Top 5 Supplements to Take on Trail

hiker supplements

While the ideal scenario is to get all the nutrients you need from whole foods, there are circumstances when supplementation can benefit nearly everyone.

Supplements are a controversial topic. On one side you have alternative health advocates claiming you need a supplement for every ache and pain. On the other hand you have skeptics claiming that supplements are unnecessary, a waste of money, and even dangerous.

As with many divisive topics, the truth is somewhere in between. Nutritionally speaking, we know that the body requires certain levels of nutrients to function optimally. We also know that due to the abundance of nutritionally poor foods available today, many of us do not get the daily requirements of several key nutrients. Furthermore, chronic illness, gut dysbiosis, exposure to toxins, stress, and heavy physical demands on the body all deplete nutrient stores more quickly.

For that reason, supplements can be a good form of nutritional insurance. During the extreme physical demands placed on the body during a long distance hike, supplementation is helpful for optimal energy and endurance, enhanced immune function, faster recovery, and reduced illness and fatigue. If you’re curious how certain deficiencies manifest in the body, here is an excellent article on that by Dr. Aviva Romm.

A long distance hike is unique in that it’s a feat of extreme endurance. In most sports, you exert the body, and then you have recovery time to restore depleted nutrients. It’s not unusual during a long distance hike to walk a marathon a day, with a pack on, day after day for 5 months. Couple that with the lack of fresh foods and the notoriously ultra-processed diet of the thru-hiker. It’s no wonder that many hikers end up emaciated, sick, injured, and ending their hike early.

colorado trail

Supplements for the Trail

Supplements are not a substitute for a good diet. A high quality, anti-inflammatory diet is always the place to start when you want to feel and perform your best. Nutrients in their whole food form are absorbed into the body better than in supplement form, and there’s often more control over sourcing and quality with food.

As detailed in this post about my Oregon Desert Trail resupply, in addition to packing nutrient dense food in every box, I almost always include the following supplements. By clicking on the supplement names, you’ll link to my favorite brands.

High Quality Multi-Vitamin

To cover your basic nutritional bases, a high quality multi-vitamin is helpful. This is especially important as we live in a time when our food sources are compromised, we don’t always take time for proper meals, and we experience more stress than ever. This certainly applies on a long distance hike when you’re consuming fewer fresh fruits and veggies, which are likely a major source of your nutrients in off-trail life.

Probiotics

You’ve probably heard me say it before, and you’ll likely hear it again, which is that gut health is one of the most important foundational pieces to optimal health. Over 80% of disease can be linked to lifestyle choices, and our gut is ground zero for our immune health, brain health, and production of important hormones. It’s also where digestion, absorption, and assimilation occurs.

To be sure you’re getting the most out of the foods and supplements you’re ingesting, it’s important to pay attention to your gut health. This includes eating fiber-filled prebiotic foods, as well as eating probiotic foods. Because it’s difficult to get probiotic foods on trail, consider a supplement with a diversity of strains, and rotate brands regularly. Also note that these microorganisms are sensitive to heat and light, so store capsules in a dark container deep in your pack.

Krill Oil

Krill Oil is fantastic for brain and heart health and for keeping overall inflammation low. Most modern diets are high in inflammatory Omega 6 fats and low in anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats. By increasing Omega 3 fats in the diet, we get closer to the ideal 4:1 (omega 6:omega 3) ratio. By comparison, most diets are closer to 20:1.

As explained on the Bulletproof website, “Krill oil is a superior source of EPA and DHA because the polyunsaturated fats are packaged as phospholipids, which can be used immediately by your body. The EPA and DHA in fish oil, on the other hand, are typically packaged as triglycerides and have to undergo additional processing in order to make them bioavailable. Krill oil is also more stable because it includes astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant, that protects the fragile fats from oxidizing.

Animal-based omega-3’s from krill and fish oils are both better sources than vegetable-based omega-3’s, such as the Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) in flax oil. Only about 1-4% of ALA is converted into DHA, so getting those higher potency sources from krill and fish is more efficient.”

Storage of your krill oil is important because fats are prone to oxidation. This not only makes them ineffective, but makes them damaging to the body. Heat, air, and light degrade oils. Use capsules rather than liquid, and store in an airtight amber or cobalt bottle. Place them in the middle of your pack, where temps are more stable (ideally below 100*F).

Turmeric

Turmeric is a major source of the plant polyphenol Curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2017 research review of it’s effects on human health attributes the following benefits to this powerful spice: “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 important to choose a high quality source that contains piperine (the active component of black pepper), which increases the bioavailability of the curcumin by 2000%.

Magnesium

Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reaction in the body. It’s important for several functions including muscle and heart function, immunity, nerve cell function, energy production, and strong bones. Nearly half of all Americans are deficient in Magnesium.

There are many forms of magnesium to choose from. For sound sleep and a healthy morning BM, magnesium citrate is a great choice. For general magnesium deficiency and a highly bioavailable form, magnesium glycinate is helpful. Do your research and choose what’s best for you.  

