you’re set up for healthy eating all week. Perhaps you hire a trainer for a month so you learn the ropes at the gym and feel confident with your workouts.

Identifying our obstacles in advance helps us to make the right choice when/if we do bump up against an obstacle that threatens to derail our plan. When we’ve made the decision ahead of time, we tend to follow through more in the moment.

“Fall seven times and stand up eight” -Japanese Proverb

Remember, progress, not perfection. If you’re reading this, it’s quite possible you’re am ambitious, type A, overachiever. You’re likely used to doing well at things and you may even have the habit of beating yourself up when you ‘fail’. Hey, I get it.

But, please, don’t waste your precious life energy doing that. If you fall off the wagon, pick yourself back up and start over. That’s it. We’re all human. We all mess up. Use that energy that you would’ve put towards self-flagellation and redirect it towards getting back on track.

If this information was helpful to you, consider enrolling in our online course Adventure Ready. It’s designed to up-level every area of your health from body composition to gut health to fitness so that you can get out on your dream adventure feeling your best.

Supplements on the CDT for Energy, Immunity, and Endurance

supplements on trail

In addition to the steps I took to prepare my body for this hike (which I detail here), I credit this supplement protocol with keeping me strong, healthy, and energized for 3 months of 30+ mile days.  Here’s the exact stack of supplements I used for my sub-100 day CDT hike.

Why I Use Supplements

Generally speaking, I prefer to meet nutritional needs through a diet centered around whole foods. However, due to our depleted soils, our compromised food system, and our chronically stressed lives, whole foods are not always enough. Furthermore, strenuous exercise, like backpacking all day, increases the body’s needs for high quality nutrients. The lack of access to fresh food on trail adds another challenge. even when not on trail.

For these reasons, carrying a few thoughtfully chosen supplements on my backpacking trips is worth the extra weight and expense to me. Supplementing gives me more energy, improves my stamina, and boosts my immune system (which keeps illness and injury at bay). I go much deeper into the how and why of supplementing on trail in this post.

Supplements I Carried on my CDT Hike

I’m stubbornly minimalist on trail. To a fault, I’d say. But it is what it is. The point is that this list is significantly pared down from what I might take at home.

Additionally, what I carry may not be what you carry, if you choose to take supplements at all. Because our bodies are all different and have different needs. 

This list is not intended to be a recommendation. It’s provided for informational purposes only. It’s also important to note that I didn’t take these every single day. I took them probably about 80% of the time. 

The Method

Because I like to eat what I like to eat on trail (which I’ve explained extensively here, here, and here), I like to send resupply boxes. The way I handle supplements is that first I choose shelf-stable ones (most are, but pay attention with probiotics and fish oil). Then I look at my resupply sheet (like this one) and I divvy them up into small plastic baggies with the number of pills per baggie corresponding to the number of days of food in that box. For example, if I’m creating a bag for a 4-day stretch of trail, I put 4 of each pill into the baggie. Then I drop the bag into the box. It’s that simple.

I don’t worry about supplements in the resupply stops where I don’t have a resupply box. The idea is to get them into my body often enough to boost my health significantly, but not to be overly strict about it.

I generally took my supplements with a morning meal or snack, except where otherwise noted.

These supplements went into every box: 

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is an adaptogen herb. That means it helps regulate the body’s stress response. The root and berry of this plant are used to make tinctures and capsules. It’s anti inflammatory, immune boosting, balances blood sugar, reduces cortisol, regulates the HPA axis, and may reduce stress/anxiety/depression. I find it most effective when taken daily for months at a time. 

Astaxanthin 

Astaxanthin is a reddish pigment that belongs to a group of chemicals called carotenoids. It occurs naturally in certain algae and causes the pink or red color in salmon, trout, lobster, shrimp, and other seafood. In addition to improving heart health, preventing diabetes, and decreasing the risk of brain damage from stroke, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. 

Those are all great benefits, but the real reason I carry it on a long hike is that it serves as ‘internal sunscreen’ by protecting the skin from damage caused by UV (ultra-violet) exposure. On my entire CDT hike, I wore sunscreen less than a dozen times, and only on my face. I never got burnt anywhere besides my nose all summer. 

Spore-based Probiotics

Probiotics have a host of benefits, including boosting the immune system, supporting brain function, and enhancing mineral absorption. These healthy gut bacteria can even contribute to hormone balance and the production of certain neurotransmitters. There are many types of probiotic supplements to choose from. When I’m backpacking, I choose a spore-based probiotic because it’s more shelf-stable than other varieties.

Additionally, certain spore-based probiotics have been shown to heal leaky gut by closing tight junctions between colonocytes, increasing the thickness of intestinal mucosa, and up-regulating secretory IgA levels that support the body’s natural defense against infections. This is important for hikers who are likely consuming little to no probiotic-rich foods, and are eating a less-than-ideal diet.

Turmeric

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a root from the ginger family which is known for its bright orange color and it’s role in Indian cuisine.

It’s also one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs available. It aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and performance in active people. It’s a must have in my book, on trail and off.

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12 is a vitamin B12 blend formulated for nerve and mitochondrial support. Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12 helps support carbohydrate metabolism for the enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA as well as the synthesis of neuronal myelin.

I carried this one because pre-trail blood work indicated that I was low. Speaking of which, having blood work done is a good idea before you start guzzling supplements willy-nilly. You can order your own online, but it’s a good idea to work with a practitioner. These are real compounds with real effects in the body.

Multi Vitamin

A high quality multi serves as nutritional insurance for me. This is particularly important because of the lack of fresh foods in my diet (which is where we get many of our vitamins and minerals).

