Are you carrying the most calorie-dense foods?

junk food

Looking for the most calorie-dense backpacking food? Double check those labels before filling your food bag with the common ultra-processed fare.  If you’re looking to reduce the food weight you’re carrying, read on.

eat calorie dense food

A common objection I hear about healthy eating on trail is that healthy foods are not calorie dense enough to fuel such a demanding physical endeavor as thru-hiking.

Hikers assume that all ‘junk food’ is going to be the better option for caloric energy. While many of the junk food staples are calorie dense, deeper investigation reveals that not all junk foods are as calorie dense as assumed and that many healthy foods pack as much of a calorie dense punch, if not more, than many common ultra-processed backpacking foods.

trail mix calorie

The purpose of this post is to illustrate that even if calorie density is the only metric being looked at when it comes to healthy foods, that healthy foods still come out higher in calories than many of the junk food options. Side note: caloric density should not be used as the sole metric because healthy foods add a lot of other benefits to the diet beyond calories.

For reference, hikers are often encouraged to aim for 125 calories or more per ounce. Packing items with more calories per ounce allows the hiker to carry less overall food weight.

Check out the following list to get an idea of which foods meet the calorie mark and which fall short. I chose 10 common processed hiker foods and 10 unprocessed alternatives. They are presented in order of descending calorie content. For ease of reading, calorie density values are in bold, as are whole food choices. Processed food options are italicized.

  • Olive Oil
    • Serving = 13.5g= 119 cal=248 cal/oz
  • Coconut Oil
    • Serving=14g= 120 cal =240 cal/oz
  • Walnuts
    • Serving=1 oz=185/oz
  • Nut butters
    • Serving=32g=210 cal= 184 cal/oz
  • Almonds
    • Serving=1 oz=163 cal/oz
  • Fritos
    • Serving=1oz= 160 cal/oz
  • Sweet Potato Chips, with just sweet potatoes, coconut oil, sea salt
    • Serving=1oz= 150cal= 150 cal/oz
  • Snickers
    • Serving=48g= 248 cal= 145 cal/oz
  • Doritos
    • Serving=1oz= 140 cal/oz
  • Oreos
    • Serving=34g=160 cal= 133 cal/oz
  • Top Ramen
    • Serving=42g=190 cal=126 cal/oz
  • Trail Mix
    • Serving =45g= 200 cal= 125 cal/oz
  • Knorr Rice Side
    • Serving=63g=240 cal= 106 cal/oz
  • Instant Oatmeal
    • Serving=40g=150 cal= 105 cal/oz
  • Poptarts
    • Serving= 55g= 200 calories= 100 cal/oz
  • Instant Mashed Potatoes
    • Serving=29g=97 cal= 97 cal/oz
  • Dehydrated Refried Beans
    • Serving=35g =116 cal= 93 cal/oz
  • Flour tortillas
    • Serving=70g=210 cal=84 cal/oz
  • Dried Apricots
    • Serving=1oz=68 cal/oz
  • Tuna, in water
    • Serving=2.6 oz= 80 cal= 31 cal/oz

calorie dense olive oil

Overview

While this analysis does not definitively suggest that packing all healthy food will be the most calorie dense option or that packing all junk food will be either. Interestingly though, the top 5 most calorie dense options are whole foods.

Again, while this post was primarily looking at calorie density as the only metric, it’s worth noting that the whole food options are packed with more vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat than the junk food alternatives. This demonstrates that you don’t need to sacrifice calorie density while getting all the benefits that come from eating whole foods, and avoiding the pitfalls of junk food, such as inflammatory preservatives, dyes, and trans fats.

I do realize that this is by no means an exhaustive list of backpacking foods, either from the processed list or the whole foods list. I randomly chose 10 of each to compare. Also, exact values may vary slightly depending on the brand selected, or the specific variety in the case of items like trail mix, nut butters, rice sides, etc.

However, the exact values will not be far off those listed above, and I believe those listed are clear enough to illustrate the point that junk food isn’t always better when it comes to caloric density.

What are your favorite foods? Does this list make you rethink your back country food choices?

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Herbs & Lifestyle Strategies for Managing Stress

stress relief

Nearly everyone I know faces unprecedented demands on their time. We all have several roles we play, each with a different set of expectations, whether that’s at work, with our families, in our social lives, or elsewhere. It can be all too easy to over-commit, and when that happens, stress can quietly (or not so quietly) sneak up on us. However, keeping stress at bay is essential to be our most productive, creative selves and perform at our highest level.

As we navigate a world of ever-increasing demands, it’s essential to build a personal toolbox of strategies which support us in reliably managing stress. You may already have a toolbox without consciously knowing it. Test out the following ideas, see what works for you, and build a set of practices you can utilize anytime you feel stress creeping in.

herbs

Take Adaptogens

Adaptogens are a class of herbs which help the body adapt to stress and promote homeostasis, or stability, within the body. Some common examples include Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus),  Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). Adaptogens can be taken as a tincture, capsule, tea, or powder added to foods. Use the single herbs or take an adaptogen formula with several different herbs. Adaptogens are a key resource in your toolbox which can be used daily to keep your mind and body resilient.

 

exercise

Exercise

Incorporating movement into your day is crucial to keeping stress at bay. Exercise reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, while also boosting endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Whether you choose cardio or weight lifting or something else, find an activity you enjoy and create an exercise habit if you don’t already have one.

 

nature time

Spend Time in Nature

Studies have shown that wilderness-based stress management tools, such as time in nature and gardening are effective at reducing burnout and other stress-related symptoms. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a weekend backpacking trip, or an afternoon in the garden, make space for more time in nature.