If you’re curious about the strategies I use and the types of food I pack for optimal energy and overall health on a long hike, download my free Eat for Endurance eBook here. It includes a sample menu and principles I use to stay illness and injury free.

supplements

Supplementation in the ‘Off Season’

Beyond supporting performance goals on trail, supplements can be a key additional to optimal health at home as well. In addition to the above supplements, which I also take at home, I often cycle through others. My choices depend on what aspect of my health I’m focused on improving, such as adrenal or hormone health. This may include vitamin D3, B vitamins, antioxidants (like glutathione and Vitamin C), and adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms (like Reishi, Ashwagandha, and Cordyceps).

A Word on Choosing Supplements

Not all supplements are created equal and it’s important to choose high quality supplements and buy from trusted sources. The bottom of this post by Dr. Aviva Romm has good recommendations for choosing supplements.

Every body is different. For an individualized approach and deeper guidance, working with a health practitioner is helpful to determine what supplements may be helpful specifically for you.

With a bit of planning and preparation, you can vastly enhance the experience of your hike with targeted support and supplementation. In addition to whole nutrient-dense foods, consider taking some (or all) of these along on your next big adventure.

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How to Avoid Holiday Stress

holidays

Best Practices for Managing Holiday Stress

The holiday season is portrayed with images of families gathered around a heaping harvest table, boisterous office parties, and gifts galore. However, the less often discussed reality is that the holidays are a time of anxiety, overwhelm, and stress for many. Likely, none of us has been immune to the pressure to get the right gifts, make the perfect meal, and attend every event.

The bad news is that the bustle of the season is unlikely to relent. The good news, however, is that you get to choose how to respond to the seemingly endless demands on your time and energy. With a bit of awareness and the following practical tools at your disposal, the holidays can be what they are meant to be: a time of joy, gratitude, and connection, rather than a flurry of stress, fatigue, and burnout.

Use the following practices to remain grounded and happy this holiday season.

stress tea

Prioritize Self Care

During a time of year when much of your focus is on giving to others, don’t forget to give to yourself too. The most powerful gift is self-care in the form of good nutrition, movement, and sleep. Focus on whole foods and keep sugar consumption in check. Aim to fit in daily exercise, whether it’s a 30-minute walk in nature, a gym session, or another favorite activity. Put it on your calendar and make this time non-negotiable. Similarly, block out 8 hours for sleep nightly and create an effective bedtime routine.

Maintain a Daily Gratitude Practice

In addition to keeping the physical body functioning optimally, don’t forget to nurture your mind and spirit. Practicing mindfulness meditation or spending as few as 10 minutes per day writing in a gratitude journal can profoundly shift how you interpret any stressful events that may arise. Not only does gratitude reset your stress response by shifting you into a parasympathetic state, it reconnects you to what truly matters to you.

journal stress reduction

Plan Ahead

Holiday overwhelm often stems from the feeling of having too much to do with not enough time or not enough money. Prevent these feelings by taking time now to review your finances and creating a realistic budget for the holidays. Seek out alternatives to traditional gift-giving, such as homemade gifts, upcycling, or creating an experience rather than purchasing an item.

Similarly, before the season is in full swing, pull out a calendar and schedule events which are non-negotiable. Be realistic with what you can attend and accomplish. Evaluate what truly matters and what can go by the wayside. Discerning the vital tasks from the trivial ones helps you determine where your energy will be most effective.

holiday help

Ask for Help

Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Identify which tasks you can delegate and to whom. More than likely, the people in your life would be happy to support you. You just have to ask (nicely).

Let Go of Perfectionism

When you commit to doing everything flawlessly, it can keep you from getting anything done at all. That only leads to overwhelm and more stress. Remember, done is better than perfect. No one is going to care (or even notice) if the centerpieces don’t match the napkins perfectly, if you don’t have nine different types of dessert, or if the gifts aren’t impeccably wrapped.

holiday gift

The true essence of the holidays is gathering with loved ones and experiencing gratitude for our many blessings. Keeping holiday stress at bay allows you to be fully present and enjoy this special time of year, so that you avoid waking up on January 1st wondering where the last two months went.

 

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Herb Crackers

herb crackers

Easy Herb Crackers

(gluten free, grain free, paleo, vegan, refined sugar free…nothing but the good stuff)

Unless you’re new here, you may know that I have a strong affinity for salty, crunchy snacks. I’m always on the look-out for convenient foods that will make my body function optimally, and of course, snacks should be tasty.

Hit with a crunchy craving recently, I went rummaging through my cupboard and nary was a salty snack to be found. Not feeling like going to the store, it was time to get creative, and thus these Herb Crackers were born. They’re gluten free, grain free, vegan, contain no refined sugar, and are made up of few simple ingredients. They’re also ridiculously simple and result in a house filled with savory scents while they bake.

I’ve had a couple bags of tapioca flour in my freezer that a friend gifted me while I was on the Autoimmune Paleo diet as part of a protocol to heal my adrenal fatigue and hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Prior to these crackers, I hadn’t baked with tapioca flour, so I’d put off using it for over a year. Today was the day.