The micronutrients found in a good multivitamin play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection of body against oxidative damage. Additionally, they assist with synthesis and repair of muscle tissue. Exercise tends to deplete our vitamin stores more quickly. Therefore, I like to cover my bases with a high quality supplement. 

Colostrum

Colostrum is the first form of milk produced by mammals immediately after giving birth. It’s rich in antibodies and helps the body build a strong immune system. It also rebuilds gut health and can aid in recovery.

My favorite brand is Surthrival. It’s a powder that you dissolve in your mouth. I didn’t take it daily, but I included it in at least ⅔ of my resupply boxes. I’ve found it crucial in keeping my gut healthy and my autoimmune symptoms at bay. It’s best taken on an empty stomach.

Magnesium

I often took a magnesium powder dissolved in a small amount of liquid before bed. The purpose was to relax my muscles, aid in muscle recovery, and to promote sound sleep. I use this off trail as well. This is the powder I use. 

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

In addition to the above protocol, I also hid extra nutrition and superfoods into my resupply box where I could. This was particularly true in my smoothie, which I had almost every single morning on trail. 

Trail Smoothie

It includes a greens powder, coconut milk powder, collagen peptides, chia seeds, cordyceps mushroom powder, ground cinnamon powder, ground ginger powder, and sea salt. For the full recipe and why this is such a powerful, blood-sugar balancing way to start the day, read more here

There you have it. This is exactly how I complimented my healthy eating plan for more energy, immunity, and endurance on my sub-100 day CDT hike. For more resources on how to build strength, health, and resilience before your next adventure, see our online course Adventure Ready.

Related: 

Healthy Lightweight 5-Day Meal Plan

Diet & Supplements for Managing Tendonitis Naturally

How to Choose the Best Electrolytes

Adaptogens for Athletes

How to: Supplementation on Trail

Free Guide: Supplementing Wisely

Thru-hiking with a Chronic Illness: Strategies ANYONE Can Use to be a Stronger Hiker

cdt

How I prepared for a sub-100 day thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail

Let’s get something out of the way right up front: this post is not about the newest “biohacks”. Rather, it’s about the “basics” and how to build a strong foundation. These are the strategies that, if applied consistently, will give you the health you need to take on any adventure (chronic illness or not).

At least that’s been the case for me. I’m all for tactics, such as intermittent fasting, cold thermogenesis, infrared sauna, ketosis, etc., but if you haven’t mastered the basics, don’t waste your time or money on the other stuff. Ain’t no use building a house on a weak foundation, right? 

By focusing on the concepts outlined below, I’ve become a stronger backpacker than ever before.

My Story

My outlook after I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue was bleak. I’d built my identity as a long distance runner and backpacker. My self worth directly correlated to the number of miles I ran or hiked each day.

After returning from the PCT in 2014 and discovering that all the symptoms I was experiencing were due to adrenal fatigue and an autoimmune thyroid condition, life got pretty dark for a while. 

I felt disconnected from my life and my body. Extreme fatigue had become the norm. My hair was falling out in clumps. I was gaining weight with no change in diet or exercise. I was depressed and listless.

On top of the physical and mental symptoms from my illness, I was grappling with losing my identity as a ‘young, fit, endurance athlete’. I was running 10 miles daily and had been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I believed I was the definition of health. I knew it was a waste of mental energy, but I couldn’t help but fall into the ‘why me?’ mindset. 

To make a long story short(er), I tried every trick in the book to get my health back: different diets, supplements, exercise routines, and protocols. My healing journey felt like I was taking two steps forward and one back. My progression towards wellness was far from linear, but there was indeed progress, even if it was subtle. Slowly I found my way out.

I’m not fully healed, but I’m strong enough to do what I love again: walk and run long distances in the wilderness. 

Fast Forward to 2019 

I’d been dreaming of this hike since before I got “sick”. Most thru-hikers complete the CDT in 4-5 months. My goal was to complete a sub-100 day hike. I needed to know that all the work I’d done on my health was worth it. My goal was to not just get out there, but to truly crush it. 

I wasn’t trying to be that ‘young, fit, endurance athlete with flawless health’. Rather, I wanted to demonstrate that with a commitment to true self care, that I could hike as well or better than I had pre-illness. In turn, I hoped it would serve as inspiration for anyone else struggling with their health; those who felt like their adventure dreams were out of their reach.

But first, I needed evidence that these strategies worked. I didn’t talk about my goal much before my hike because, honestly, I didn’t know how it’d go. 

I completed the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) in the fall of 2018 and felt great, but my pace wasn’t as aggressive as what I had planned for the CDT. Holding it together for 1 month on the ODT was one thing; holding it together for almost 3 ½ months on the CDT was quite another. Did I really have the health to do this when the memories of not even being healthy enough to run a few miles were still fresh in my mind? 

Thru-hiking is for EVERYONE (if you’re willing to put in the work)

Good health and fitness don’t just come naturally to me. I work for it. It’s a commitment and a priority. I work to be at my healthiest because it’s imperative for engaging in what is most important to me (getting outside) and for living fully.

There’s a stereotypical image of what a ‘thru-hiker’ looks like: mid-20’s, fit, white male (with long beard and short shorts). That’s not me. But I’m just as competent of a hiker.

I say that not out of hubris, but simply to remind you that there’s a place at the table for everyone. I also don’t mean to imply that competition, or a certain speed, or high mileage days, “should” be the goal. That was my goal because it was a proxy of health for me. And because I like to push my physical limits. It’s how I connect with the wild, externally and internally.

