The Thru-hiker Calorie Myth: What Your Diet is Missing & How to Eat for Energy, Endurance, and Optimal Health Instead

wind river high route

If you’ve spent any amount of time in proximity to the long distance hiking community, you’re likely aware that food is a frequently discussed topic. What will I pack in my resupply box? When is my next snack break? What will I eat in town? Food, food, food…and rightfully so, as thru-hikers burn through 3,000-6,000+ calories per day.

It won’t take long and you’ll notice a common mentality surface: hikers need a lot of calories and the source of those calories doesn’t matter. In fact, some even claim that you need junk food to fuel a long distance hike because it’s assumed to be calorie-rich. This sole focus on calories is the thru-hiker calorie myth.

I call B.S. You can finish a hike relying solely on processed carbs. I’ve seen hundreds of hikers do it, but it’s certainly not necessary, and you’ll likely plow through your body’s reserves and compromise performance in the process. If the junk food diet approach doesn’t interest you for whatever reason (i.e. long-term health, performance optimization, environmental impact, dietary restrictions), rest-assured that there are feasible alternatives.

While the body can and will use any source of energy you give them, I’d submit that there are definite advantages to fueling on whole foods and significant disadvantages to relying solely on junk food.

What is the ‘thru-hiker diet’?

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 true impact of fueling on these foods, and the alternatives which exist.

Why Not Maximize Performance, Health, and Enjoyment?

It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice to bring a long distance hike to life. Why just survive out there when you could feel truly awesome? It’s simply a matter of tweaking something you’re already doing: eating.

The intention of this post is not to impose guilt or even to persuade you to eat a certain way. Rather, the intention is to provide a resource for those seeking an alternative to the thru-hiker junk food paradigm (as I was). On a deeper level, the intention is to provide a beacon of truth in a very crowded landscape of marketers who are trying to sell you their products. It’s to help you develop your own compass, so you can take control of your health (because no one else is going to do that for you).

So, what are the downsides to fueling on junk food? What does the science say? What’s the alternative?

First, Some Definitions

When I refer to ‘junk food’, I’m referring to highly processed, packaged foods. They are often high in refined sugars and have lengthy ingredient lists containing additives, preservatives, food dyes, and artificial ingredients. Generally, they’re high in calories and low in nutritional value.

Whole foods’, on the other hand, are unprocessed, unadulterated, and generally quite close to the form in which you’d find them in nature. They are free of artificial ingredients and additives, and if they’re in a package at all, the ingredient list is short and consists of recognizable ingredients.

Calories matter, but that’s not all you need.

When you’re moving for 10+ hours per day, the obsession with calories is understandable. And while junk food certainly provides calories (though not always as much many assume), the primary downside is that it lacks the nutrients that will keep your body functioning optimally during rigorous physical demands.

I often hear hikers say, ‘I’m losing weight eating this way. How can I be unhealthy?’. Frankly, on trail or off, the focus on weight in the overall picture of health is myopic. Energy balance is important, but your food should do more than just provide calories.

When your muscles are strained as they are during a long distance hike, vitamin and mineral stores are depleted more quickly than when sedentary. These micronutrients are essential for athletes because they contribute to energy metabolism, amino acid synthesis, red blood cell synthesis, and overall reduction of inflammation (which increases during exercise). The increased nutrient turnover in athletes leads to an increased dietary requirement. Where are these micronutrients found most abundantly? Whole foods (especially fruits and veggies).

Fitness ≠ Health

It’s commonly assumed that because thru-hikers are fit that they are healthy. However, you can absolutely be fit, but unhealthy. In a 2016 review in Sports Med-Open, the authors clarify the difference between fitness and overall health.

Fitness is the ability to perform a given exercise. Health is an overall state of well-being where physiological systems are operating optimally. The general term given to unhealthy athletes is overtraining syndrome, and the authors argue that the primary drivers of this are “high training intensity and the modern-day highly processed, high glycemic diet. Both factors elicit a sympathetic response through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, in turn driving systemic reactive oxygen species production, inflammation, and a metabolic substrate imbalance towards carbohydrate and away from fat oxidation, manifesting in an array of symptoms often labeled as the overtraining syndrome.”

health coaching options

The Dangers of a Junk Food Diet

Inflammation and Impaired Long-term Health

What does inflammation mean for the hiker? When inflammation is high and persistent, it affects all body systems. In the short term, this means suboptimal performance, increased muscle soreness, longer recovery times, slower wound healing, increased susceptibility to illness, and less mental acuity. Not good when you’re hiking a marathon a day for 5 months. In the long term, chronic inflammation increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

The main drivers of inflammation in a typical hiker diet are refined sugar and trans fats. Refined carbs found in ultra-processed foods have been shown to promote overeating, negatively impact your microbiome, and damage your intestinal barrier, which we’ll go into in a moment. Junk food also tends to be high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation when not balanced with omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, the food additives found in many processed foods have been shown in mice studies to contribute to colon cancer and inflammation.

Highly refined vegetable oils as well as sugar, both found abundantly in junk foods, provide the raw materials for inflammation in the body. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that in healthy populations, reliance on fast foods and sugars is positively correlated with symptoms of metabolic syndrome. While this may not manifest during a hike, it’s still something to consider as you choose your food for a multi-month thru-hike.

Increased Illness, Slower Healing, and Slower Recovery

You can decrease the likelihood of ending your hike early by changing what’s in your food bag. The full body inflammation caused by excess intake of ultra-processed foods increases susceptibility to injury and illness. In 2017, injury and illness accounted for 17% of AT hikers quitting their thru-hike attempt.

Chronic inflammation also suppresses your immune system, thereby causing slower wound healing and slower recovery. 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.  

Impaired Gut Health & Intestinal Permeability

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 and contribute to intestinal permeability. This is particularly true when exposure is chronic.

It’s helpful to remember that your liver has to process everything that you put into the body. Think of it like a water filter. Think about what happens when you filter from a dirty cow tank, for instance.

odt water

Decreased 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. And what you eat directly affects your brain. Steady blood sugar helps you make better decisions and stay motivated over the long haul. Eating a nutrient-dense diet also helps with navigation and making smart decisions in the backcountry.

Energy Imbalance & Bonking: One ticket for the energy roller coaster, please.

Another aspect of relying on processed carbs all day is the effect on your energy. When you eat food, your blood sugar levels rise, and your pancreas releases insulin to shuttle glucose from the bloodstream into cells. This is a good thing. It gives you energy. However, how quickly your blood sugar rises and falls depends on the source of the energy. Refined carbs alone will cause a rapid spike and then crash in blood sugar. You’ll crave more sugar and start the cycle over. This is the energy roller coaster and once you’re on it, it’s hard to get off. More complex carbs, on the other hand, along with eating healthy fat, fiber, or protein with meals and snacks will slow down the response and provide more sustained and lasting energy.