I searched online to generate ideas and inspiration for the basic cracker process and to see if there was anything special to know about baking with tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is the starch extracted from the cassava root, while cassava flour is the whole root. Generally, tapioca is well-tolerated and avoids causing an immune response, as happens with many other grains. Plus, it’s fairly neutral and lends itself well to taking on any flavor you want. However, it’s still a starch and will therefore raise insulin, so eat in moderation and pair these crackers with a fat and a protein.

These crackers are quick and easy to make, even if you’re not an experienced baker and  have never worked with alternative flours. They only have a handful of ingredients, most of which you likely already have. The tapioca flour could be swapped out for other fours like cassava, almond, or coconut.

In addition to making your house smell glorious, and being able to tailor the herbs to your personal preferences, another benefit of homemade crackers is that you don’t get the myriad of preservatives, food coloring, and additives that are often found in commercial baked goods. That alone makes it worth the little bit of effort it takes to whip up these savory little crunchies.

herb cracker

Easy Herb Crackers (grain free, gluten free, vegan)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time:  55-60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups tapioca flour
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoon basil
  • 2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon tomato powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons filtered water

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the dries in a mixing bowl. Feel free to use the combination of spices listed above, or create your own concoction. This is just what I had on hand. Add in olive oil and water. Combine thoroughly.

dough

Dough should be a somewhat sticky consistency, but it will stick together in a lump. It won’t be overly loose nor will it be so dry that it doesn’t stick together. You should be able to hold it without it falling through your fingers. Add more flour and/or liquid to adjust consistency as necessary.

crackers

Dump the dough onto a piece of parchment, flatten it into a rough rectangle with your hands, and place another piece of parchment over it. Smooth dough and press into an even 1/4″ rectangle(ish) with a rolling pin. Remove the top piece of parchment and pull the bottom piece onto a baking sheet.

crackers

Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into roughly 1 inch squares. Return squares to baking sheet with some space in between each. Bake another 25-30 minutes until golden brown and lightly crisp.

Cool completely and store in airtight containers. Enjoy with soup, nut butter, hummus, cheese or cured meat. 

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Oregon Desert Trail Overview

oregon desert tral

Oregon Desert Trail Overview

In the fall of 2018, I hiked the Oregon Desert Trail west-bound. I deeply enjoyed the vast open expanses and the lonesome nature of this route. I highly recommend it to other hikers, with advanced skill sets, who enjoy remote desert hiking. The present post is more of an overview of the trail, while this other post contains more photos and a few notes from my trail journal.

oregon desert trail

Distance & Location

The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) is a 750-mile route through the high desert country of eastern Oregon. In the shape of a weird “W”, it’s made up of a network of trails, cross country travel, and two-track dirt roads. The termini are located in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness near Bend, Oregon, and in Lake Owyhee State Park, near the Idaho border.

oregeon desert trail xc

Terrain & Scenery

The ODT was developed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association as a means to promote conservation of Oregon’s spectacular high desert through low impact recreation. The trail traverses key natural areas including Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain, Abert and Diablo Rims, and the Owyhee Canyonlands.

From ONDA’s website:

“To craft this 750-mile route located on public land and public rights-of-way, ONDA stitched existing trails, old Jeep tracks, and historical wagon roads together with stretches of cross-country travel. Our aims are to improve access to the wonders of the desert and to let explorers take a choose-your-own-adventure approach to getting to know this region.

Sections of the trail can be explored on foot or on horseback, or by boat, bike, or even skis in the winter. Some sections offer easy walks along well-marked paths. Other areas require GPS skills, significant outdoor experience, and serious preparation, particularly for water sources.”

odt sunset

I believe that interacting with a landscape is the best way to form a relationship with that land and to care about protecting it. Most of us no longer spend our entire lives on one piece of land, or even in one geographical region. We therefore lack the strong connection to a place that comes from depending on a land for your food and water, building materials, etc.

Recreating in a place for an extended time period is one of the closest proxies we have to that relationship in modern times. Rather than closing off a wild space, allowing people only to be spectators, such as in a museum, we can create corridors of travel where people can connect with a landscape by being immersed in it for days, weeks, or months.

The best resource for hikers wishing to complete the ODT is ONDA’s website. The trail coordinator for the ODT, Renee Patrick, is an experienced thru-hiker, and the resources she’s created and compiled for the trail in just a few years is incredible. You’ll find GPS data, town guides, a water report, trail conditions, and much more.

oregon desert trail jordan canyon

Weather & Climate

Most ODT hikes are completed in the spring or fall. Each option has its own unique challenges and considerations. For example, water is more likely to be available in the spring than in the fall. However, if you start late enough, the fall is likely to be cooler. I also just find autumn to be a very pleasant time to be in the desert.

We completed our ODT thru-hike from September 1-30. The first week, daytime temperatures were in the high 80s and low 90s, but cooled down to high 50s and mid 60s later in the hike. Our nighttime temps ranged from low 20s to mid 40s. The only rain we experienced was a brief shower our last morning on trail. This meant I was able to cowboy camp every single night of the hike 🙂

oregon desert trail water

Water & Resupply Options

Water was one of our biggest challenges. 2018 was one of the hottest and driest years on record in Oregon. The water report, a Google spreadsheet, is found on ONDA’s website and is updated by hikers. You can make notes directly on the spreadsheet in the field and it will automatically update the master spreadsheet when you get to WiFi.