Adventure Ready is on online course designed to help you optimize your physical health so you can take on your next adventure with confidence. You’ll learn to master your mindset, find the ideal diet for YOUR body, develop a training plan that won’t result in overuse injuries, increase your energy, and much more!

The Method

Here’s how I built good health and prepared my body to perform optimally on a 3000 mile hike. These strategies will work, whether you have a chronic illness or if you’re just looking to be at your healthiest so you can get into the outdoors with confidence.

Master Your Mindset

First things first. It starts with what goes on in your mind. This applies when it comes to adventures, but in truth, it matters for anything in life.

I learned this lesson very clearly while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in 2009. I joined a friend for the start of his thru-hike, thinking I might thru-hike too, if it worked out. Nope. This is the wrong mindset with which to embark on any epic undertaking; particularly one which will require you to overcome challenges. When my off-trail life went haywire, I left the trail. I don’t regret the decision, but the point is that I hadn’t fully committed to thru-hiking. If I had, I would’ve found any way possible to make it work. Any obstacle can be overcome if you’ve committed and you know your desired outcome very clearly. 

Action: Before your next adventure, write down your desired outcome and include 1-2 sentences about WHY  you’re taking it on.

Dial in Your Perfect Diet

Pushing your body to the limits and maintaining the energy for 35+ mile days is much easier when you’re eating the right diet. I don’t suggest that there’s one single best diet for everyone, but you do need to figure out what works for your body. This is true for everyone, but it’s especially important with a chronic illness because the ‘wrong diet’ for your body could lead to a lot of inflammation.

For the endurance athlete, inflammation can impact performance and compromise immunity. The physical strain of hiking long days is already creating some degree of inflammation in the body, so limiting excess inflammation coming from other sources is important. 

Action: For a free and efficient way to determine which foods are right for you, try this guide. For information on eating a lightweight, nutrient dense trail diet, check out this free course

Prioritize Sleep

Perhaps the most underappreciated of the health pillars is sleep. Prioritizing sleep is HUGE. Research shows that “sleep disruption is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, metabolic effects, changes in circadian rhythms, and proinflammatory responses. In otherwise healthy adults, short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress responsivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress and mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.”

Action: Maintain a consistent sleep time. Stay off screens at least an hour before your planned bedtime (blue light disrupts melatonin production). Aim for 7+ hours per night.

Optimize Gut Health

“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates nailed it. Microbiome research is one of the hottest areas of research, with recent findings revealing that gut health has implications in a wide variety of diseases  including obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cardiovascular disease. For the long distance hiker, good gut health means better immunity, increased absorption of essential nutrients, decreased inflammation, and increased motivation, to name a few of the many benefits.  

Action: Include plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kvass, etc.) in your diet. Feed those probiotics their favorite food: soluble fiber. Think oats, beans, citrus, apples, lentils, and peas. Consider a professional-grade supplement (click here for 10% off). 

Keep Stress in Check

Despite the research that’s piling up showing the negative impacts of stress, and even the World Health Organization (WHO) pointing to stress as the primary health epidemic of the 21st century, I dismissed the real impact of stress for a long time. In doing so, I’d unintentionally put a limit on how much my body could heal. 

Stress not only creates hormone disruption and systemic inflammation, it can impact focus, memory, gastrointestinal function, and the cardiovascular system, to name just a few of it’s wide-ranging impacts.

Could this invisible force really be impacting my overall wellness that much? After fixing my diet, my training, my sleep, and my gut health, and still struggling with some lingering symptoms, it was apparent that I needed to address any other factors that could be at play. It’s an ongoing practice, but when I prioritize joy and keep a watchful eye over where stress is seeping into my life, I’m noticeably happier and healthier. 

Action: Ask yourself, “What are all the ways, small and large, that stress has seeped into my life? More importantly, what can I do to eliminate or mitigate it?”. Some of the methods that work for me include a morning journaling practice, meditation, running, walking in nature, baths, and calling people I care about. 

Train Your Body

This strategy comes last because it matters, absolutely, but if all of the above is not in place, a good physical training plan can only take you so far. I tend to maintain a decent base fitness level year round through hiking, running, HIIT workouts, and yoga. Other than a few longer weekend hikes, I didn’t do too much extra training for the CDT.

Depending on where you’re starting from, everyone’s physical training plan will look slightly different. In general, start low and slow, and build up from there.

Action: Develop an appropriate individualized training plan. To avoid injury, it’s important to assess where you are now and build up fitness gradually. You can work with a trainer or enroll in our Adventure Ready course for guidance on how to assess your current fitness, find potential weak spots, and build a training plan that will get you ready for your hike without injury.

It may be cliche at this point, but it’s been my experience that our greatest struggles turn out to be our greatest lessons. That’s certainly been true for my journey as an endurance athlete with an autoimmune illness. I wouldn’t have asked for it, but it’s caused me to dive deeper than I ever would have otherwise into what it means to create true health and resilience. 

We dive much deeper into these topics in Adventure Ready, an online course designed to help you up-level your physical health so you can take on your next adventure with confidence!

Continental Divide Trail Gear List

gear

For the curious, for the gear heads (which I am not), here’s a list of the gear I carried on my 2800+ mile hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) this past summer.

Some of the items were only carried for certain sections (i.e. snow gear up north, bear protection in bear country, etc.). I made note of those items in the list below. I didn’t include weights for the items worn, but all other items have weights listed.