 

time

Learn to Say No

Perhaps more important than any strategy to mitigate stress is learning to avoid it in the first place. A key tool to prevent stress is to steer clear of taking on too many commitments in the first place. Most of us like to say yes when something is asked of us, but learning to discern the important few from the trivial many is crucial for stress management. For more ideas, check out books like Essentialism, and The One Thing.

 

toolbox

Other Tools

A few other stress management strategies to consider include: social time with friends and family, journaling, meditation, taking a hot bath, dancing to music you love, cuddling a pet, making art, and doing something kind for another person.

Test different strategies, find what works for you, and build a toolbox to alleviate stress when it comes creeping in, as it inevitably will.

Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day: Nutrition

Fueling for a long day on trail can make or break the outcome of your hike. As you can imagine, I’m pretty intentional about giving my body what it needs to succeed, especially when I’m undertaking a physically stressful endeavor, such as hiking 40+ miles with 11k’ of elevation gain in a day. This post covers my Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) nutrition strategy.

If you’re interested in reading a full account of my hike, please see this post, where I discuss the gear I wore/carried as well as details from my day of hiking in the Grand Canyon.

What follows is a list of what I ate during my day of hiking R2R2R. Of course, how I eat, move, sleep, etc. on a daily basis has a greater overall impact on performance than what I do in one 24 hour period, but for those interested, here’s how I approach fueling a long day of hiking.

I’ll also explain a bit about why I chose what to eat and why I chose to eat it when I did. The intention is to provide insight into how I eat for endurance and lasting energy, and hopefully you can take some tips away to use on your own adventures.

rim to rim to rim food

This photo provides a general idea of the food I brought with me to the Grand Canyon, from which I would choose what to carry on my R2R2R hike. I didn’t take all of this and I only carried a serving or two of the items pictured in bulk (e.g. the greens powder, the protein powder, the almond butter). Some of it I didn’t take at all (e.g. the bagels and the coconut chocolate).

To determine how much to carry, I used calories as the primary metric. Because I wanted to be sure I had plenty for an over-nighter should I need to stay in the canyon, I carried a bit extra, and aimed for ~4,000 calories.

Here’s approximately what I ate and when, followed by an explanation of why.

5am: 3 scoops Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides + 1 scoop Trader Joes Organic Maca Powder + Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend + 1 scoop Amazing Grass Superfood + 1 spoonful almond butter (my favorite is Natural Grocer’s fresh ground… so fluffy and creamy) + 12 oz. strongly brewed Puehr Tea.

Supplements taken with breakfast: 1000 mg Vitamin CSelenium, Zinc, Omega Complex and Cellular Vitality Complex (found here, search lifelong vitality pack).

8am: Primal Kitchen Bar

10am: 1 banana, a couple servings Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips

12pm: 2 homemade date bites (similar to this recipe)

1pm: More sweet potato chips + 1 spoonful almond butter

3 pm: Primal Kitchen Bar

4pm: 1 date bite

5:30 pm: Good Day Caffeine Chocolate, 2 spoonful almond butter, a couple servings Jackson’s Honest Sprouted Red Corn Tortilla Chips

6 Nuun electrolyte tablets in water throughout day

Explanation

Whatever time you choose to break your fast (breakfast), it’s arguably the most important part of the day, nutritionally speaking. I started the morning with 30 grams of protein and a healthy fat, as I often do, whether on trail or off. This breakfast is satiating, so I don’t have to think about fueling again as quickly, and it also boosts leptin, a hormone which decreases appetite and leaves me feeling more satiated for the rest of the day.

I find that having a high carb/high sugar breakfast puts me on an insulin roller coaster of sugar spikes and crashes. High carb breakfasts cause me to be hungry an hour later, after the sugar has worn off, and I find myself craving more carbs. There’s nothing wrong with carbs, and of course, they’re necessary for glucose-dependent activities such as hiking, but glucose (carbs) is a quick-burning fuel. Adding fat and protein to meals slows down digestion and creates slower-burning, longer lasting, more stable energy. Adding fat and protein to pretty much everything I eat balances blood sugar and helps me have stable energy all day.

In an effort to postpone getting into too much of a calorie deficit, I had a protein bar after I reached the river, while walking through the canyon. Food would be easier to digest during easy walking. Our bodies only process about 200-300 calories per hour, so I try to eat throughout the day, so I can keep moving, as opposed to eating a lot at once.

Right before beginning the climb to the North Rim, I wanted to take in a decent amount of carbs to fuel me, so I had a banana and chips. I also knew I’d be in the sun and beginning to sweat a lot, which is why I chose a salty snack. The potassium from the banana was also helpful for mineral balance while sweating.

About 2 miles from the North Rim, it was getting hot and I was hitting a wall, so I had a couple of date bites, which are high carb, but with a little fat and protein.

At the rim, I took a short break for some chips and almond butter to replenish some salt, and because it’s my favorite trail snack. I also wanted the carbs and fat to fuel me on the way down.

Back at the bottom, walking along the river, I was beginning to get tired, so I had another bar and a date bite to keep me moving.

My last snack was before crossing the river, heading back up to South Rim. I chose caffeine chocolate to give me an extra boost on the 5,000′ climb, chips for the salt and carbs, and almond butter for the fat to fuel the last 7 miles. I probably should’ve snacked again on some carbs a couple miles before the end because I was definitely hitting a wall, but I pushed on instead.

I made sure to drink a lot of water throughout the day, especially at sources, where I would ‘camel up’. I added Nuun tabs to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat.

Whatever your adventure, whether long or short, hopefully this provided some insight into how I think about maintaining energy for a long day outdoors.