Notes from previous years are in the document and we found the data from 2015, another dry year, most closely reflected what we could expect in terms of reliability for water sources. We never counted on a source unless it was labeled ‘Reliable’, and more than once we found ourselves carrying up to 3 gallons.  If we came upon water before we expected, it was a bonus. Sources include creeks, rivers, springs, reservoirs, and most often, cow tanks. Some were clear and delicious. Others were murky, covered in algae, and tasted very cow-y despite being filtered and chemically treated. Any water is good water in the desert.

The towns and communities along the ODT corridor are all pretty small. They have limited amenities. Partially due to lack of services, and partially due to arriving and departing at odd hours of the day, we were only able to shower twice and do laundry once the entire time. We washed our bodies and clothes on trail, where possible, but it was a very dusty, smelly, and salty 30 days overall. We used blue sponges and a small amount of water in a gallon ziploc bag each night to get the bulk of the grime off our legs before bed. This massively improved comfort, reduced foot issues, and kept sleeping bags at least moderately clean.

Small towns also require you to be more self-sufficient in your packing than you would on more well-populated routes. This means carrying a few more supplies and being prepared for something to go wrong. For example, when my phone died on day 3, there was no Apple store anywhere within hundreds of miles, let alone in the next resupply town. Without GPS, having paper maps and compass was essential. Further, you couldn’t expect gear, such as new shoes or a tent, to be available in towns. You need to send it to yourself. It’s not a big deal-you just need to think ahead, be creative with problem solving, and be flexible.

Also due to the remoteness of the route, and the small town sizes, food and resupply options are limited and often pricey. You can see more about where and how I resupplied here. I mostly mailed myself boxes and regretted the stops where I didn’t. Here’s how I approached creating a healthy-ish resupply in a remote town with limited options.

The upside of all this is that the ODT was for sure, mile for mile, the cheapest trail I’ve ever hiked. With only 2 hotel stays, a few restaurant meals, and no reason to linger in towns, it’s hard to blow a bunch of money even if you’re trying. Another upside of the ODT is that the route either goes directly through towns or very close, so there is very little hitching necessary.

odt trio

Trail Journal

I have an (almost) daily practice of journaling, whether on trail or off. See a few ODT journal excerpts here as well as many more photos.

Additional Resources

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Oregon Desert Trail Journal

Field Notes (but mostly photos)

I have an (almost) daily habit of journaling, whether on trail or off. My journals are less of a play by play trip guide (“we hiked X miles to Y canyon, which is part of Z wilderness…”), and more of a free-flowing reflection on my inner experience. It’s a way for me to process the moments, the days, the feelings that make up this bizarre experience called life.

In the fall of 2018, I hiked the Oregon Desert Trail westbound, with 2 hiking partners. See this post for an overview of the trip. The present post is mostly a photo essay to provide a visual representation of the ODT, loosely in chronological order, with a few random notes from my trail journal mixed in. I hope it gives you insight into how diverse and stunning this landscape is.

oregon desert trail

“We dropped down into the aptly named Painted Canyon. Cool early morning hiking. A million shades of rocks. Bruise purple, juniper berry blue, sage green, burnt orange, sun-baked-bone white. The canyon walls pockmarked with thousands of tiny caves.

The sunrise touched the tips of the surrounding rock as we continued down the wash, hopping and picking our way over water-smoothed rocks. ….The terrain opened up, the canyon walls become tall grassy hillsides on either side of us. Spires of rust-colored rock jutting out of yellow grass.”

“Once the sun is up, the day becomes unbearably hot very quickly. We realize we’ve miscalculated our mileage to the next reliable water. We come upon a horse trough. It’s full of water covered in algae. We remove the scum to unveil cool murky brown water. Grateful, we drink.”

odt water

“Up one wash after another, cheatgrass filling my shoes and socks. Several carcasses and piles of bones scattered about. The remains of a desiccated snake.”

“We continue on, hiking cross country, up drainages and canyons. We round a bend, and a quarter mile in front of us, a wild horse stares back in our direction. We approach slowly. With surprising grace, it swiftly climbs the hillside and disappears behind a rock outcropping.”

odt

“Many people don’t understand why you’d want to go on a desert hike. ‘Isn’t it lonely out there? Barren?’

There are mule deer and horses and lizards and snakes and hawks and coyotes and sages and thistles and wildflowers and rabbit brush and juniper and just so much life out here. How could one get lonely in the desert?”