Think about tending a fire. You need the kindling for a quick burning fuel source and you need logs for a long sustained burn, so you’re not constantly feeding the fire with kindling. Carbs are the kindling and can be great for quick energy, but pair them with fats and protein for more sustained energy.

When you rely solely on simple sugar all day, you tend to have a lot of energy spikes and crashes. Completing a long hike requires long days. The key to having sustained energy and hiking big miles is avoiding the spikes and crashes by steering clear of highly-refined, processed foods.

Increased Hunger & Increased Pack Weight

Consuming foods devoid of nutrients leaves the body unsatisfied, even when a large amount of calories have been consumed. This leads to endless hunger and results in buying and carrying more food than you may actually need. A 2019 study indicated that people eat more on an ultra-processed diet than on a whole foods diet. Just by cutting out the processed foods, your hunger will naturally regulate itself. Studies also suggest that a high micronutrient diet (vs. a low micronutrient, but high calorie diet) can not only help you experience less hunger, but can make the hunger symptoms more tolerable. While many hikers aren’t trying to lose weight intentionally, most would agree that it’d be nice to not constantly feel ravenous.

Ultimately, when you’re hungrier, you eat more. When you have to eat more, you have to buy more and carry more, which obviously results in more money spent and a heavier pack. A heavier pack not only decreases enjoyment, but can lead to increased wear and tear on the body, and ultimately to injury. Of course, there’s the very real fact that your body is working hard and needs a lot of calories, but most hikers I know who’ve shifted to more whole foods don’t seem to have the same level of hiker hunger as those eating only processed foods.

Creation of Unhealthy Habits

Repetitive behaviours turn into habits in as little as 3 weeks. When you’ve been training your body for months to eat and crave junk food, it can be difficult to shift to healthier patterns once you return home.  The consequences on your body and mind are real. It may seem like no big deal at the onset, but most of us know how difficult it can be to retrain ourselves and form healthy habits.

Post-trail Weight Gain & A Messed-Up Relationship with Food

An infrequently discussed topic in the hiking community is adjusting to life post-trail, especially when it comes to eating and health. Hikers may lose weight in the short term, but over the course of a few years, a highly processed diet contributes to obesity and metabolic syndrome (two of the mostly costly worldwide epidemics), and mounting evidence suggests that these foods also play a part in immune-mediated metabolic dysregulation. This is relevant for the hiker who is taxing her system on trail and needs a healthy immune system to remain strong and resilient, both in the short and the long term.

It’s not uncommon to hear hikers joke about having two wardrobes: one for hiking season and one for non-hiking season. Obviously there’s a massive decrease in physical activity which can lead to rapid weight gain if one doesn’t regulate food intake. Consider that it’s easier to regulate food intake when 1) you’re eating whole foods (as cited above) and 2) your taste buds haven’t been trained to crave highly processed foods.

It’s rarely discussed, but when hikers return home and attempt to shift their diet, it can also be emotionally challenging. Cycles of binging and then restriction are not uncommon and are worsened by cravings for highly palatable, ultra-processed foods. This can not only lead to a disturbed relationship with food, but can contribute to the post-trail depression many experience.

Increased Incidence of Cardiovascular Disease, Autoimmune Conditions, and Allergies

We’ve already covered the increased risk of metabolic syndrome from eating a processed diet over the long term. A junk food diet is more likely to result in cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions that will affect you long after you’re off the trail. Processed foods are also more likely to cause allergies.

oregon desert tral

Looking at the Bigger Picture

We evolved with whole foods and we’re only beginning to understand the health implications of the alterations being made to foods, such as genetic engineering, pesticide residues, and the addition of preservatives, food colorings, synthetic chemicals, and more.

As a reminder, highly processed foods were not created the way they are for your health. They were created to be cheap for the companies to make, to have a long shelf life, and to make you eat more. You’re literally up against billions of dollars of research and food scientists focusing solely on those outcomes. When reading headlines or even when looking at the literature, it’s helpful to look at who sponsored the study and how it was conducted.

For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the world’s largest association of nutrition professionals, was funded by Coca-cola until 2015, and many of their ‘Fact Sheets’ were written by industry sponsors. This is the organization Registered Dieticians (RDs) are credentialed through. This is not at all to imply that there are no ethical dieticians, but rather to suggest that you might consider looking into the research for yourself. Look at who is funding that study telling you that candy bars are healthy.

Again, it’s not about moralizing food and saying that some are ‘good’ and some are ‘bad’. But it is true that some foods contribute to overall health, while others are more likely to cause your health to deteriorate. Be informed.

Finally, 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.  

What does the grandfather of long distance hiking have to say? (#whatwouldraydo?)

Interestingly, in Beyond Backpacking, originally published in 1992, author Ray Jardine suggests that in regards to backpacking food we “consider not only the whims of our taste buds but the physiological need of our bodies and brains… If our journeys degenerate into battles, in terms of lost energy and mental buoyancy, then I think those battles are usually won or lost in the grocery stores, rather than on the trails”.

Jardine goes on to point out how to recognize junk food in its various forms and reveals how not all “food” is food. He states that “poorly nourished hikers often find themselves low on energy and endurance. They usually assume that hiking is inherently tiring, and that the steepness and length of the trail is to blame for their weariness. Malnutrition can also manifest in the hiker’s mental outlook.”

Jardine points out the dangers of nutrient poor foods and food additives. He even covers the ‘calorie myth’, stating “sugars are high in calories but they do not provide us with usable energy. Nor do they encourage recuperation from strenuous exercise, cleanse our muscles of their byproducts, help repair micro-damaged muscles fibers, or help strengthen our muscles and increase their stamina. Sugars are also quite useless at promoting mental acuity.”

continental divide trail desert

The Alternative

Somehow, the junk food diet became the norm in thru-hiker culture, which seems odd, really. In what other realm do you see athletes pushing to the edge of their physical limits by fueling on the worst foods they can find?

Fueling for energy, endurance, and overall health does not have to difficult or expensive as many hikers believe. At a very basic level, just do your best to eat real food. Yes, food manufacturers have made it more difficult to do this. However, with a few simple tips (see below) and a bit of practice, you’ll soon be a pro, reaping the benefits of increased energy, endurance, mental acuity, and long term health.

Removing the junk from your food bag doesn’t mean you need to go buy expensive foods marketed as ‘sports’ foods (like clif bars or gatorade). Many of those are just candy bars in sheep’s clothing: similar ingredients with a marketing spin. Whole foods from bulk bins are often less expensive and, as covered earlier, you’ll likely need to carry less to fuel you.