As mentioned in my previous posts, my average food weight is about 1.5-1.75 pounds of food per day. You can read in depth about my healthy, lightweight meal planning strategy here.

CDT Gear List

Click here for the Gear Spreadsheet

Questions? Comments? Post ’em below!

Like what you’re reading? Sign up here to receive our new & full moon newsletter to keep you inspired on your journey to a more expansive, healthy, and adventurous life!

5 Signs Your Diet Isn’t Right For You

right diet

(and what you can do about it!)

Low Carb. High Carb. Low Fat. High Fat. Paleo. Whole30. Vegan. Keto. And on and on and on. There are SO MANY diets out there! 

How do you know if the one you’ve chosen is right for you? 

It can be tough. This post will help you decide.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of the one-size-fits-all diet mentality. I’ve found that most people do better over the long term with an individualized, flexible,and sustainable approach to eating. But, perhaps you were inspired to try a certain diet because you saw a co-worker get great results with it and you’ve been seeing it all over the headlines. Or maybe you have a certain diet that you adopted years ago, but now you’re not feeling that great and you’re wondering if it might be related to food.

Here’s the thing: nutrition is an evolving science. New studies come out daily, often with seemingly contradictory information. To avoid driving yourself insane by adjusting your habits to match the latest headline of what’s “healthy” this week, the key to long-term diet sanity and effectiveness is to tune in, get to know your own body, and be flexible enough to change over time. 

Each of us is unique, and therefore each of us require an individualized approach to diet, movement, supplementation, and more. It’s up to you to figure out what works for YOU. We’ll cover later in this post

To avoid wasting time and effort (or even harming your health) on an approach that’s not right for you, use the following indicators to assess your current diet. 

How’s Your Energy?

The right diet for you will give you sustained energy throughout the day, without the need to rely on stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Different macronutrient ratios work for different people. You may need higher carb, higher fat, or higher protein. If you don’t know, track your intake for a week and test out different ratios. A good (FREE) tracking app is My Fitness Pal. Start with 40% fat, 40% carbs, 20% protein and adjust from there. Pay attention to your energy throughout the day. 

Are You Satisfied?

Are you constantly feeling deprived, and hungry, and always thinking about food? Do you have intense cravings for specific foods, such as sweets? The right diet for you will leave you feeling satisfied, not constantly thinking about your next meal or reaching for snacks an hour after you have a meal. Not being satisfied could be due to the amount of food, the quality of food, the micronutrients (or lack of), or the macronutrient ratio. Most people feel most satisfied when they have a mix of protein, fat, and carbs with each meal. 

How is Your Digestion?

Your digestion can be a major indicator that a certain diet is not for you. “Normal” bowel function means that you’re having 1-3 bowel movements daily. They should be soft and well-formed. Check out the Bristol Stool Chart for more details. What you eat directly impacts your digestion.

If your stool frequency or consistency is off or if you’re experiencing a lot of gas, cramping, or bloating after meals, it’s an indication that your diet may not be a good fit for you. Oftentimes, this indicates an undetected food intolerance. Your digestion is at the root of your health, so it’s important to get this dialed in.  

How’s Your Mood?

Feeling anxious, depressed, or blue? The gut is often referred to as the second brain because the health of the gut has a direct impact on neurotransmitter production and overall mood. Did you know that an estimated 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut?! In part, this is courtesy of your microbiome, the trillions of yeast and bacteria that live in the gut. The health of your microbiome is directly impacted by your diet (hint: gut bugs LOVE to feed on soluble fiber). Additionally, if your diet deprives you of essential nutrients, like B12 or Omega-3 fatty acids for instance, this could also lead to mood impairment. Similarly, if your diet contains anti-nutrients or other gut lining irritants, you may be harming your gut lining and impairing your ability to extract all the nutrition from your food. 

Chronic Health Conditions

This could include many different things, such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, thyroid conditions, chronic inflammation, and so much more. Often times, a key component of underlying inflammation and disruption stems from components in the diet that don’t work for your particular body. Sometimes, this could be gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and other common allergens. Other times, it may be less common allergies, like nightshades, or something ‘random’, like green beans. 

(Bonus) Health Markers, like your weight and blood markers.

Regular tracking of weight and certain blood markers over time can clue you in to health conditions that may be diet-related. For example, if you’re gaining weight without changes in your diet or exercise, there may be aspects to your diet that are affecting your blood sugar balance and the hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, like insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and thyroid. Additionally, specific blood markers like hemoglobin A1C can clue you in to chronically high insulin levels, and hsC-Reactive Protein can give you an indication of inflammation levels-both of which may be diet related. 

How to find what’s right for you.

If you went through this list and realized that your current diet may not be working for you, no need to stress! Finding what’s right for you is relatively straight-forward. In addition to the tips above, use the following exercises to get on the right track for YOUR biology. 

Keep a Food & Mood Journal

This can begin to clue you into to symptoms you may be experiencing after eating certain foods.  A Google search will give you a quick template from which you can DIY your own. I do this with all my clients when we begin our work together. It’s a great exercise to both create an awareness of what you’re actually eating throughout the day as well as provide you with insight into foods that may be causing symptoms. 

Complete an Elimination Diet

If you want to take it a level deeper, and particularly if you’re experiencing a lot of health symptoms (fatigue, allergies, weight loss resistance, sleep issues, energy issues, etc.), you might consider at least a basic elimination diet. I have a free guide outlining the entire process, which you can download here. Honestly, I’d recommend everyone try an elimination diet at least once. 