“My legs were scratched to pieces and burnt with heat rash, and my shoes and socks were filled with sharp cheatgrass, but the moment I stepped into the rushing Owyhee, all the aches melted and everything, yet again, was okay. The current was swift and I held tight to some rocks underwater. It’s difficult to describe how glorious a dip in the river feels to a dust-caked, sun-soaked desert walker.”

owyhee

 

odt trio

“Despite the rough day, I’m grateful to be out here. Grateful to walk. Grateful for incredible hiking partners to laugh and suffer with. Grateful for a strong body. Trail (and life) will always bring challenges. It’s up to us how we perceive and handle them.”

odt river

“We walked dirt roads for 8 hours today. The landscape went on forever. You reach the top of a small rise and the scene resets, road and sage on into infinity. Dust devils danced in the wind. Heat waves rose from the ground. So much space for the mind to wander.

At lunch, we create personal shade patches by propping our umbrellas on sage bushes and scrunching underneath. We kept imagining we saw shade trees in the distance, but they all turned out to be weird shaped rocks or just more sage.”

“The fine dust lent itself well to telling the desert’s story. I could detect the tracks of so many different animals and invented a whole narrative in my mind. The snake, the giant millipede, the mouse, the antelope, the coyote, the jackrabbit… So many creatures have traveled here before me. People think the desert is lonely. I have to laugh. ”

“Up at 4:30 and hiking by 5 under a crescent moon and starry milky way. We walk directly east into the soon-to-be rising sun. The light filters rose, purple, orange through the clouds. Walking along the canyon rim, we make good miles on old jeep roads before the sun climbs too high in sky. Jack rabbits dart from one sage bush to the next.”

“Within a few miles, we’re forced into the river to make our way forward. The walls of the canyon are rocky and steep and the small bank that comes and goes on either side is full of willows, grasses, briers, hackberry trees, sage bushes, and massive boulders. Canyon travel is difficult and we move at 1-1.5 mph.

I’m swimming towards some large red boulders on the opposite bank, determining how I’m going to get up out of the water and onto the rock. I begin to pull myself up, eye level with the top of the boulder. I look up, searching for my next hand hold  and spot a rattlesnake about 3 feet from my face. It doesn’t rattle. It begins to slither away, then stops, flicks it’s tongue, and coils into strike position.”

“We stop for a break at a bend in the canyon. In one of the most wild and remote regions of the country, it’s unbelievably silent…. As we pack up to move on, I hear what sounds like a jet coming around the canyon wall, and swooooosh, a flock of grouse is flying directly at our heads. They head straight for us, not veering up until the last moment. We whip our heads to follow their path, and as quickly as they appeared, they had flown out of sight. “

“We hike across the playa of the Alvord desert, a 12-by-7-mile dry lake bed. Mountains in every direction. Steens Mountain, which we will climb 5,000′ up and over tomorrow, is in the foreground.”

“I rolled my ankle in the Pueblos yesterday and it’s throbbing now. We make it to the hot springs by dusk. We snack and soak and rinse our clothes and linger until our skin is pruny. It’s glorious.”

“This type of travel requires you to constantly be on; to be flexible and adaptable. You might find cow trail to follow for a few hundred yards until it peters out, or you get cliffed out, and you have to let go, and find the next path of travel until that peters out or you realize you’re off your trajectory, and then you adjust again. Constantly changing your plan, experimenting, trying, failing, and not getting frustrated in the process. Good practice for navigating life.”

“The Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge is beautiful. Easy walking along rolling hills covered in sage brush, groves of aspen, and lone junipers. We’ve seen several herds of antelope. The aspens are golden-orange-yellow-bright green. I’m grateful for this taste of fall on the autumnal equinox. We descend down to Hart Lake and pass several boulders covered in petroglyphs. ”

“The rocks here are diverse and beautiful. And sometimes painful. Lava rock strewn everywhere, including all throughout the fields of sage and cheatgrass we traverse. There’s obsidian, opal, quartz, and many more whose names I don’t know. Remnants of the region’s volcanic history.”

“I wake up to the sounds of coyotes howling again. This morning, the twilight is a lovely red glow as we climb up to a ridge. We’re up high on single track (an ODT luxury). The nearly full moon is a big orange Harvest moon setting in the valley. We crest a mountain just as the sun rises and treats us to spectacular views of the Warner mountains in all directions.”

“This trail was a time warp. 30 days felt like 4 months. I didn’t come with many expectations. I just wanted adventure. The diversity and beauty of this landscape has amazed me. Much more than miles of sage, this area holds true remoteness and hidden gems. We’ve walked 700+ miles through one of the most remote regions of the US, in one of the hottest and driest seasons on record. We didn’t see a single other hiker. We laughed a lot and never passed up a chance for shenanigans. It wasn’t a relaxing month-not by any stretch of the imagination. But it provided the space and freedom and challenge I needed. It slowed me down. It was a salve to my irritated soul.”

“Ahh, to walk all day. To explore the limits of the body and the mind. What a blessing.”

Improve Your Digestion Today with 7 Simple Tips

veggies

“All disease begins in the gut.” This oft-cited quote from Hippocrates still holds quite true, especially in modern times when so many factors are impacting our microbiome, our digestion, and our overall gut health.

Improving and maintaining strong digestion is essential for robust health. Healthy digestion is responsible for optimal nutrient absorption, proper energy production and metabolism, and elimination of toxins and other waste products. A diverse microbiome protects us from infection and supports a healthy mind and mood, among many other things.