If you’re not eating the ultra-processed stuff, where will you get your carbs? Carbs are an important part of fueling a long hike, but you can get them from dried fruits, tubers, legumes, whole grains and other real food. Relying on the highly processed ones is not only unnecessary but can be damaging to your performance and long term health, as discussed.

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of the Junk Food Diet

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% Junk 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. Focus on 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 and 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. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. This free Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide has some of my favorite options.
  4. 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. Here’s how I plan my resupply boxes.
  5. Make up for micronutrient deficiencies in town by choosing fresh vegetables and salads instead of (or at least in addition to) pizza, burgers, and beer.
  6. Make small changes. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Here are some ideas:
    1. Add in a greens powder, such as athletic greens, amazing grass, or organifi each day.This can make up for micronutrient deficiencies on a long hike.
    2. 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.
    3. Look for chips and other crunchy/salty snacks with as few ingredients as possible. For example, compare the following:
      • Ingredients in Sweet Potato Chips: sweet potatoes, organic coconut oil, sea 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.

Start slow and do what you can. As they say, the dose makes the poison. Even making a few small changes is a good step towards fueling yourself for performance and creating a better environment at the same time.

The good news? You’re FREE. Absolutely free to make your own decisions. Free to choose pesticide-laden junk or free to fuel on nature’s buffet of whole foods. You decide.

Related Posts:

The Dangers of Fueling on Faux Foods

Skip the Sugar Crash Trail Smoothie Recipe

How to Eat Healthy On a Thru-hike

Trail Food Makeover: How to Eat for Optimal Energy & Endurance

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Managing Tendinitis Naturally

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The Trail Show Salty Segment April 2019

The Question

Dear Salty,

What diet or supplements would you recommend to help combat tendinitis?  I’ve been suffering from Achilles tendinitis for a couple of months now.  I’ve been in PT for 5 weeks. It seems I may have turned the corner, but I’m wondering if you can give me some specific foods or supplements that can help me continue to heal.  I have friends who swear by collagen and bone broth, but I haven’t tried these things. Anything you suggest for on the trail or at home would be great.

Thanks, Lemuel

The Answer

Great question, Lemuel, as this is something a lot of hikers struggle with. As a health and nutrition coach, I don’t diagnose, prescribe, or treat, but I can share what I’ve seen work for myself and others when it comes to tendinitis. Here are some ideas for how you can support your body in recovering more quickly.

What is tendinitis?

For anyone unfamiliar, tendinitis (also called tendonitis) is an inflammatory condition of the tendons. The tendons connect muscles to bones. Tendinitis is often caused by repetitive movements, injuries, or built up inflammation. It can affect people of all ages, sizes, and physical ability, and it’s quite painful. Inflamed tendons are more prone to stress, strain, and tears. Traditionally, treatment involves rest, ice/heat packs, PT, and anti-inflammatory medications.

How To Combat Tendinitis with Diet & Supplements

Follow an Anti-inflammatory Diet

Because tendinitis is an inflammatory condition, the first thing to implement, if you’re not already doing so, is an anti-inflammatory diet. Food can have a dramatic effect on inflammation levels, with some foods combating inflammation and others feeding the fire. This is something I talk about a lot with your trail diet.

An anti-inflammatory diet is one that’s heavy in plants, especially cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale). This is because plants tend to be high in antioxidants. Antioxidants combat oxidative stress and free radical damage, which are the primary drivers of inflammation. Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in high quantities in berries, and it helps rebuild collagen, a key component in tissues.

It’s also important to eat high-quality proteins sourced from grass-fed, pastured animals. This helps the body repair and rebuild damaged tissue. Aim for 4-6 ounces with each meal. Examples include cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish. Fish are also a great choice because they contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

Also aim to include a wide variety of herbs and spices, which are potent sources of anti-inflammatory compounds. Ginger and turmeric are great options.

On the other hand, inflammatory foods to avoid include alcohol, excess caffeine, sugar, processed foods, and hydrogenated oils.

Click here to download a FREE guide with the top 5 anti-inflammatory foods to eat daily.

Supplementation

It’s best to get your nutrients from whole foods, but if you want to supplement, consider the following.

  • Zinc: supports the immune system and tissue repair
  • Curcumin (found in turmeric): very effective anti-inflammatory properties
  • Fish Oil: contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids
  • Magnesium: supports muscle recovery and restful sleep
  • Bone broth: contains collagen, which helps form tissue in the body

That’s my A to your Q, Lemuel. Hope you heal up quickly and get #backonthetrail.

To learn more about how you can get your health completely dialed in for your upcoming adventures, click here to check out the online Adventure Ready course!

If you’d like to submit your own question for a future Trail Show Salty Segment, click here.

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Why All Electrolytes Aren’t Equal & How to Choose a Good One

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The Trail Show Salty Segment March 2019

The Question

Dear Salty,

There are a LOT of electrolyte powders and pills out there and I’m not sure how to choose the best ones. I’m obviously going to stay away from high fructose corn syrup but aside from that, I know there are different kinds of salts and sweeteners in there. Are there specific things I should avoid and/or look for? Should I just scrap electrolytes and go with POD’s method of water and plain potato chips? Should I just lick the salt off my own skin? Do I even need electrolytes if my trail meals have salt in them? Please help this guy hydrate!

Saltlick

The Answer

This is a great question because Saltlick is right, there are SO MANY options out there, and it’s helpful to know what you’re paying for and whether you even need it. Being a frugal hiker who likes to keep things simple, I get it.

What is an electrolyte?

Let’s lay some groundwork and cover what an electrolyte is and what purpose it serves in the body.

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help balance fluid pressure and maintain blood pH in the body. Proper nerve, heart, and muscle function depends on adequate amounts of electrolytes dissolved in the body’s fluids. These minerals can be lost from the body through sweat.

For optimal performance, it’s important to consume both water and electrolytes. A deficiency or imbalance of electrolytes can result in dehydration, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, cramps, and spasms.

Do I even need electrolytes?

Water and food are our primary sources of electrolytes, but depending on one’s diet, water source, and level of exertion, it may be necessary to supplement with exogenous electrolytes. In general, if your activity doesn’t involve much sweating or is less than an hour in duration, the electrolytes found in whole foods should be sufficient. During activity lasting longer than an hour and in extreme heat, electrolyte powders can be a great way to supplement.

And while I 100% support POD’s method of salt intake via potato chips, sodium is just one of the minerals you need to replace to keep your body functioning optimally. So, while you’re welcome to continue licking salt off your own skin, if you’re on a long distance hike, I’d encourage you to supplement with an electrolyte powder or pill.

How do I choose a good one? Here’s what to look for & what to avoid.

If you’ve determined that you could benefit from electrolyte replacement, here’s what I’d look for:

A power that contains all of the electrolytes lost through sweat, is tasty, has a reasonable price per serving, and is convenient to use.