If you want more ideas on fueling for endurance, check out my free ebook here.

grand canyon

Simple Sauerkraut

New research is coming out daily about the impact of gut health on almost every aspect of human health, from immune function to mood and brain health. A PubMed search for “microbiome” (the term used to describe the collection of 100 trillion bacterial cells that inhabit our bodies) returns over 60,000 results!

Needless to say, our gut bacteria play an important role in our health. and keeping a healthy population and diversity of the right bugs is key to optimal performance in every area of your life.

One of the best ways to support a healthy microbiome is to include both prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotics are the food that feed the good bacteria. Probiotics are the good bacteria themselves.

Put quite simply, foods high in fiber are good prebiotoics (think fruits and veggies). Examples of probiotic-containing foods include fermented and cultured foods such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, and the focus of today’s post: sauerkraut.

If you’ve never heard of the microbiome, including gut-healthy foods may feel intimidating to you. But, fear not!

It can be incredibly simple, tasty, and affordable.

While you can purchase your fermented foods at the grocery store, you can save money by making your own ferments at home. An easy place to start is with sauerkraut.

Below is a basic recipe from which you can create many variations!

Simple Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 large head green or red cabbage
  • 1/8 cup sea salt
  • Water

Directions

  1. Cut the cabbage in quarters, cut out the stem, slice finely, and place into medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage.
  3. Squeeze the cabbage with your hands until it begins to break down and ‘wilt’.
  4. The cabbage will eventually begin to release liquid. When this happens, pack the cabbage into a clean Mason jar. Push the cabbage down hard to remove most of the extra space.
  5. Pour remainder brine from the bowl into the cabbage jar.
  6. Be sure to submerge the cabbage below the liquid.
  7. If there is not enough liquid, add salt water until the cabbage is completely covered. To do this, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon sea salt.
  8. LOOSELY place the cap on the mason jar, but do not tighten it.
  9. Keep jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. (e.g. on a counter top).
  10. For the first few days, check on the cabbage and add extra liquid to keep the cabbage submerged. A bit of white foaminess is normal. However, be on the lookout for anything that looks or smells moldy.
  11. Taste the cabbage after 6-7 days. It should be tangy, but will probably still be quite crisp. Speed of fermentation depends on the ambient temperature  in your home.
  12. Ferment your kraut until taste and texture meet your preferences. I like to ferment mine about 10 days.  At this point, cap the jar and store in the refriegerator.
  13. Enjoy a dollop daily with meals!

For variations, I add different spices, such as caraway seeds or peppercorns. You can use this same method to create kimchi or ferment any other vegetable easily at home!

Fueling a Healthy Adventure on a Budget

wind river hike

This post originally appeared on the Trek

 

Besides “Do you carry a gun,” one the most common questions on trail is “What do you eat?

From battling constant hunger, to pack weight considerations, to sticking to a budget, planning your food strategy can be one of the most challenging aspects of a long-distance hike. If you want to eat healthy on trail? That can feel even more daunting. Aside from gear, food is one of the biggest expenses of a thru-hike.

A trait I’ve noticed in the most savvy, enduring hikers—those who find the resources to hit the trail again and again—is frugality. I don’t mean simply being cheap—I’m referring to an ability to optimize and use one’s resources wisely. Whether you’ve got a $3,000 budget or a $10,000 budget for your hike, the goal is finding the sweet spot of saving money without feeling deprived.

happy hikers sunset

If you don’t know your budget, try to figure it out. In 2017, running out of money was the second-leading cause of hikers quitting the AT and PCT, second only to injury. Make a plan and do your best to stick to it. More on that in a moment.

Many hikers believe that eating healthy on trail is more expensive than eating junk food. They also assume it’s time-consuming and difficult, which can drive many otherwise healthy eaters to choose readily-available, packaged foods. If you’re not sure how healthy eating can increase your performance on trail, check out this article about the potential dangers of fueling on processed foods.

Tips for hiking healthy on a budget

Yes, it’s possible to eat well on trail without breaking the bank. Once you train your mind to optimize for both healthy and budget-friendly options, they’ll start popping out everywhere. All recommendations are designed to be calorie-dense, nutrient-dense, and as lightweight as possible.

budget

Preparation before hitting the trail

Planning for a thru-hike is a lot of work, but preparing for a life-changing endeavor is part of the excitement. As far as food prep goes, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: healthy eating on a budget involves more effort than winging it and hoping you don’t go broke. Having a plan will prevent impulse spending and easily avoidable budget mistakes.

Many hikers are ambitious Type-A planners anyway, so dig into the details, make a spreadsheet, and have fun optimizing.

How to prepare in advance:

  1. Determine your resupply strategy. Will you be mailing boxes, resupplying in towns, or a combination of both? Do your research and choose what’s right for you. For the purposes of healthy eating and saving money, I’ve found a mix of in-town resupply and maildrops to be optimal. If you prefer hard-to-find items, such as specific supplements or protein powders, or if you have food intolerances, consider sending those items to your resupply location, and buy common items, such as cured meats, nut butters, and trail mix in town.
  2. Look over your potential resupply locations. In the places where a gas station or tiny store is your only option, send a box. Otherwise, you’re stuck paying high prices for less than optimal food. Five dollars for a Snickers bar? No thanks.
  3. Now that you know how many boxes you’re sending and where you’re sending them, it’s time to gather food. It’s beyond the scope of this article to detail how you determine your food requirements, but as a general rule, it will be based on your body size (and correspondingly, your base metabolic rate) plus how many miles you plan to hike per day. For example, I need about 3,500 calories per day—or about two pounds of food—to fuel 25-30 mile days once I’m a few weeks into a thru-hike. If it’s colder or the terrain is particularly rugged, that fuel requirement amount increases. Each person will have different needs based on their size, climate, terrain, etc. Make a list of healthy trail foods you know you’ll enjoy. Consider dried fruit, dehydrated beans and veggies, oats, quinoa, nuts, and nut butters, plus any other whole foods. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. For additional ideas, dive online or reference my ebook.
  4. With this list in hand, search online for the best price. Buying in bulk is a great way to cut costs.
    1. Consider Costco, Trader Joes, and grocery outlets like Shop’n’Kart, where you can find both conventional and organic options at lower prices. Find stores with bulk bins, which not only cuts down on packaging, but is often where you’ll find more whole-food options like nuts, dehydrated beans and grains, and dried fruit.
    2. Watch out for freeze-dried meals or protein bars marketed as “backpacking food.” These are often overpriced and not always particularly healthy. With a little know-how and experimentation, creating your own healthy meals can be easy and inexpensive.
    3. Consider shopping online. Find dehydrated fruits, veggies, and beans here and here . Choose products with nothing added-just the fruit/veggie/bean. Rehydrating these on trail is simple and an easy way to pack in fiber and vitamins. There are many online hubs for healthy snacks including Vitacost and Direct Eats.
    4. Depending on time and budget, you may opt to dehydrate some of your own meals. This is more labor intensive, but can save money in the long run. If you have access to inexpensive organic produce, a dehydrator, and you enjoy the process, consider this option. However, dehydrating your own meals is not essential for eating healthy on a budget.
    5. Brainstorm options based on personal connections, and where you live. Do you have a friend in the restaurant industry? Ask them if you can tack on items to their next wholesale order, or ask if they’ll take you to Restaurant Depot. Pay them back promptly and do them a favor in the future. I worked as a pastry chef before my PCT hike and this strategy is how I made 30 pounds of various trail mixes for much cheaper than purchasing retail.
    6. Once you have all your materials, sort them into location-specific boxes. The amount of food in each box will depend on your daily calorie requirements, your daily mileage, and the distance to the next resupply point. Estimate for now, then dial it in on trail and make adjustments. Supplement your box with town purchases or hiker box snacks. Repackage food into appropriate serving sizes and divvy the food up into boxes. Spreadsheets are great for this.

For the love of whole foods

Eating more whole foods means you need less food. Even if personal and planetary health is low on your list of priorities, pretty much everyone cares about saving money and reducing pack weight. Research suggests that the added fiber, essential fatty acids, protein, and micronutrients in whole foods are more satiating and filling than ultra-processed foods. This means you can eat less, buy less, and carry less. Win win win.

cascade locks pct

On trail and in town

It can be hard not to spend a ton of money when you walk into a town famished. You’ve been dreaming about burgers, pizza, and beer for the last 100 miles. Enjoy yourself, but remember to have a plan.

  1. If you have a resupply box, pick it up before going to the store. Pack your food bag, and use extra food as town snacks. Yes, you’ll want to eat 24/7 while in town, but lessen the blow to your wallet by snacking on food you’ve already paid for.
  2. Take advantage of hiker boxes before you resupply at the grocery store. Sometimes you find gems like nut butters, healthy bars, olive oil packets, and dehydrated veggies. Be judicious, don’t empty the entire box into your food bag, and be sure to pay it forward by donating to hiker boxes down the line.
  3. At restaurants, have a tall glass of water (or three) and a salad before binging on all the pizza and ice cream. Celebrate that you didn’t have to carry that water from the source. When you fill up on veggies and hydrate yourself, not only are you making up for micronutrient deficiencies in your normal veg-poor diet, but you won’t need three large pizzas, two burgers, a case of beer, and a gallon of ice cream to feel full. Plus, the extra fiber will benefit your gut microbiome, which impacts your immunity, energy levels, and mental health.
  4. Buy in-town meals and snacks from the grocery store rather than going to restaurants for every meal. You’ll eat healthier and spend less. Pick up materials for a deluxe salad to make at the hotel room. Grab a bag of veggies to finish before hitting the trail again. Shop at stores with bulk bins, so you can get the exact amount you need and reduce packaging. Team up with your hiking buddy to add variety and split purchases when a desired item comes in a bigger size than you need.
  5. Buy from the grocery store rather than a gas station or small market. You’ll find healthier options, fresher food, and lower prices.
  6. Limit your time in town. Ultimately, spending time in town costs money—everything from lodging to food to transportation, so get in, get your chores done, rest, and get back out.

pacific crest trail

The Most Important Rule: Know Thyself

  • How much prep are you willing to do? Remember that buying is easier than dehydrating your own food.
  • What do you actually like to eat? Test it out before you send it in every resupply box.
  • Do you mind eating the same thing everyday? I don’t, but many people need variety.
  • How much do you eat? Hiker Hunger is real and it will set in eventually.
  • Are you prone to impulse buys in town? Set yourself up for success. Enjoy a good meal or two, but keep your long-term goal in mind.

Sticking with your budget shouldn’t feel like deprivation. It should feel good because you’re being considerate to your future self who wants to have the health and cash to finish the trail.

Pay attention

This final tip is simple, but generally overlooked (on and off trail). Awareness is the first step to behavior modification. Pay attention to where your resources are going. If you’re always looking for ways to optimize eating healthy and cheaply, the opportunities present themselves.

Small improvements in your eating and spending habits add up to big changes. You make it to the end of the 2000-mile trail one step at a time.