Employ the following tips to optimize your gut health and improve digestion immediately.

relax digestion

Relax

Healthy digestion begins in the mind, before food even enters the mouth. Sit down to eat. Take a few deep breaths to relax and feel gratitude for your meal. The sight and smell of food allow the salivary glands to begin to produce the enzymes necessary to initiate the breakdown of food. Eliminate distractions, such as watching television or reading, so you can actually taste your food and sense when you’re full. Slow down and eat mindfully. This allows the nervous system to shift into parasympathetic, aka ‘rest and digest’, mode.

Chew More

The teeth break down food into smaller pieces which make it easier for the digestive system to process. Proper chewing also produces more saliva which contains enzymes that further break down food for increased nutrient absorption.

sauerkraut digestion

Feed the Gut

Creating a healthy microbiome involves nurturing a wide variety of microbes and feeding those microbes what they need to thrive. Inoculate the gut with probiotics through fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and consider high quality supplements with a variety of strains. Nurture healthy gut microbes by eating a diverse range of foods, focusing on whole unprocessed foods, and consuming a lot of fiber. Legumes, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables are all great choices.

For a list of foods I enjoy on trail to maintain a healthy microbiome, download a copy of my healthy hiker grocery guide for FREE here.

Hydrate

Maintaining a steady intake of non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day is important to ensure healthy elimination and avoid constipation. Water is the ideal choice. There are many opinions on how much, but the old 8×8 rule, or eight eight-ounce glasses, is a good place to start. Increase this amount in hot climates or with heavy exercise.

Drop Unhealthy Habits

Eliminate the following activities which have been shown to disrupt digestion and a healthy microbiome: consuming artificial sweeteners and other food additives, drinking alcohol, smoking, over-consuming caffeine, being overly stressed, late night eating, and taking unnecessary pharmaceuticals.

exercise digestion

Exercise

Movement helps food pass through the digestive system. Even a short 15-20 minute walk can improve digestion. Gastrointestinal motility is important not only for physical comfort, but because it helps maintain a healthy bacterial population in the small intestine.

Consume Herbs to Enhance Digestion

Incorporate the following herbs to support liver and gallbladder health, stimulate digestion, and repair the digestive tract: Ginger root, Dandelion root, Peppermint leaf, Milk Thistle seed, and Slippery Elm bark. Use an infusion or decoction to prepare these herbs, depending on the part of the plant with which you’re working.

Incorporate any or all of the above tips to ensure robust digestion and all the benefits that go along with that!

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies (gf)

autumn cookies

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies aka Autumnal Equinox Cookies

Sweaters, fuzzy slippers, flannel pajamas, golden leaves, and cozy evenings by the fire. Ahh, fall. The season for hygge.  In my book, the autumnal equinox is the mark for when it’s officially time to start baking with pumpkin again and roasting root veggies on the daily.

After finishing my hike of the Oregon Desert Trail at the end of September, I returned to my hiking partner’s house in Portland for a couple of weeks. As often happens when I’m on trail, I missed preparing food. Real food. There’s something about chopping, mixing, and combining beautiful ingredients that is so tactile and enjoyable.

As it’s wont to do in Portland in the fall, the weather cooled down and the skies clouded over. The cool rainy weather coupled with a dinner party in honor of my hosts’ 15th wedding anniversary meant some baking was in order.

We kept it casual with roasted veggies, grilled fish, and the following fall-flavored cookies. These cookies are naturally gluten free, and can be made dairy free by substituting the butter for coconut oil. They can be made free of refined sugar by swapping the brown sugar for coconut sugar. They can be made vegan by swapping the eggs for flax eggs (1 egg=mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal + 3 Tablespoons water & allow to sit for 15+ minutes).

oatmeal pumpkin cookie

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Makes ~15 small cookies

Ingredients

3/4 cup light brown sugar

5 Tbl butter, melted, cool

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup organic pure pumpkin puree

1 cup organic rolled oats

1.5 cups oat flour (I grind rolled oats in a coffee grinder)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

3/4 cup add-ins (chopped walnuts or almonds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, cranberries, chocolate chips, etc.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla until evenly combined. Mix all dries together in a separate bowl then slowly add to wets, mixing until well combined. Add in whatever ‘add-ins’ sound good to you.

Form into small (golf ball size) balls on parchment-lined baking sheet. Press flat. Bake at 350* for 12-14 minutes.

Enjoy 🙂

pumpkin

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How to Create a Healthy Resupply in a Tiny Town

oregon desert trail

What to Eat When the Healthy Choices are Non-existent or Obscure

Let’s start with a quick story of an experience I had like this on the Oregon Desert Trail. We had just walked the remaining 7 miles into McDermitt, NV, arriving around 8am for what would be the closest day we’d have to a zero on this 750-mile route through the very sparsely populated region of eastern Oregon.