At minimum, all electrolyte powders should have the following electrolytes: Sodium (Na+), Chloride (Cl-), Potassium (K+), Calcium (Ca++), and Magnesium (Mg+). According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), “all electrolytes work together to maintain fluid balance in the body at rest and during physical activity, so be sure [to focus] on all electrolytes, rather than focusing on only one or two.” This is important because some outdoors people talk about taking supplements of one mineral (often sodium, potassium, or magnesium), when the body really requires all of the electrolytes. A good mix will have everything that it should and nothing that it doesn’t.

Ideally, an electrolyte mix contains the most bioavailable form of a mineral. Bioavailability refers to the amount of ingested material which is absorbed and available to the body. For example, the magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms is more bioavailable than magnesium oxide or sulfate.

Cost is also an important consideration. Based on my research, you should be able to find a quality electrolyte replacement for $0.35-0.60 per serving .

Taste and convenience of use (such as ones that dissolve easily and come in single serving packets), are also important considerations, especially for use in the back country.

Here’s what I’d avoid:

To reduce adverse reactions, an electrolyte mix should be absent of common allergens, such as soy, gluten, dairy, nuts, and artificial colors or sweeteners. Additionally, I would look out for unnecessary additives or fillers, like sugar, maltodextrin, or cornstarch. Some of these are linked to inflammation and gut dysbiosis, and some are just unnecessary in an electrolyte replacement.

Good Options

Based on a thorough meta-reviewed I performed for Treeline Review, my top choices considering the above information were Ultima Replenisher, Lyteshow, and Nuun.

That’s my A to your Q, Saltlick. Drink up and be safe out there!

To learn more about how you can get your health completely dialed in for your upcoming adventures, click here to check out the online Adventure Ready course!

If you’d like to submit your own question for a future Trail Show Salty Segment, click here.

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Five Steps to Prepare for a Successful Thru-hike

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So you’ve got a thru-hike planned for this summer and you’re deep in preparation mode as hikers are wont to do in the cold, dark months of winter. But it feels like there are a million pieces to get in place. Where do you even start? What are you forgetting? As you dream of alpine lakes and sunshine, here are five key steps to consider before embarking on your adventure.

This post is designed to provide a very broad overview of the planning process and some things that you should likely be thinking about. Each of these topics alone could be an entire article (and they may be at some point).

I’m far from being the most experienced hiker out there, but I’ll share what I’ve learned from ~5000 miles of backpacking and planning multiple thru-hikes.

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Cross country travel on the Oregon Desert Trail

Master Your Mindset

  • Commit. You can’t be wishy-washy. You must commit in your heart to what you intend to achieve because thru-hikes don’t just happen accidentally. You can’t go out with the mindset of “well, I’ll give it a shot and see what happens”. That rarely works. Yes, be flexible and fluid, but also know your end goal. That (not fully in) was my mindset when a friend asked me join him on his thru-hike of the AT. I figured I’d tag along, and who knows, maybe I’d thru-hike. Of course, I didn’t. Shit hit the fan in my off-trail life and I had to bail early. Compare that with my PCT hike, where I went in with the mindset of “I will do everything in my power to thru-hike this trail”. And I did. Because I’d been mentally preparing for months.
  • Take personal responsibility. Commitment means taking personal responsibility for the results in your life. This means you take responsibility for your thoughts, your feelings, your words, and your actions. You stop blaming and complaining and outsourcing your happiness to the control of anyone other than yourself. When you fully step into this mentality, it’s incredibly liberating. You realize you create the results you desire and you get caught up a lot less by all the road bumps along the way.
  • Know your WHY. To stay motivated over the long haul, have a clear sense of why you’re out there. If you know your why, when the going gets tough (and it will), you’ll find reserves of energy and perseverance you didn’t even know you had.
  • Anticipate challenges and how you will work through them. Know that you’ll miss your loved ones, you’ll be physically & emotionally uncomfortable (frequently), things won’t work out as you planned, and you may be alone more than you’re used to. Be mentally prepared for all of this. But also know that your time spent on your adventure will likely be deeply transformative and nourishing to your soul, so prepare for that too 🙂
  • Spend your energy on the right things. Preparation begins in the mind, but it doesn’t end there. It helps to prepare your physical body as well. Many hikers spend far too much time obsessing over gear, food, weather and other minutiae, and while those things have their importance, it’s physical preparation (more on that in a moment) and mindset that will result in a successful journey.
thru-hike colorado trail
Snacking and strategizing on a Colorado Trail thru-hike

Start Planning. All the Planning.

  • Dial in your budget. Running out of money is one of the top reasons hikers quit long trails. That’s unfortunate because it’s totally preventable. There are lots of planning resources out there. Know your budget. Start saving months in advance.
  • Get the maps you need and know how to navigate. Do your research to determine which maps you need. If you’re hiking one of the triple crown trails, the ATC, PCTA, and CDTC are good places to start.
  • Know the skills you’ll need for your chosen adventure and prepare accordingly with classes, practice, and proper gear. Will there be snow travel? Desert travel? Off trail navigation?
  • Learn Leave No Trace ethics and practice them on trail. Also learn about proper town etiquette and practice that as well. Remember, that you’re an ambassador of the trail.
  • Make an itinerary and share it with loved ones. You’ll almost certainly stray from it, but it’s good to have a general outline of where you’ll be and when.
  • Talk with someone who has done what you’re planning to do. This can help you spot holes in your preparations and relieve a lot of anxiety (and get you even more excited). The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Rucks are a fantastic opportunity for this. You can also read blogs and visit forums, but be careful with that. It can be a total time suck and, remember, everyone will have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean their advice is right for you.
  • Plan, but don’t over-plan. Realize that life on trail is no different than life at home and that things happen which you can’t predict. Stay fluid and flexible and willing to roll with whatever comes your way. Remember that you’re capable and nearly everything is figure-out-able. One of the greatest gifts of the trail is the self confidence gained from realizing that you can handle whatever comes your way, and that in most cases, it’s not that big of a deal.
  • A lot of anxiety comes from fears in the back of our mind. Because we haven’t articulated those concerns, they feel nebulous and give us a sense of dread. Try ‘worst case scenario’ thinking. For example, say your resupply box doesn’t show up at your town stop. Now what? What’s the worst case scenario? What would you do to fix the situation? You’ll likely come up with a solution. Play out these scenarios ahead of time and you’ll often find that you’re overemphasizing the negative consequences in your mind and it really wouldn’t be that bad.

Download this free 12 page guide to dial in your diet, improve your health, and prep your body for your upcoming adventure!