Get Back in Touch with Your Intuition

Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of many diets, and all the diet ‘rules’, it’s easy to get further and further away from the innate wisdom of our bodies. This can be a long process, but it can be helpful to get back in touch with what your body really craves and needs. One place to start is the book Intuitive Eating.

How are you feeling about your diet after reading this post? Let me know in the comments!

Embrace Discomfort to Become a Better You

hope pass, stillness lesson, discomfort

What kind of character do you want to play in this lifetime? 

Do you want to be someone who is calm, resilient, and adaptable in the face of adversity? Or do you want to be someone who is easily perturbed and thrown off kilter each time an unexpected road block is put before you? Most likely, you chose the former. 

There’s actually no right answer. The real point is that you get to choose. You have the opportunity to train yourself to be whatever type of person you want to be. Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself who you want to be? Have you considered how you want to interact with reality to sculpt yourself into the type of person you desire to be?  

This article examines specifically how you show up during moments of discomfort, but know that you can actively sculpt any part of your character at any point in your life. And the even more exciting part is that life is constantly giving us opportunities to do this 🙂

We’re conditioned to believe that we’re either born with certain personality traits or we’re not. ‘He’s outgoing.’ ‘She’s assertive.’ ‘He’s uptight.’ It’s as if this is what we’re born with and that’s it. However, what I believe, and what I’ve found to be true in my own life, is that we have choice over which traits we strengthen within ourselves and which we weaken.

Even if you already know this to be true, have you intentionally decided how you wish to sculpt your character? I think many people, either consciously or unconsciously, make the decision to float through life. They allow life to happen to them. They unconsciously react rather than consciously creating what they want.  

While it’s certainly possible to continue drifting through life, reacting to whatever comes your way, I find that it makes for a far more fascinating journey to actively engage with reality in a way that turns me into the type of person I desire to become. 

Seek Discomfort to Speed Your Growth

I’ve found adversity, challenges, and obstacles (i.e. anything which elicits discomfort) to be particularly powerful for character sculpting. The truth is that to get stronger, we must push ourselves just beyond the edge of our comfort zones. And, by definition, that requires discomfort. This applies whether we’re talking about getting stronger physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally.

Like any animal, we humans instinctively shy away from discomfort. That’s our nature. Society encourages and reinforces that behavior. We have machines that can perform nearly any task for us, so that we no longer need to do much physical labor to attend to our daily lives. We go from our temperature-controlled home to our temperature-controlled car to our temperature-controlled office, so we never have to feel the heat or the cold or be exposed to severe weather. When we don’t get first place in the spelling bee, we’re given a participation award, so there’s no disappointment to experience and no reflection on how we can improve. When the partner breaks up with us, our friends tell us that they didn’t deserve us anyway, so we never have to reflect on the role we played in the break-up and how it potentially could’ve been avoided. 

This comes at a cost, though. We lose our ability to adapt. We lose our resilience. We miss out on golden opportunities to grow, expand, learn, and become stronger. 

There are countless ways, both subtle and obvious, where we circumvent emotions and experiences which could actually be alchemized into our greatest gifts. If we train ourselves to shift our perspective, we are suddenly rewarded with the chance to become a better version of ourselves. In essence, to up-level.

When we train ourselves to lean into discomfort and excavate the lesson from each experience, we free up so much precious life energy. We no longer waste energy resisting what is. Instead, we’re able to use that energy to sculpt the version of ourselves that we desire.

Instead of being in victim mode and saying “Why did this happen to me?”, what if you shifted the question to “How is this happening for me?”? Do you see the mind shift there? One is disempowering; the other is transformational. 

“No tree which the wind does not often blow against is firm and strong; for it is stiffened by the very act of being shaken, and plants its roots more securely: those which grow in a sheltered valley are brittle: and so it is to the advantage of good men, and causes them to be undismayed, that they should live much amidst alarms, and learn to bear with patience what is not evil save to him who endures it ill.”

Seneca

Let’s look at a few examples. I think the physical realm is the easiest place to start.

This morning I attempted to do a 42-minute power yoga video. I say attempted because this was the first yoga I’ve done in about 5 months and I only made it about ¾ of the way through. The reduction in my arm strength was quite apparent.

I was initially discouraged, but I soon remembered what a gift this was. I could clearly see my weaknesses and tailor my training to address them. This happens to me often in fitness. I get so wrapped up in doing the same workout routine. The body adapts quickly and I stop progressing. However, I don’t notice that I’m stagnant, or at least it takes a while to notice. I’ve learned that if I want to keep improving, I have to be mindful and intentionally seek challenges.

In the mental, emotional, and spiritual realms, examples of this practice are a bit less distinct. One recent scenario that comes to mind is an experience I watched a friend endure. Said friend met a man while visiting a hot springs resort 5 hours away from her home. They immediately had a connection. They kept in touch when they were apart and she would come back to visit every 3-4 months, the connection becoming more flirtatious each time.

This went on for over a year. They hadn’t made any serious commitment, but she felt connected with him. On her most recent visit, right before she was about to leave, he kissed her very passionately in the parking lot. She left feeling elated. Now, several months later, after several texts and calls, she’s never heard back from him.

This certainly falls into the category of ‘challenges’ (emotional, mental, and maybe even spiritual). She could have let the un-knowingness of it undo her. And indeed, it required a lot of inner work, but she eventually came to a point where she could let it go and be at peace with the situation. She may never know what happened to him, but it doesn’t matter anymore. She took the energy that was going into suffering and put it into self care and inner growth.