It’d been 10 days of 90-degree dusty desert hiking since we’d had a shower, and 6 days since we’d had any meals other than backpacking food. I was jonesing for some vegetables. I’d been dreaming of a big bowl of dark leafy greens with tomatoes, beets, walnuts, avocado, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Alas, as much as I’d prayed to the desert gods for some real, healthy food, I knew I wasn’t going to find it here. McD is a ranching, farming, and mining town that straddles the NV/OR border. It consists of a motel, a cafe/casino, a PO, a high school, and an all-in-one gas station/market/convenience store. This was one of the few places I didn’t mail myself a resupply box on the ODT and I was immediately regretting it.

tiny town resupply
Veggies were sparse in McDermitt, NV.

After our first (of four) meals at the Say When Casino and Cafe, it was time to create our resupply for the next 5 days. We walked into the small gas station/market/c-store and I saw about 8 rows of packaged foods, some coolers of soda and beer, and a small stand of “fresh” produce (Hey, at least there’s some produce at all!). Time to get creative.

There are many such towns from which you may have to resupply, especially if you are going to hike any trails or routes off the beaten path. And especially if you decide to hike in one of the most remote regions of the country.

convenience store

How to Approach Eating for Optimal Health and Energy in a Tiny Town C-Store

First, accept that you’ll have to make some compromises, but don’t give up on the goal of healthy eating entirely! It may all look like junk, but some choices are better than others here. Let’s look more closely.

Don’t make the process overwhelming. The process is simple.

  • Make Your List

Until you get the hang of what items you need for a healthy resupply, and before going into the store, write a short list of ideas for breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/beverages. For efficiency and cost, choose items that can be used in multiple ways for different meals (like corn chips you’ll eat with PB for lunch and again with beans for dinner OR trail mix that can be added to oatmeal for breakfast or used as a stand alone snack). Keep your list general: nut butter, salami, breakfast bars, oatmeal, nut butter, etc. Be sure to have a mixture of flavors and textures as well as macronutrients (aiming for about 20% protein, 40% fat, 40% carb-or whatever feels best for your body).

  • Choose Your Food

Browse the shelves. When you see an item from your list, you’ll likely see multiple different varieties (chips/pb/trail mixes/etc). Which to choose? Look at the ingredient label. You are looking for the least number of ingredients possible. You are also looking to avoid added industrial oils, preservatives, food colorings, and high fructose corn syrup when possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible in these tiny stores, but do your best. You are also looking for items in their most whole food/least processed form. Focus on proteins, healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts), and low sugar carbs.

If there is a produce section, look for the freshest (not wilted or bruised), most nutrient-dense items to either pack out or eat before leaving town. Amazingly, many of these tiny places sell avocados (great for potassium, fiber, antioxidants). Bags of spinach or carrots are also widely available and easy to pack out.

  • Calculate Your Calories

Before leaving the store, use your phone calculator to quickly get an estimate of the calories. This takes less than 5 minutes and can help you avoid overspending on (and carrying) food you don’t need and/or assure you that you have enough if you’re feeling uncertain.

For the amount of calories you need each day, that will take a bit of experimentation, but use this calculator (or something similar) to get in the ballpark, and adjust from there depending on terrain, climate, and whether you’re losing a bunch of weight or not. Add up the calories in your basket and divide by the number of days you plan to be out. Voila. If you want to go above and beyond, calculate your macros to be sure you have the right ratios of fat, protein, and carbs. This would likely be easiest by entering the foods into a free app, such as MyFitnessPal.

tiny town healthy resupply

What I Chose in McD for my 5-Day Resupply

My calorie goal for 5 days early in the trip was about 11,500, or 2,300 per day. Here’s what I found in the convenience store. A couple items, where noted, were leftover from my last box, but these calories could have been substituted with other bars or trail mix or another avocado from the c-store.

1 lb bag Tortilla Chips=1500 calories

1 lb whole carrots=150 calories

1 large avocado=300 calories

1 apple=100 calories

Dehydrated Refried Beans=300 calories

2 Coconut Oil packets (leftover from my last resupply)=240 calories

3 coconut-greens-collagen smoothie mixes (leftover from last resupply)=600 calories

3 Kates/Fourpoints bars (leftover from last resupply)=900 calories

3 Granola packets (leftover from last resupply)=750 calories

4 tuna pouches=300 calories

1 lb peanut butter=2600 calories

3 bags of fruit/seed/nut trail mix=2300 calories

Chocolate Bar=600 calories

Pepperoni=800 calories

Salami=700 calories

Electrolyte drink mix=50 calories

Kombucha (drank in town)=80 calories

total= ~12,200 calories

I usually pack just a little bit extra, such as a couple bars, for calories in case I’m hungrier than expected or take longer to reach the next town than expected.

As you can see, it’s not ‘perfect’ in terms of being organic, super high quality food, but it covers my nutritional bases, and it’s far from the typical pop-tarts/snickers/doritos resupply that could be purchased from the same store.

Even when options are limited, you can still make good choices that will fuel you for optimal energy and endurance!