Dial In The Gear

  • Proper gear is worth the investment. I’m not saying you need to spend a fortune, but you do need to find gear that’s durable, functional, and fits your body. I’ve made the mistake of carrying a backpack that didn’t fit me properly, but it was given to me, so I went with it. That resulted in months of back pain that didn’t resolve for weeks, even after my hike was over. Silly mistake. You don’t need to obsess or spend months shaving ounces and researching fabrics, but do make informed choices and purchase decent gear. In the same vein, replace old or worn out gear. This is essential in avoiding injury.
  • Once you’ve acquired your gear, field test it. Know how to use it. Go on a shakedown hike. You may find there’s something you need that you don’t have. Or more likely, things you have which you don’t need. Be selective. This will all be carried on your back for mile upon mile and a heavier pack means more wear and tear on your body.
  • Get a pack shakedown. Find a seasoned hiker to look over your gear. They may see something you don’t. Having an outside opinion can help you evaluate your choices.
  • Choose what’s best for you. What works for your hiking buddy or for the guy in the forum or for your sister may not be what works for you. Test your gear and choose what’s best for YOU. After all, you’ll be the one using it for months.
tiny town healthy resupply
A relatively healthy resupply bought from a tiny town convenience store on the Oregon Desert Trail

Strategize Your Food/Resupply

  • Food is a deeply cherished topic of hikers, and rightfully so as you could be burning 4000+ calories daily. There’s so much information available on choosing and planning food for a thru-hike and ultimately, it’s a highly individual choice.
  • That said, here are a few considerations: Decide whether you want to send resupply boxes or buy along the way or a combination of both. Plan ahead so you know where you can buy in town and where you’ll need to send a box. Focus on eating as clean as you can. You’re putting your body under tremendous strain, so give it the best fuel possible. You’ll be able to hike farther with less illness, injury, and inflammation.
odt trio
Happy hikers on the ODT

Optimize Your Health

  • Physical preparation is essential to a smooth transition to full time exercise. You’ll be hiking for 8-12 hours per day. The body is incredibly adaptable, but to avoid injuries, it’s wise to prepare the body for this endeavor. There are several training plans on the internet. There’s also an entire 5 lesson module devoted to developing a personalized training plan in my online course Adventure Ready. Suffice it to say, physical preparation is a good idea.
  • Get as healthy as you can before your hike to build resiliency and to get the most out of your experience. Don’t just survive out there. Instead choose to THRIVE. Backpacking can put a tremendous strain on the body and a long hike is incredibly depleting. Illness and injury take hikers off the trail every season. Give yourself the best possible chance of success by getting your health dialed in for a successful adventure.
  • I teach all of this in my 6 week online course Adventure Ready. It’s the ultimate road map to optimizing your energy and endurance so you can take on your adventure with confidence and stay healthy to the finish line. We cover mastering your mindset, eating for endless energy, optimizing gut health, preparing yourself physically, hacking sleep for better performance, and managing stress so it doesn’t undermine all your other efforts.

To get a jump start on the course, download this free 12 page guide to dial in your diet so you can experience more energy, endurance, and better digestion immediately!

I hope this gave you some ideas and helped fill in gaps in your planning process. What did you find most helpful here? Which of the steps do you want to hear more about? Leave a comment below!

Get inspired, get outside, and have a safe and healthy adventure!

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Healthy Daily Detox Practices

health

Spring is just around the corner and our minds naturally turn to cleaning, both for our physical spaces and for our bodies. After a season spent mostly indoors, we yearn for sunlight, movement, and fresh food.

Though our bodies are built for detoxification, we are exposed to an unprecedented number of toxins. This includes herbicides, pesticides, air pollution, medications, household cleaners, cosmetics and body care products, artificial ingredients in our food, and pollutants in our water. That’s just to name a few!

Think of your body like a cup.When toxins are coming in too quickly, they begin to accumulate and build up. The cup overflows. When that happens, we can experience all sorts of issues from weight gain to brain fog to hormonal imbalances and more. That’s why it’s essential to support our bodies detoxification processes.  

While deeper cleanses are helpful a few times per year, incorporating detox into your daily life is imperative for long-term health. Here are 6 practices to get you started.

hydrate detox

Hydrate First

Start each day with 8-16 ounces of filtered water with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Detox with Food

Focus on eating organic food, especially when it comes to meat and dairy. If you can’t afford to always go organic, check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen” to decide what to prioritize. Eating foods in their natural state will help you avoid many of the added chemicals in processed foods. Prioritize fresh veggies and aim for a salad every day. Bonus if you can incorporate bitter greens like arugula and dandelion to stimulate the liver.

veggies

Support the Liver with Herbs

The liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract before sending it to the rest of the body. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. Among other metabolic processes, the liver produces bile, which breaks down fat into fatty acids to produce energy. Liver health is also essential for healthy hormones. Herbs such as dandelion root, milk thistle seed, and turmeric root used in teas, decoctions, and tinctures help the liver function better. See this post for more.

Have a Daily Bowel Movement

Ensuring that the bowels are moving daily is akin to cleaning out the garbage. A daily BM moves toxins out of your body. Eat plenty of fiber from whole foods, especially dark leafy greens, to help keep things moving. Stay hydrated. Add in a 2-3 tablespoons of fresh ground flax daily to help bind toxins and move them out of the body. You can also supplement with magnesium citrate in the evenings to get you going.

Sweat

Sweating is one of our body’s natural processes to move toxins out of the body through the skin. Sweat on a regular basis through exercise and sauna.

Detect & Remove Food Intolerances

Food allergies and food intolerances are more common than most people suspect. Intolerances cause a low-grade reaction in the body. Detecting and removing foods that trigger a response can reduce inflammation and improve detoxification.

For a free step by step guide to uncovering food intolerances, click here.

By using these simple practices on a daily basis, you’ll notice better energy, improved brain function, and a better mood within a few weeks.

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Fasting On Trail: Good Idea or Not?

fasting

The Trail Show Salty Segment February 2019

The Question

Dear Salty,

I noticed in one of your Instagram posts you talked about fasting and I did an “american amount” of research. Looks interesting and healthy and I always thought fasting meant just not eating for days and days, I didn’t realize there were different kinds. Anyway, it seems like it is really good for your cells and I wondered if fasting is a good thing to do on trail, and if so, how in the hell could you do it? The thing I look forward to most is my bedtime snack of cashews and coconut flakes, and then I usually eat as I’m walking out of camp, which means I have about 8 hours of not eating. I can’t imagine going longer than that on trail!!!

Please educate!

Wolfmoon

The Answer

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. If you follow any medical advice given on the trail show and it turns out poorly, please send any complaints to trailshowlegal@thetrailshow.com.

Now, on to the question.

Is fasting a good thing on trail?

Eh, it could be. But it could also be risky considering how much other stress you’re putting your body under. Here’s what I mean.