The Best Diet

real food

When someone finds out I’m a nutrition coach, one of the first things they want to know is which diet philosophy I promote. Paleo or vegan, high carb or low carb, intermittent fasting or frequent meals?

There are so many different diet dogmas. We want to categorize people quickly; decide if they’re a friend or a foe.  It’s disappointing to many that I don’t advocate one perfect diet.

whole foods diet

Diet Dogma

Eating is central to what it means to be human. People often choose their dietary practices based on much more than nutrition science or taste alone. So much goes into a person’s food choices, from cultural history to their most deeply held values about themselves and their beliefs about the world. So, it’s no wonder that people often attach their identity to how they eat. They become diet evangelists.

Your identity is more than what you eat, and if you can move beyond the idea of one right way to eat, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about fitting yourself into a certain diet box and set of rules. 

 

The human body is incredibly adaptable, which is why many different diets have produced great results for many different people. Folks often assume that the diet that worked for them is the diet that will work for you.  It’s THE diet. The one right way. This isn’t always the case, and in fact, the diet that worked for you in the past may not even be the diet that works for you now.

The foods that best fuel you depend on a variety of factors, including your goals and your unique physiology. Without learning a bit about who you are, it’s impossible for me to give a blanket diet recommendation.

compare common diets

Comparing Common Diets

Nutrition science is always evolving and pop nutrition is constantly pushing the merits of the newest ‘diet of the month’. So how do you sort through it all and figure out how to be healthy?

How can such different diets work for so many people? Even though some diets appear to have opposing rules, they actually may be much more similar than we realize.

For instance:

  • Diets help you raise awareness of what you’re eating. Paying attention to something is the first step towards changing it. Furthermore, most ‘diets’ produce weight loss because they create a calorie deficit, whether that’s caused by eating an abundance of plant fiber which fills you up or animal protein and saturated fat which satiate you.
  • Many popular diets promote high food quality. They suggest you eat more whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, and less packaged junk food. Making up nutrient deficiencies and eating adequate protein, fiber and essential fatty acids will help anyone feel better, whether those nutrients are coming from a Paleo diet or a vegan diet or any other diet. Again, eating more real food and less junk leads to natural appetite control.

personalized eating

Personalized Eating

Rather than adhering to a specific diet dogma, I find it far more useful and effective to look into who you are. As similar as we humans are, we all intuitively know that we’re quite different when it comes to our unique physiology. For example, Tim from HR seems to thrive on a high fat, low carb diet, while you can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed when you eat bacon and butter all day. 

Instead of a set of diet rules, reaching your specific goals begins with questions.

What does your diet look like now? How old are you? Do you have a history of extreme dieting or overtraining? What are your current exercise habits like? What are your stress and sleep habits like? What foods do you prefer? What’s your budget? What does your lifestyle look like? Do you like to cook? All these and more will factor into finding the “perfect diet” for you.

Everyone has a different genetic makeup, metabolic history, and hormone profile. Furthermore, everyone has different tastes and preferences, different budgets, and different lifestyle factors to take into consideration.

Rather than giving a client one prescribed diet as the only option, a good coach will work with a client’s unique situation to determine what will fit into the client’s life in a *sustainable* way. It doesn’t matter how healthy Brussels sprouts are if they’re on your meal plan and you’re not going to eat them.

Don’t Waste Mental Energy on Diet Stress

The important thing is to determine what works for YOU. That takes time and experimentation. It’s a strategic process. Whether you do this on your own or with the support of a coach, finding what works for you, at this point in your life, helps you reach your goals faster, with much less distraction and frustration.

So, my answer is that the perfect diet is unique to your physiology, your preferences, your lifestyle, and your budget. The magic is in using reliable principles and best practices. Instead of giving you a “diet plan”, we look at your habits, and strategically and gradually change them to give you lasting results.

Interested in finding YOUR PERFECT DIET? Click here to schedule a free call.

The Danger of Fueling with Faux Foods

wind river cirque of towers

This post originally appeared on The Trek, which you can find here

 

Hikers burn thousands of calories a day, so the quality of the food doesn’t matter, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

When it comes to food on a long trail, the focus is usually on calories and palatability. Little attention is paid to the long-term impact of our food choices on our health and the environment.  I’ll outline 10 reasons to make real food your primary fuel for endurance endeavors, as well as simple steps for how to make the transition.

What are Faux Foods?

Before we can avoid them, we must know how to identify them.

Faux foods are:

  • Foods where real ingredients have been stripped out and replaced with substitutions.
  • Foods that are created in a lab rather than grown in soil.
  • Foods that have an ingredient label containing substances you can’t pronounce.
  • Foods that are produced in a way that’s destructive to the environment.

‘Faux foods’ may not be the most accurate descriptor, as the foods are not necessarily fake, but it’s a good catchall for these foods, and it’s catchier than ‘non-food junk’, so that’s what I’ve settled on.

real food backpacker

What This Means for Hikers

It’s hard to imagine a diet worse in quality and nutritional benefits than the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is an obvious culprit in the U.S. obesity epidemic (affecting 1 in 3 adults) and a strong contributor to the current chronic disease crisis (affecting 1 in 2 adults).

But there is one diet that is arguably even worse, and that’s the standard Thru-Hiker diet. This diet consists primarily of heavily processed, packaged foods, which are loaded with preservatives, artificial ingredients, colorings, trans fats, and excess sugar. Of course, this way of eating developed because hikers need high calorie food, which is light, packable, and tasty, but many are unaware of the dangers of faux foods and the alternatives which exist.

While many hikers can get by on Snickers and Doritos for a few months with seemingly few consequences, junk food has real implications on your energy, your performance, and even the outcome of your hike.