Find Your Challenge Before It Finds You

Recently, I was looking back over my journal from my Continental Divide Trail hike and I read this entry from the first night:  

“That’s why I come back again and again. To escape the false safety of the manufactured world for something less known. To create my own challenge, my own drama. Because on some level, the human knows it needs struggle in order to grow, and we’ll either unconsciously manifest it or we can intentionally build it into our lives.”

CDT hike Day 1 journal entry

I’ve seen this over and over again where we humans unconsciously create challenge or strife for ourselves (lookin’ at you, drama queens ;)). We claim we don’t want it in our lives, but then we keep creating the same circumstances. I think we innately know we thrive on a bit of discomfort, but when we don’t create it mindfully, it shows up in all sorts of unintended ways. 

Again, it’s easiest to create this challenge in the physical realm. I believe that’s why the more sanitized our world becomes, the more we see people engaging in activities like obstacle course races, ultra marathons, and thru-hikes.

So, not only am I suggesting that we embrace the challenges that spontaneously arise, but even that we actively seek them out. 

By far, the greatest benefit I receive from actively leaning in to the discomfort, over and over again, is a deeply embodied sense of resilience. The more challenging situations I face head on, and survive more-or-less intact, the less fear I have when I encounter the next obstacle. 

I cannot understate how empowering it is to carry the belief, the gnosis, that “I can handle whatever comes my way. I don’t need to waste energy in a fear state because even if this sucks, I trust myself to make it out the other side even stronger than before.”

What would your life look like if you chose to lean into the discomfort, or even more boldly, if you actively sought out the discomfort? Those are the places where the real growth happens. 

Embrace the discomfort. Welcome it. When you find yourself resisting it, take a moment to pause, and to shift your perception. The discomfort is a gift. It’s showing you where you have room for growth. You have the power to alchemize it. Use the energy you normally use to resist the discomfort and use it instead to create a better you. 

Thank it. Learn from it. Grow from it. 

Do you have an example of when embracing discomfort has ultimately made you stronger? Let me know in the comments below!

Like what you’re reading?? Join the VIP list to receive our insider new and full moon newsletter and be the first to know when new blogs go up!

My Greatest Lesson from 2800 miles of Backpacking this Summer

This post was originally written for WishGarden Herbs.

hope pass, stillness lesson

Great Adventures, Great Lessons

Between June 17 and September 23 of this year, I hiked roughly 2800 miles from Canada to Mexico, alone, along the Continental Divide Trail. 

As I’ve reintegrated back into “real life”, I’ve been processing the many lessons that were birthed during this time of deep solitude spent in nature. The lessons are many, and they include both the practical (i.e. improved navigational skills) and the conceptual (i.e. the power of surrender). If pressed to choose just one of these lessons as being the most valuable, I’d undoubtedly say that it’s been the increased ability to find stillness within.

What is stillness? Why does it matter? How do you get it?

By stillness, I’m referring to that inner state that’s available when all the mind chatter quiets. It’s a steadiness that exists amidst any chaos that may be swirling around me. From this state, I respond rather than react. There’s more space for deeper reflection, gratitude, and happiness. 

feet in water lesson

I believe stillness is a natural state for us and it’s our job to tune into it. There are many ways to do this. Being immersed in nature on a long backpacking trip is one way to get there, and the reasons for this are many. 

Firstly, engaging in challenging activities like mountain climbing, cultivates presence and stillness because they require every ounce of attention in order to avoid injury or death. When you’re in the zone, there’s no room for mind chatter. You must be in the now.

Additionally, the solitude found on a long walk in nature is a gateway to stillness. When we remove the external noise, it gives us space to just be. True solitude involves not only being alone, but also removing all external inputs, such as music or podcasts.

Furthermore, when you’re surrounded by wilderness, it’s a reminder that the stillness present in all of nature is also present in you. In the words of Eckart Tolle, “Seek out a tree and let it teach you stillness.” If you’ve ever sat alone in a forest, you understand this. You can feel the stillness and you begin to embody it. 

colorado meadow stillness

A long distance hike also facilitates stillness if you learn to let go of expectations. For example, if I focus solely on how far I have to walk to get to my destination (Mexico, in this case), I’m easily frustrated because I rarely meet my own expectations for how many miles I “should” be walking in each hour or day. Once I stopped treating the journey as a means to an end, and became present to each step, breath, and moment, life was much more enjoyable. 

These are just a few of the ways long distance backpacking increased my ability to find stillness, but it’s not the only path to reach this inner state. Fortunately, you don’t need a 2800 mile walk in the woods to get there. Time in nature certainly helps, but you can implement the strategies of presence, solitude, and removal of expectations in the “real world” as well. 

backpacking lesson sunset

Additional strategies which can be used anywhere to tap into that place of stillness include journaling, meditating, focusing on the breath and/or body sensations, getting proper sleep and nutrition, reducing inputs (less phone time and reading the news), and by looking for beauty in everything. 

Increasing your ability to create stillness within yourself is so valuable because it taps us into the present moment, which is where all of life exists. The now is truly all we have and learning how to access it through presence and stillness can create true freedom and happiness. 

CDT lesson

Going into this adventure, I had many intentions, but developing a heightened state of presence and stillness wasn’t one of them. I’ve realized, however, that it’s likely the top reason for why I keep seeking nature immersion again and again. 

If you’re interested in how I prepared for my CDT hike, read more about the preparation here, the food I packed here, and a sample meal plan here.

Like what you’re reading? Join our newsletter to be the first to know when new articles are published and to receive insider-only content on the new and full moon!