There are lots of types of fasts, like the extended multi-day fasts you refer to, alternate day fasts, liquid fasts, and more. What the listener is referring to is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting usually refers to compressing your feeding window to 12 hours or less in a 24 hour cycle. For example, 14 hours of fasting followed by a 10 hour feeding window. The point is not to reduce overall calories but to compress the feeding window to give the digestive system and metabolic processes a break.

What would be the potential benefits?

There’s a lot of research happening around fasting right now. It’s been shown to increase autophagy & clear out damaged cells, improve immunity, improve mental clarity and concentration, support fat loss, lower blood insulin levels, and increase energy, among other things.

And what are the risks?

It’s important to remember that fasting is a stressor and your body is already under a lot of stress on a long hike. Exercise is a stressor. Eating crappy food is a stressor. The body responds well to small amounts of stress, but too much stress on the body leads to chronic inflammation, which is counteractive to what you’re trying to accomplish with a fast.

You can also throw your adrenals and hormones out of whack, both of which happened to me in the past. Not from thru-hiking specifically, but from thru-hiking plus having a lot of other stress in my life. Which leads to another important point: women should be especially careful with fasting, on trail or off, because our hormones are really sensitive to disruptions. If your adrenals are already stressed or if you’re underweight, fasting would not be a good idea.

So, while fasting is a really helpful health tool, I’d say for most people, it’s probably smarter to leave the fasting for when you’re at home or when you’re in town for a few days.

But…if you do try it, here’s how I’d go about it.

In terms of timing, fasting overnight is easiest because you’re sleeping most of that time. I wouldn’t go much beyond a 12-14 hour fast, which would mean a 10-12 hour feeding window. It’s already difficult enough to get in the calories you need on trail. Of course as hikers we’re known for shoveling it in, but the shorter your feeding window, the more you risk not eating enough in that window. Chronically under-eating makes it hard to properly refuel your glycogen and rebuild muscle. When that happens, your body breaks down and your endurance suffers.

If you know it’s something you want to try, I’d highly recommend experimenting with it at home first. Train your body to rely more on fat stores for fuel than incoming glucose, which will make fasted hiking less…uncomfortable. This could be achieved by gradually lengthening your current fasting window. Eat dinner earlier, avoid evening snacks, and push breakfast later. Doing fasted morning workouts would also be beneficial.

So, that’s my A to your Q, Wolfmoon. Hope it helps provide some clarity!

To learn more about how you can get your health completely dialed in for your upcoming adventures this year, click here to learn more about my course Adventure Ready!

If you’d like to submit your own question for a future Trail Show Salty Segment, click here.


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What I Wish I’d Done for My Health Before My First Thru-hike

thru hike

This post originally appeared on the Trek.

Imagine this: You’ve just hiked 2,660 miles and you’re in the best shape of your life. You luck out and get an entry into a well-known race you’ve been eyeing for years. It starts in a month. You give yourself a week to recover and you set out on your first training run.

But something is off. You can’t run more than a couple of miles without extreme muscle fatigue. You’ve been exhausted for days and no amount of sleep relieves the fatigue. You’re cold all the time and you’re unmotivated. You wonder, “What is happening? Isn’t this the body that just hiked 2,660 miles?” You have no choice but to pull out of the race.

This was essentially my experience after hiking the PCT. The point is not that thru-hiking caused this health crash. That’s a story for another time. The point is that despite living a very healthy lifestyle before the PCT, I was not as bulletproof as I thought.

Reclaiming my health has been a roller-coaster, but I’m grateful for the journey because I can now share information on how to optimize your health before a hike, so you can thrive and have a successful journey. After all, it’s a lot more fun to be out there when your body is at its peak.

Whether you struggle with a specific health condition or you’re just out of shape from sitting at desk for eight hours a day, use these practices to dial in your health for an upcoming adventure. It’s what has moved the needle the most for me (and those I’ve worked with) in terms of having incredible energy, endurance, and resiliency on my next hike.

How I Prepare My Health for a Thru-Hike

Prioritize Gut Health

Let’s face it: you’re going to encounter a lot of less-than-optimal foods on your hike. Thru-hiking doesn’t exactly lend itself well to healthy eating. From lack of fresh foods (too heavy) to tiny resupply towns with limited options, it can be hard to meet nutrient requirements on trail. Couple that with the intense physical demands you’re putting on the body and you can quickly become depleted and develop deficiencies.

This translates into less energy, slower recovery, and compromised immunity (i.e., slower wound healing and an increased likelihood of getting sick from eating your hiking partner’s GORP). You can try to make up for deficiencies and take care of your gut in town with lots of fresh food and probiotics. But a) that’s unlikely to happen, especially if you’re busy eating beer and pizza, and b) you have a much better chance of staying healthy if you build resiliency before you leave home. It all begins in the gut.

Gut health impacts your immune system, nutrient absorption, energy levels, hormone production, weight, and much more. I thought my gut was fine going into my hike. I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle and I wasn’t experiencing any noticeable digestive symptoms. However, it turns out there’s much more I could’ve been doing to build a healthy, resilient gut.

Short of getting your microbiome tested, it’s difficult to quantify gut health. Luckily, that’s not necessary. You can ensure good gut health, and therefore your ability to get the most nutrition from your food, with the following tips:

Increase Variety and Prioritize Whole Foods

The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the microbiome, and the more adaptable it will be to disruptions.

Up Your Fiber

Aim to eat at least 30 grams of fiber daily. Research indicates that soluble fiber is the best food for sustaining a healthy, diverse population of microbiota. Legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all great choices.

Probiotics

Consume probiotic-rich foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha or supplement with a high quality probiotic.

Limit Inflammatory Foods

Lastly, it’s important to stop taking in inflammatory foods (discussed next) as well as behaviors that inhibit gut health. These include taking antibiotics (obviously), consuming alcohol, consuming preservatives and food additives, smoking cigarettes, not getting enough sleep, and being stressed.

Limit Inflammatory Foods with a Personalized Diet

One of the largest sources of inflammation in the diet for many people is undetected food intolerances. These are foods, specific to you, that trigger inflammation.

Because I didn’t have any overt digestive symptoms, I assumed I was healthy. I was a baker at the time and even though the bread I was eating was made from organic, locally milled wheat, it turns out that it was creating a lot of inflammation that kept me from being my healthiest.

I figured this out by completing an elimination challenge. This is where you remove potential food triggers for three to four weeks, then reintroduce them one by one to see if your body reacts. This method is the least expensive and most reliable way of detecting food intolerances.

Once I discovered and removed offending foods from my diet, things turned around quickly. My inflammation went down, my energy soared, my digestion improved, and my muscles stopped aching.