PCT katiegerber.com

 

10 Reasons to Reconsider Your Resupply

1) You Are What You Eat

You’ve no doubt heard this before, but just let that sink in. What you eat literally becomes the components of your body. Do you want to be made up of artificial ingredients that were synthesized in a lab or would you prefer your cells to be made up of real, living things which grew from soil, sunlight, water, and air?

2) Inflammation

The full body inflammation caused by excess intake of faux foods makes us more susceptible to injury and illness. In 2017, injury and illness accounted for 17% of AT hikers quitting their thru-hike attempt. The main drivers of inflammation in a typical hiker diet arerefined sugar and trans fats.

3) Gut Health

Intricately tied to inflammation is the health of the gut lining. Sugar and refined ingredients, as well as several food additives and preservatives, have been shown to disrupt the digestive system – especially when exposure is chronic. This also impairs absorption of the limited nutrients that are being taken in.

4) Slower Recovery

If your body is lacking in essential micronutrients, it takes longer to get back to full speed. Thru-hikers beat their bodies up daily, so fast recovery is key to feeling great day after day.

5) Increased Incidence of Cardiovascular Disease, Autoimmune Conditions, and Allergies

Faux foods are more likely to result in these long-term health conditions that will affect you long after you’re off the trail. Processed foods are also more likely to cause allergies.

6) Slower Wound Healing

Chronic inflammation suppresses your immune system, thereby causing slower wound healing. It’s not uncommon to endure small wounds on trail, and quick healing reduces the chances of developing a serious infection that could end a hike.

7) Blood Sugar Balance and Bonking

Completing a long hike often requires long days. The key to having sustained energy and hiking big miles is maintaining balanced blood sugar by steering clear of highly-refined, processed foods.

8) Mental Clarity & Motivation

It’s often said that thru-hiking success is 90% mental. Whether you agree with that or not, there’s no doubt that the mental game is a huge part of successfully completing your adventure. Steady blood sugar helps you make better decisions and stay motivated over the long haul.

9) Post-hike Depletion

Most hikers are ambitious people with big plans. Rather than ending your hike exhausted and burnt out, it’s possible to recover faster and be ready for your next adventure without having to spend months on the couch in front of the TV. Faux foods lack the nutrients and antioxidants that will help you bounce back faster.

10) Overeating and Carrying Extra Food

Faux foods often have plenty of calories, but are deficient in nutrients, leaving the body unsatisfied. This leads to endless hunger and results in carrying more food than you may actually need.

BONUS:

The environmental impact of our choices is something we all need to be aware of. Industrial, highly-processed, GMO-filled foods increase the profits of mega-corporations at the expense of the environment we love so much.

pollution

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of Faux Foods

When it comes to eating for endurance, and overall personal and planetary health, I tend to follow a credo more than a specific diet. I don’t like the word ‘diet’ because it conjures up ideas of strict rules and restriction, which is not what I’m suggesting. A credo is more of a set of principles that guide your actions and beliefs.

Think of your food choices as a continuum with a 100% Faux Food diet on one end and a 100% seasonal, organic, unprocessed, local (SOUL) diet on the other end. This framework helps me work towards making better choices when I can, but not getting so caught up in rules and ‘shoulds’ that I give up entirely.

Here are a few of the basic principles and how you can apply them to your next outdoor adventure.

1) Eat more whole, unprocessed foods on trail

Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dehydrated veggies are all great choices. There are lots of ideas online and you can also check out my free Eat for Endurance ebook for more ideas.

2) Read labels

This will help avoid excessive added sugar, trans fat, and additives like artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, sodium nitrate, sodium sulfate, food dyes, potassium bromate, and MSG.

3) Send resupply boxes to places with limited options

Don’t be stuck eating gas station food for a week because you didn’t plan ahead. You’ll feel gross and you’ll compromise your energy and performance.

4) Make up for micronutrient deficiencies in town

Choose fresh vegetables and salads instead of (or at least in addition to) pizza, burgers, and beer.

5) Make small changes

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Here are some ideas:

Add in a greens powder, such as athletic greensamazing grass, or organifi each day.This can make up for micronutrient deficiencies on a long hike.

Swap out some candy for dried fruit. If your body is craving quick energy, eating fruit will give you a quick dose of carbs, with enough fiber to maintain blood sugar balance, and without all the added junk. And there are SO MANY options: raisins, cranberries, apricots, blueberries, mango, banana, etc.

Look for chips and other crunchy/salty snacks with as few ingredients as possible. For example, compare the following:

  • Ingredients in Organic Tortilla Chips: organic corn, organic sunflower oil, salt.
  • Ingredients in Nacho Cheese Doritos: whole corn, vegetable oil (corn, soybean, and/or sunflower oil), salt, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), maltodextrin, whey, monosodium glutamate, buttermilk solids, romano cheese (part skim cow’s milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), whey protein concentrate, onion powder, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, corn flour, disodium phosphate, lactose, natural and artificial flavor, dextrose, tomato powder, spices, lactic acid, artificial color (including Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40), citric acid, sugar, garlic powder, red and green bell pepper powder, sodium caseinate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, nonfat milk solids, whey protein isolate, corn syrup solids.

http://www.personaltrainervancouver.com/adventures/attachment/hiking-stock-image/

Start slow and do what you can.

Even making a few small changes is a good step towards fueling yourself for performance and creating a better environment at the same time.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chia Cookies

There’s truly nothing better than the smell of toasting oats. Except maybe these cookies baking. With the added scents of cinnamon and chocolate in this recipe, the smell of these cookies fresh out of the oven fills a home and a heart with happiness.

oatmeal chia cookie

This recipe was another experiment in making a slightly healthier version of an old staple. It contains sugar, so it’s still meant to be a treat, but with the added fiber from the extra dose of oats, and the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds, this version of the classic oatmeal chocolate cookie at least has a few redeeming qualities.