 

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How to Create a Resilient Immune System

immune strength

Your immune system is the quiet hero, operating in the background to deal with threats of all magnitude, from cuts and scrapes to increased toxin exposure and chronic stress. Building and maintaining a strong immune system is critical to functioning optimally. Implement the following lifestyle and diet tips to increase immunity.

stress relief

Stress Less

The stress hormone cortisol decreases the production of white blood cells, decreasing the ability of the immune system to fight off antigens. Maintain a strong immune system by keeping stress in check. Daily practices such as meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, journaling, and time outdoors can all help with this.

sleep

Get Enough Sleep

Research suggests that normal sleep cycles and circadian rhythm exhibit a strong regulatory effect on immune function, including the redistribution of helper T-cells to lymph nodes. To enhance sleep, create an evening routine. Avoid stimulants after noon and stop eating a couple hours before bedtime. Stay off screens (computer, phone, TV) at least an hour before you want to be asleep. Avoid bright lighting. Engage in relaxing activities, such as light reading or taking a bath.

immune

Take Adaptogen Herbs

This class of herbs is a key tool to enhancing immunity. Research indicates that adaptogens exhibit an immune-modulating effect by supporting the endocrine system and regulating homeostasis. They act on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, affecting key regulators of the stress response. Reishi mushroom, Ashwagandha, and Asian Ginseng are particularly helpful for boosting immunity. Though not an adaptogen, Astragalus also supports immune function.

play outside

Play Outside

Scheduling time to play in nature each day increases immunity by reducing stress and triggering the endorphins and beneficial hormones associated with exercise. Time spent in the sun will also enhance immune-boosting Vitamin D prodcution. Finally, exposure to the wide variety of microbes in the natural environment creates a balanced, resilient immune system.

salad

Eat a Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods Diet

Your diet can enhance or suppress immunity. Food is our primary source for the vitamins and minerals needed for our immune system to function optimally. Focusing on whole foods, especially organically grown fruits and vegetables, helps build a healthy immune system. Additionally, eating a whole food diet rich in fiber will support a healthy gut microbiome. It’s believed that 70-80% of our immune tissue resides in the gut, so good gut health is key to a strong immune system!

supplement

Supplement with Vitamin D, Vitamin C, & Zinc

Striving to get most of your nutrition from your diet is ideal, but sometimes we need an extra boost. This is particularly true during times of increased stress when our bodies are more susceptible to illness. During this time, consider supplementing your diet with key immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Zinc are essential to optimal immune function.

By using these strategies to build healthy habits, you’ll keep your immune system strong all year long. You’ll avoid catching the cold when everyone at your office comes down with it, and if any serious threats come up, your body will be better equipped to keep you strong and healthy!

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How to Improve Focus & Attention

attention focus

Increasingly digitized lifestyles have led to our attention spans being a mere 8 seconds, according to a recent study by Canadian researchers. However, the importance of developing focus is key to not only doing substantive creative work, but also for being present with those we care about. Use the following tools, tips, and habits to increase your attention span and ability to focus.

meditate

Meditation

Regular meditation can alter brain patterns, improving mental focus and improving cognitive function, according to research reviewed by Psychology Today. Compared to non-meditators, meditators had increased stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex, a brain region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering. To get started, try an app, such as Headspace or Calm. Start with 10 minutes per day and build up from there.

exercise

Exercise

Evidence based on neuroimaging has shown cognitive improvements from aerobic exercise, across the human lifespan. Exercisers experienced increased processing speed and an improved capacity to allocate greater attention resources toward the environment. There’s a range of how much is ideal, but recent research suggests that the effect is cumulative and participants who exercised 52 hours over 6 months showed the greatest cognitive enhancements.

attention focus

Cognitive Enhancing Herbs

In conjunction with these other strategies, several herbs can support increased attention and focus. Ginkgo biloba improves circulation, acts as an antioxidant, and has a long history of use for brain health. Other herbs to consider for increased attention include Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Bacopa monnieri, Rhodiola rosea, and Gotu kola.

clean diet

Eat to Support Brain Health

Consuming a nutrient-dense diet enhances cognitive function, supporting an increased attention span and the ability to focus. To maximize antioxidant intake and protect the brain from free radical damage, eat several servings daily of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, consuming omega-3 fatty acids upregulates genes that are important for maintaining synaptic function and plasticity. Include a variety of other healthy fats as well, such as olive oil and nuts. Caffeine, in small amounts, can also improve focus and productivity.

productivity

Use Productivity Techniques

Try methods such as batching tasks, single-tasking, and the Pomodoro Method to increase attention span and focus. Group similar tasks into batches and schedule blocks of time to prevent the disruption and distraction that results from jumping from one project to the next. For example, rather than checking email throughout the day, check it only twice daily. Forget multitasking, and focus on one thing at a time. When you sit down to work, close browser tabs and turn your phone on airplane mode. Try the Pomodoro Method to stay hyper-focused on your most important task. The method traditionally involves setting a timer for 25-minute intervals of focused work, with short breaks in between.

By taking care of key aspects of our health and adopting a few new work habits, we can set up our lives and environments to support increased attention and focus. This allows us to do the work that matters most to us, to escape overwhelm, and to be more present in each moment.

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