Even if you don’t think you have any food intolerances, I encourage everyone to try this at least once. Often it’s not until you remove a potentially triggering food, allow the body to reset, and then reintroduce it, that you may find it’s not working for you. Sometimes you don’t know how good you can actually feel.

To complete an elimination challenge at the most basic level, follow the following process:

  1. Eliminate gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods for 28 days.
  2. One by one, reintroduce each food. Ideally this is twice daily for two to three days before moving on to the next food.
  3. Track your symptoms. If you notice a reaction in your body (such as changes in digestion, energy, or sleep), remove that food again. If not, move on to the next.

Focus less on the idea of elimination, and more on removing the impediments to success, so your body can become stronger and truly thrive.

To get the best feedback, it’s important to follow the process properly. Because this was a game-changer for me, I created a guide on how to properly complete an elimination challenge. No more guessing in the dark about which foods are good or bad for you. You can find out exactly what works for you and what doesn’t. This leads to better energy, better endurance, and it may just clear up any nagging symptoms you’ve been dealing with, like skin rashes, headaches, joint pain, and digestive issues, like bloating, gas, and heartburn.

Live an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

There’s a lot that goes into this piece, but here’s what it boils down to: we live in a time when most of us have some level of chronic inflammation.

Acute inflammation is a beneficial healing response. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, slowly breaks down the body and is at the root of most diseases. Inflammation is caused by different stressors. Sources of stress can include environmental (i.e., pollution), physical (i.e., overtraining or eating inflammatory foods), and emotional (a fight with a partner or inability to pay your bills).

We can’t control it all, but we can manage it. With every action or decision, I ask, “Will this lead to more or less inflammation in my body?”

Use the following three practices as a foundation to manage stress:

  1. Make sleep a nonnegotiable. Aim for eight hours per night.
  2. Engage in some form of mindfulness practice, such as meditation, for ten minutes daily.
  3. Have a wind-down ritual each night, whether that’s dinner with a partner, a walk with your dog, or a good book and a cup of tea.

Applied consistently, these practices can make a massive impact on your overall health, as well as on how you feel each day of your hike. It’s a great starting point. We dive much deeper in my six-week online course Adventure Ready. It’s designed to optimize your health, so you have the energy and endurance you need to hike long days and stand at that terminus monument, having successfully completed your adventure.

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My Favorite Herbal Allies for All Stages of a Woman’s Life

Herbs are a beautiful complement to help women gracefully move through life’s different stages. These plant medicines are highly effective and, in almost all cases, come with a higher degree of safety and fewer side effects than conventional medications. Along with food and mindfulness, herbs can be a powerful force in solving many health issues.

The herbs discussed here support women’s health through the challenges that may come at different times of the month, the year, and throughout a woman’s life. While herbs can be highly beneficial for pregnant and nursing mothers, that’s not the focus of this post, and not all herbs discussed here are appropriate for mothers or mothers to-be. Please do your own research.

The following are some of the most powerful herbal allies to support a woman’s health over the course of her lifetime.

herbs

Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus)

One of the most effective herbs at regulating women’s hormones is Vitex, or Chaste berry. It supports the production of progesterone and luteinizing hormone, both of which are necessary for ovulation and regulating menstruation cycles. Vitex can help reduce PMS symptoms including depression and irritability, bloating, breast tenderness, cravings and acne. It can help with irregular cycles. Vitex may also support women struggling with PCOS and infertility.

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)

Wild Yam has a long history of use in supporting women with reproductive health. Contrary to common belief, wild yam does not contain estrogen or progesterone, and it cannot be biologically converted to active hormones in the body. However, Wild Yam does contain the steroidal saponin aglycone diosin which may be converted to diosgenin in the body. Diosgenin then may act on estrogen receptor sites, which may aid in estrogen balance. It’s important to note that this conversion requires healthy gut flora.

Crampbark (Viburnum opulus) & Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium)

Two herbs which are helpful for women during menses are Crampbark and Black Haw. These herbs have similar actions in the body and are used to soothe the occasional discomfort associated with menstrual cycles. Cramp bark also has a history of use for endometriosis and miscarriage.

Black Cohsoh (Cimicifuga racemosa)

Black Cohosh supports a healthy endocrine system and hormonal cycles throughout a woman’s life. It has a long history of use with menopausal women for relief from hot flashes, sweats, and the effects of declining estrogen. It is also used in the treatment of arthritis and muscle pain.

Additional Allies

Additionally, there are other herbs which can support healthy hormones and moods in women. For liver support and proper elimination of hormones, Burdock root (Arctium lappa) and Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) are great considerations. For emotional support, particularly during menstruation, beneficial herbs include Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Finally, adaptogens, such as Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), can be be used as tonics to support healthy mood, hormones, sleep, and immune function.

No matter the life stage, herbs can be highly effective in supporting women’s optimal health and vitality.

Dialing in your diet is an excellent complement to using herbs to support a healthy lifestyle. To find YOUR triggering foods and get to the root of your imbalances, click here to download a FREE 12-page guide that leads you step by step through a 28 day process. Come out the other side with balanced hormones, better energy, and improved digestion.

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How to Recover from Overeating

oregon

The Trail Show Salty Segment January 2019

The Question

Dear Salty,

It’s that time again…when I go ahead and have that fourth piece of pie and then wake up feeling a little icky…but you know, hair of the dog is the best medicine so I have cookies and pie for breakfast too.

I know I can decide to eat fewer sweets, but I usually am really disciplined and enjoy eating these homemade treats that only appear once a year in my house. I avoid the store bought crap but don’t think twice about a homemade cobbler or almond holiday cookies made by my sister and niece.

This type of eating also mirrors what happens in town when I am on trail…I get into town and want to eat everything just because it is there. I feel like I generally eat a pretty healthy diet both at home and on trail. I am not going to not eat these treats once a year and at times when in trail towns, but I’m wondering if there are any foods I can eat before and/or after that will help regulate the sugar and help with digestion.

Thanks for your tips and thanks for not judging me!

Sea Ray

The Answer

Great question, Sea Ray.

Before I dive into the tips, I want to start with that last thing you said about not judging you. This is important. When I’m out with friends, hiking partners, anyone who knows what I do for a living, they often say ‘I know this isn’t Salty approved’, or ‘Don’t judge me’ before eating something they feel guilty about.

The thing is, I genuinely don’t care what you eat. It’s not that I don’t care about you as a person, but I’m not here to guilt anyone into eating one way or the other. If you want guidance, I’m happy to share my experience and knowledge on a topic in the hopes of helping you achieve your goals.

More importantly, you’re taking away your own power and personal responsibility. It’s up to you what you want to put in your body and how you want to feel.

But, truly, it’s not about rules and judgement. It’s about taking self responsibility and making choices that align with your goals. It’s about being comfortable with the consequences of your choices, regardless of what you decide.