The chia seeds are ground (I used a coffee grinder) to increase the surface area. This makes them more bio-available to the body, and once moisture is added to the dough, forms a gel to hold the cookies together since they lack gluten.

If you look back at my Hemp Cocoa cookies, my goal when creating gluten free cookies is to not use other grain mixes, and to come up with a version that tastes as good or better than the original, has a better nutrition profile, and just happens to be gluten free.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chia Cookies (gluten free)

10 ounces butter

5 ounces cane sugar

5 ounces brown sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

10 ounces instant oats, toasted

12 ounces ground oats

2 ounces ground chia

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

10 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips

Cream together butter and sugars. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Combine dries in a bowl and add to wets. Mix until well combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Allow dough to sit for 10 minutes before scooping with 2 ounce scoop. This allows time for the chia to become mucilaginous and holds the dough together better.  Flatten cookies into discs before baking. Bake 10 minutes at 325*F.

oatmeal choc chia cookie

Enjoy!

What’s Wrong With Me? (aka My Journey with Hashimoto’s)

summit wellness

It’s been years since I felt as strong as I used to.

Ever since finishing my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d had bouts of extreme fatigue, deep muscle soreness, cold intolerance, mood swings, and hair loss. An assortment of seemingly random symptoms that would come and go, leaving me feeling confused and frustrated.

Many of these symptoms have been present in my life for a long time, but after finishing the PCT, they became much more pronounced. I expected to finish feeling stronger than I’d ever been before. I’d jump right back into trail running and be at a new level of strength and endurance. Instead, I couldn’t run more than a few miles without feeling extreme exhaustion. I was depressed. I wasn’t having my cycle and I often felt sore for no reason.

I’ve always been athletic and health conscious. I was doing everything I knew to do to be healthy. And I still felt horrible. After a few months of rest and experiencing only minimal improvement, I went to see a doctor. I had some blood work done, everything came back “normal”, and I was told that perhaps I needed to improve my diet, exercise more, and that essentially, it was just in my head. This was frustrating, as I was a health conscious vegetarian who exercised daily, and I knew my body well enough to know something was not right.

At this point, it became clear I’d have to find my own answers. Due to a background in biochemistry and decades of reading health publications, I had a good foundation to start from. I read and listened to anything I could find having to do with adrenal and mitochondrial health. I sought out mentors, I interned under wellness practitioners, and I completed a Botanical Medicine Certification to understand what would truly support my body rather than cover up symptoms. I studied functional nutrition and began a certification to become a Holistic Nutritionist.

I experimented with different diets, training protocols, and supplements. Symptoms would come and go. I was continuing to train for ultra marathons and my performance would come in waves. Sometimes I’d feel great and run for hours with no problem.  Other times, I was weak, tired, and lacked the stamina needed for long runs. Despite the times when I didn’t feel well, I continued to push myself to run daily.

I’d built an identity around being athletic, outdoorsy, and tough, and pushing through is what you did whether you felt like it or not. While this mentality has served me well in several endeavors, including long distance hiking, I was causing my body to be further depleted without even realizing it.

Eventually, I found my way to a functional medicine practitioner who did an extensive intake, including a full thyroid panel. It was then that I discovered I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks it’s own thyroid gland.  The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which have wide-ranging functions in the body, including regulation of metabolism, growth and development, and temperature control.

When I finally received the diagnosis, it was somewhat of a relief. I’d been struggling with an array of unexplained symptoms for quite some time. Despite all the research and self-experimentation I’d done, I still had no real answers up until this point.

My reaction came in waves. At first, I was glad to have something to target. I knew my direction. I could make a plan. Next came the frustration of knowing that autoimmune conditions are hard to treat and something you manage for the rest of your life. My identity as a long distance hiker and ultra runner was in peril. What if I never fully recovered? What if I had to give up long treks in the wilderness–the activity that filled my soul the most?

And during all this time, I was in denial of the heaviness, the seriousness of what this meant for me. I thought I would remove trigger foods from my diet, take a break from training, and be back to 100% in no time, right? Not quite.

I realized this is a pattern for me. I tend not to acknowledge the heaviness of an event or situation. I put blinders on and convince myself that everything will turn out fine. This lens of optimism and guaranteed triumph over hardship has served me well in life. I often push forward instead of letting fear get in my way. But it finally came crashing down on me that this tendency has also kept me from fully experiencing life and fully feeling my own struggle and that of my loved ones. Not fully feeling kept me from being as empathetic and present as is necessary to process and move through hardship.

There are many factors that go into developing an autoimmune condition, including a genetic predisposition, a trigger (or several), and gut impermeability. It’s hard to know the trigger for sure, but for me, I believe it was a rattlesnake bite and brown recluse bite in the year before I hiked the PCT, coupled with the stress of the trail and a significant break-up that caused Hashimoto’s to surface for me.

Autoimmune conditions are not an easy fix. You don’t take a pill and get cured. In the conventional medical model, those with Hashimoto’s take thyroid medications for the rest of their lives. These provide synthetic thyroid hormones to manage symptoms, but taking the medications don’t actually get to the root cause to stop the body’s immune attack on it’s own thyroid gland.

I’ve always avoided pharmaceuticals when possible, opting to focus on the root cause of the problem and restoring the body to balance, rather than suppressing symptoms. My approach to Hashimoto’s is no different. I found experts who had put the condition into remission through changes in diet and lifestyle. The science and evidence was there to support this approach so I would try that before considering medications.