Healthy Lightweight Eating for Hikers: A Day in the Life (part 2)

If you missed part 1 of this series on Healthy Lightweight Eating for Hikers, click here. That’s where I explain WHY I choose a high fat, moderate protein, and lower carbohydrate diet on trail. Some of those reasons include a lighter pack weight, sustained energy (i.e. no bonking), less illness and injury, and fewer digestive issues.

This post will dig into the more practical side of HOW I do this. You’ll learn what this eating strategy looks like in practice, including a sample 5-day resupply guide with nutrition information. I’ll also provide a few of my staple recipes.

As mentioned in Part 1, my aim when choosing food is not just to prioritize fat, but to emphasize nutrient density and anti-inflammatory properties as well.

An important note: this is not a keto diet. I’m not opposed to keto, but for me, I find my hormone balance, thyroid health, and overall performance is better with slightly higher carbs, especially on a thru-hike. My trail diet is usually about 60-65% fat, 20% protein, and 15-20% carbs. For comparison, the typical American diet is 35% fat, 15% protein, and 50% carbs. A ketogenic diet is usually 70-75% fat, 20% protein, and 5-10% carbs. Current dietary guidelines suggest 40-60% of calories from carbs.

Also, on a side note, if you’re considering this approach, it’s wise to eat either high fat OR high carb, but not high fat AND high carb. Diets high in fat AND sugar can be strong promoters of obesity and metabolic syndrome, at least in rat models.

There’s no official ‘low carb’ designation, but it’s often suggested that below 100-150 grams per day is low carb. On a 2000 calorie per day diet, that equates to about 20-25% of calories. Since I’ll be consuming more calories, I’ll probably be around 100-200 grams per day. As you can see, that’s a big window.

Sticking to strict numbers is not important to me. I’m already OCD enough, so I try not to obsess about perfecting ratios on a spreadsheet. Instead, I prefer to focus on energy levels, sleep quality, immune health (avoiding illness and injury), feeling strong while hiking up mountains, and keeping inflammation as low as possible. To accomplish this, I try to include a lot of healthy fat and not a lot of processed or sugary items.

If you want to go deeper, this article details what I call the Thru-hiker Calorie Myth and explains what most thru-hiker diets are missing in their diet. It also reveals how paying attention to food quality can help you experience better energy, endurance, and long-term health.

Interested in a mini course that compiles all healthy lightweight eating resources in one spot? Enroll for free here.

What does Healthy High Fat look like in practice?

Again, it’s not nutritional ketosis and it’s not high fat junk foods, which are generally low in nutrients and high in unhealthy fats. Yes, it’s about the quantity of fat, but more importantly, it’s also about the quality of the fats (as well as the quality of the carbs and proteins).

In terms of quality of fat, my goal is to eat lots of ‘healthy’ fats and reduce or eliminate ‘unhealthy’ fats. I do my best to avoid all artificial trans fats, which are found most abundantly in junk foods and industrial seed oils. These are linked to chronic disease and other issues, such as cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, shortening of pregnancy period, nervous system disorders, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity and allergy. No, thank you.

Instead, I focus on saturated and monounsaturated fats, with moderate amounts of polyunsaturated fats. First, let’s cover why fats are essential.  We need fat for cell membrane integrity, transporting cholesterol, brain health, eye health, skin health, cell signaling, hormone balance, blood sugar regulation, vitamin absorption, and much more!

According to functional medicine practitioner Dr. Chris Kresser, “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats. Overall, there is no reason to fear saturated fat in the context of a healthy diet that also includes monounsaturated fatty acids and whole-food sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Check out this article to go deeper on this.

Tips for Improving Food Quality in Your Trail Diet

In general, I focus on foods that:

  • are as close to their whole food form as possible.
  • have either no ingredient label, (e.g. almonds, pecans, plums, kale) or as short of an ingredient list as possible. This eliminates a lot of the inflammatory preservatives, food dyes, fillers, and other unnecessary ingredients in many processed products. This also gives me a higher likelihood of eating foods that have a high nutrient density, including lots of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
  • have high antioxidant, and/or ‘medicinal’ value, such as anti-inflammatory spices (ginger, garlic, turmeric), superfood powders (e.g. cordyceps: a functional mushroom that supports endurance), and tea (like this organic instant premium tea-here’s a link for 15% off)
  • are organic, when possible. This is to avoid the effects of glyphosate (e.g. Monsanto’s Roundup product) on both my body and on the environment, as it’s a probable carcinogen.
  • are farm-raised, pastured, grass-fed, and in the most bioavailable form, when it comes to proteins.

I also reduce how inflammatory my diet is by avoiding gluten, and by highly limiting dairy, legumes, grains, and added sugars. Most people would likely benefit from eliminating gluten and dairy. Legumes and grains may apply on a more individual basis. Some foods tend to be more inflammatory than others for almost everyone, but it’s well established that how we react to any given food is highly individual.

If you’re curious about how different foods affect you, try an elimination diet so you can create a truly customized diet. I have a free guide for that here.

A complete five days of healthy lightweight food for my 2019 CDT resupply boxes.