It’s been about 6 months since learning about the condition and I’ve been on a protocol that supports my liver, adrenals, and gut health. While my symptoms have improved dramatically, I still struggle occasionally.

However, I’ve learned an incredible amount about autoimmunity and health through my journey. I’m far enough on the path to have learned how to deal with the condition, what exacerbates symptoms, and what relieves them.

pct hiking sierras

I have high hopes for big adventures in 2018. I’ve felt so deeply the struggle of not being outside doing what I love because of how terrible I’ve felt. It motivates me to get well, learn as much as I can, and to guide others who get sustenance from being in the outdoors, but who struggle with their health.

I’ll post more on the protocol I’ve followed and on my journey with Hashimoto’s in a future article, but if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to post a comment below or use the contact form to reach out. I read every response.

Top 5 Reasons To Eat Real Food as an Outdoor Endurance Athlete

If I’m performing well, why should I reconsider what I eat?

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to tell you that you should eat a certain way. Eat whatever works for you.

While I do believe there are some basic nutrition principles that can benefit everyone, there is no one perfect diet.  Further, the perfect diet for you may change throughout your life.  But that’s a topic for anther day.

Change Starts At Home

The objective of this post is to explore why we make the food choices that we do. As someone who gains her sustenance through time spent outdoors, I try to make environmentally conscious choices.

When it came time to pursue a career path, I wavered between my deep interest in human performance, my passion for outdoor conservation, and my desire to make an impact through working to change the food system. When it came down to it, I felt like working as a nutritionist and addressing peoples’ personal food choices, would check all three boxes.

With a rapidly increasing population to feed and a current food system which is destructive to humans and the environment, I believe the biggest impact each of us can make is to think about what we do day in and day out.  Choosing to use green cleaning products, choosing to spend our dollars with socially conscious companies, and choosing how we nourish ourselves most likely has more of an impact on our future world than signing a petition or donating a coupe dollars to a non-profit. While those are important actions as well, it’s what we do consistently over time that changes our lives and the world. 

Why I Choose to Eat Real Food

As an outdoor endurance athlete, here are the top reasons I continue to fuel myself with real food as opposed to the sugary, processed, easily accessible fare I see filling the backpacks and bellies of fellow hikers, runners, bikers and other athletes.

Health

The most obvious reason to eat real food is enhanced personal health. Processed cakes, cookies, chips, and bars are often laden with preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners, and a ton of sugar. These are linked to adverse health effects, including rhinitis, weight gain, brain tumors, and even cancer.  Diets high in processed foods promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.

As someone who wants to perform at my best and live a long life, full of adventure, eating well just makes sense.

Price

Many people argue that it costs more to eat healthy. The price of real food, especially organic, may be more expensive than conventional produce or packaged products. However, when you consider the hidden costs of a junk food diet, it’s more cost effective to just eat real food.

What hidden costs?

Junk food often causes us to eat more, causing us to buy more, and causes long term health implications (discussed above) that lead to more medications and healthcare expenses.  Plus you’ll save money (and your stomach lining) by laying off that Vitamin I.This article from the Huffington Post expands on these hidden costs.

Beyond the monetary cost, what’s the cost of not being healthy enough to complete your outdoor adventure, whether that’s a thru-hike of the PCT or a bike trip across the country or your first marathon? What’s the cost of not achieving your dreams? What’s the cost of missing important life events, like weddings and births of grand kids, because of poor health?

Environment

As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors and cares about the preservation of those spaces, I feel a certain responsibility not to support companies that are blatantly destroying our natural resources in the name of profit. These companies act with total disregard for planetary and personal health.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we’ve experienced first hand the power of time spent in nature, and we have a responsibility to protect those spaces not just with our voices, but with our purchasing power as well.

Freedom

I don’t like to feel like I’m owned by the big corporations. I like to believe I’m still independent-thinking, to some extent. I want to be able and wiling to go against the grain of what is ‘normal’. 

As with thru-hiking, it’s an act of rebellion to choose to eat outside the junk food paradigm. We live in a time when we’re constantly brainwashed from every direction with adverts for one new product or another. Don’t be a pawn in their game. Don’t be complicit. Step outside the box.

Self-respect

Eating is one of the most fundamental acts of being human. It may be strange to say, but eating is one of the most intimate acts of being human. We take food into our mouths and literally become composed of that food. Do you want to be made up of sodium nitrate, MSG, and Red #40? Or do you want to be made of something that was once alive? Something that was made in a lab or something that grew or grazed on real grass and drank in the sun and the air which you so love?

Eat like you give a damn about yourself and the planet.

Real food is interesting and beautiful and complex. It has the ability to connect you to a place, a culture, traditions. This is obvious when comparing a Happy Meal with a traditional Mediterranean meal cooked by a Turkish grandmother. Of course, processed foods are often chosen for convenience, and you can’t always take home-cooked meals on a 2000 mile backpacking trip, but you can apply a similar mindset when choosing food for your next adventure. For example, when I consider a bag of M&Ms versus a bag of dried fruit, such as figs, apricots, and goji berries, the fruit has so many more flavors, textures, and aliveness. It supports the health of the body and the planet.

It’s never made sense to me that we celebrate our ability to crush miles while eating the most nutrient poor food imaginable. Why not celebrate eating food that nourishes our bodies and the planet we so love?

I try to be thoughtful and intentional about my choices in all other areas of life, from how I spend my time, to what I do for work, to the companies I buy my gear from. Why wouldn’t it be the same for food?