Examples of Foods I Eat on Trail

Here’s a smattering of foods you’ll commonly find in my resupply boxes:

Fat

  • -olive oil
  • -coconut oil
  • -avocado oil
  • -coconut milk powder
  • -nut butters, such as almond butter
  • -nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts
  • -seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds
  • -coconut flakes
  • -homemade or fancy packaged trail mixes made from any of the above

Proteins

  • -grass-fed collagen powder, like this one
  • -grass fed jerkies, such as this one and this one
  • -tuna and salmon packets
  • -freeze-dried meats, like chicken and beef
  • -nuts and legumes (these add a bit of protein, but aren’t dense protein sources)

Carbohydrates

  • -dried fruits, such as plums, dates, cranberries, raisins, etc.
  • -bars with dried fruit as the first ingredient, such as this one and this one
  • -clean ingredient granola, like this one
  • -legumes, such as dehydrated refried beans and hummus powder
  • -chips, such as sweet-potato chips or grain-free chips (read labels!)
  • -dried veggies, such as kale, peppers, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli
  • -greens powders, such as this one

See a Sample 5-day Healthy Lightweight Meal Plan here.

The best parents in the world mixing 60+ bags of smoothies 🙂

Sample Meals + How this all comes Together

I like to send a lot of resupply boxes because 1) I care about what I eat, and 2) I like the efficiency of walking into town, picking up my box, and walking out of town. But, though I like planning and prepping boxes, I don’t care for dehydrating my own food.

That being the case, my ‘recipes’ and food choices tend to be ridiculously easy to prepare and assemble. Many of my foods are repetitive. This helps me be efficient with my resources (time and money). I add variety by choosing different flavors and changing up specific ingredients (e.g. creating different types of trail mix from a few staple ingredients). Additionally, I don’t carry a stove, so my food choices are suitable for cold soak and/or require no on trail prep.

Skip the Sugar Crash Smoothie

Protein, fat, greens, superfoods, and anti-inflammatory spices. Find the full recipe here.

Fatty Coffee

Lots of fat and a bit of protein to keep energy levels steady through the morning. This is a recipe I adapted from a few different sources including Alpine Science. Full recipe on the Resource page, linked below.

My Super Simple Dinners

  • Chicken and Veggies
  • Beans and Veggies

For detailed recipes and more resources on specific products as well as where I buy them, see the Healthy Lightweight Backpacking Meal Planning Resource Page here.

resupply

A Day in the Life: A few #protips

Here’s a look at how this plays out on trail, with some tips I use to make things easier. Each  night, after finishing dinner, I rinse out my cold-soaking jar to prepare for the next day. I pour in a little water, add my smoothie mix, and then top it off with water and put on the lid. I shake vigorously and set it aside for morning. This helps keep the powder from sticking to the sides or bottom of the jar. It also gives the chia time to absorb the water overnight and I’m ready to leave camp as soon as I wake up. I can walk or drink as soon as I start to get hungry.

This is also when I have a little bit of caffeine, usually in the form of organic instant tea. Cusa Tea is the best I’ve found.

Mid-morning I usually have a snack. I try to stick with higher fat and protein options, like trail mix, for blood sugar stability. I like Gorilly Goods for healthy trail mixes or I make my own from nuts, seeds, and (occasionally) dried fruit from the bulk food aisle.

Around mid-day, I take a break for lunch, which is usually nut butter and chips or fish and chips or occasionally hummus powder and chips. For specifics on brands, grab this free Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide.

Mid-afternoon usually involves another snack or two (or sometimes three). This is likely to be a healthy bar (the fewer the ingredients the better) or a grass-fed jerky. A few of my favorites are Fourpoints Bars, Trail Nuggets, Supernola, Wild Zora, and Mighty Organic.

My mid-afternoon break is when I *try* to remember to soak my dinner. Dinner is often a freeze-dried meat or dehydrated beans soaked with freeze-dried veggies. I change up different anti-inflammatory spices to change the flavor and to up the nutrient density. The longer it soaks, the better. But if I forget, which is not uncommon, I just soak it when I get to camp or realize I’m getting hungry. I wait as long as I can and/or just eat a slightly crunchy dinner. I’m disgusting, I know.

Right before I eat, I’ll add some type of healthy fat, like olive oil or coconut oil, and mix it in thoroughly. I then eat my cold mush with a spoon, and chips or a grain-free tortilla. A note on oil storage: I buy individual packets when possible to reduce messiness and spillage. I also recommend double-bagging to keep your pack safe. Better safe than sorry on this one.

Post dinner is always dark chocolate (>75% cacao), but not so much that I can’t sleep (not that this has happened… multiple times).

A Note on Nutrient Timing

I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but I tend to focus  on fat and protein in the early part of the day. This is to avoid spiking insulin and getting on the energy rollercoaster of sugar spikes and crashes. My morning smoothie is mostly fat and protein which gives me steady energy through the morning. My mid-morning snack is a lower sugar bar with protein and fat, or a trail mix, or grass-fed jerky.

Lunch is usually high fat, with some protein and a bit of carbs. Around lunch or for my mid-afternoon snacks, I’ll start to have more carbs to keep my energy going through the day. This may be more chips or fruit-based bars.

Another way, I’ll use carbs strategically is for intense efforts, such as a steep and/or particularly long climb. I also wrote about this a bit in part 1.

Dinner is a mix of all macros, such as meat with veggies and a starch. The protein helps repair and rebuild muscle. The fat helps keep me warm and satiated through the night. The carbs help refuel muscle glycogen and helps me to produce serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin, so it helps me sleep more soundly.

Another part of my strategy to optimize my health on trail is supplementation. I include electrolytes in this category. More on that in a separate post in the near future.

As mentioned, this is another evolution from how I’ve fueled on trail in the past. Food is massively important in how I manage autoimmune symptoms, continue to get after it outdoors, and take care of my overall health in my everyday life, and my goal was to carry as much of that into my trail diet as possible.  I’ll follow up afterwards with what worked and what didn’t.

Resources from this Post