No rules, only choices.

And whatever you decide, please don’t judge or criticize yourself either. Because honestly, that’s a waste of energy. Make a choice and deal with the consequences.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, here’s an answer to your actual question.

Follow these diet and lifestyle tips to lessen the impact of overindulging.

Stay Hydrated

Done beforehand, it will help you to not overeat quite as much. If you do overeat, staying hydrated the next day supports healthy digestion and metabolism, so you process the extra salt, sugar, and other less-than-ideal ingredients.

Take Digestive Bitters

Bitters are herbs that stimulate digestive juices, like stomach acid and bile. These include herbs like dandelion, burdock, gentian, milk thistle, motherwort, goldenseal and angelica.  Bitters break down food and assist in the absorption of nutrients.

Other bitter foods, like green olives and arugula do the same thing, so have these as an appetizer to stimulate digestion. Similarly, you could take a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar to support stomach acid production and proper digestion. Low stomach acid is surprisingly common and can contribute to reflux, gas, and bloating.

Take Digestive Enzymes

These are enzymes that help you process extra starch, fat, and protein. You produce these naturally, but often not in sufficient quantities. Join my online dispensary here for 20% off professional-grade supplements.

Relax

By taking a moment to see the food, breath in the aromas, and appreciate your food before you dig in, your body will actually digest food better. You’ll produce more enzymes, like amylase in your saliva, and more bile and pancreatic enzymes that break down food. This is part of the cephalic phase of digestion. It begins in your mind before you even take a bite.

Support liver function, elimination and detoxification

A lot of people are tempted to starve themselves after a period of overeating, but that usually leads to rebound overeating later in the day (or week). Instead, think about giving your digestive system a rest.

Focus on nutrient-dense liquids, like broths, soups, and green smoothies. Eat simple whole food meals and prioritize fiber and protein. Steer clear of inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, and processed oils.

Get Plenty of Sleep

This gives your whole system a rest. It will reduce inflammation and improve digestion. Additionally, proper sleep supports balanced hormones, like insulin and cortisol, so you don’t find yourself face first in the cookies again.

Move Your Body

The intention isn’t to burn off extra calories per say. It’s to stimulate lymph flow and sweat to help you move toxins out of your body. It also literally helps you move food through your digestive system faster through gravity and mechanical force.

Love Your Gut

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Trail Show podcast without me talking about gut health! Support your gut before and after a big meal by eating probiotic containing foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, and prebiotic foods, like lots of veggies.

That’s my A to your Q, Sea Ray. Enjoy grandma’s pie and get back on track towards your goals by taking care of your body.

To learn more about how you can get your health completely dialed in for your upcoming adventures this year, click here to learn more about my course Adventure Ready!

If you’d like to submit your own question for a future Trail Show Salty Segment, click here.

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How to Optimize Your Health for Your Next Big Adventure

thru hike

What I wish I would’ve done for my health before my first long hike.

Imagine you’ve just hiked 2660 miles and you’re in the best shape of your life. You luck out and are chosen in the lottery for a well known local race you’ve been eyeing for years. It starts in a month. You’ve given yourself a week to recover and you set out on your first ‘training run’.

But something is off. You can’t run more than a couple of miles without extreme deep muscle fatigue. You’ve been exhausted for days and sleep isn’t helping. You’re cold all the time, your hair is falling out, and you’re unmotivated. You have no choice but to pull out of the race.

This was essentially my experience after hiking the PCT. This is somewhat of a cautionary tale, but what I’d really like to share with you is not just how I recovered, but more importantly for anyone considering their own endurance endeavor, how I prepared for my next long distance hike so that I had incredible energy, endurance, and resiliency.

play outside

I’ve been a lifelong endurance athlete, competing in swimming and cross country when I was younger, and ultra running in more recent years. I was your typical overly ambitious Type A go-getter, and I still am to some extent, but with more wisdom, earned through my own dark night of the soul.

It wasn’t hiking the PCT per say, that triggered my health issues. Though months of physical stress is a lot for the body and many hikers do end up extremely depleted, gaunt, and with disrupted hormones. I actually felt great on my hike, which I attribute to eating real food.

My health crash upon returning home was the culmination of several factors. This is known as allostatic load, the process of accumulated stress on the body, which often leads to a ‘tipping point’ where the body can no longer cope.

Yes, there was the physical stress of hiking for 4 months, but I also had a lot of emotional stress and likely some degree of intestinal permeability. This is a fairly common condition where tight junctions in the gut lining don’t work properly, allowing toxins, bacteria, and food particles into the bloodstream (where they don’t belong). It’s often caused by chronic stress, poor diet, toxin overload, and bacterial imbalance. It’s been linked to a host of conditions, including inflammation disorders, immune issues, food allergies, and chronic fatigue. I had no clue this was happening because I wasn’t experiencing any digestive issues.

oregon desert trail

How I Recovered & Prepared for My Next Long Walk

The point is not that long distance hiking is going to cause you to develop adrenal issues, thyroid disease, or any other condition. It’s that despite living an extremely healthy lifestyle, I was not as bullet-proof as I thought. And though reclaiming my health has been quite a journey, I’m grateful for the experience because I can now share information on how to optimize your health BEFORE your hike, so you can thrive, and have a fulfilling, successful journey.

Here are the top 3 practices I did both to recover my health and to prepare for my next long hike. These allowed me to have incredible energy and endurance, day in and day out, and to remain truly healthy, season after season.

Dialed in My Diet for ME

I assumed that because I was vegetarian and I ate healthy, including lots of plants, and because I didn’t have any overt digestive symptoms, that I was healthy. Turns out that’s not always the case, and it’s not until you remove a potentially triggering food, allow the body to reset, and then reintroduce it, that you may find it’s not working for you.

I worked as a baker at the time and even though the bread I was eating daily was made from organic, locally-milled wheat, and baked in a wood-fired oven, and even though I was certain I didn’t have issues with gluten, it turns out it was still doing me harm.

I didn’t realize this until I did an elimination challenge and learned which foods I was not tolerating well. Once I removed those from my diet for a while, things turned around quickly. My inflammation went down, my energy soared, my digestion improved, and my muscles stopped aching.

This is just ONE piece of the puzzle, but it’s a powerful piece. Plus, it’s free.

I created a 12-page guide on how to complete this step. You can download it here. For free. No more guessing in the dark about which foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Find out exactly what works for you and what doesn’t.

Focused on Gut Health

Again, I assumed my gut was in good order because I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle and I wasn’t experiencing any noticeable digestive symptoms. I ate probiotics a few times a week, and plenty of fiber.

However, it turns out that 15 years of relying on grains, legumes, wheat, dairy, and other fairly inflammatory foods as a vegetarian had led to a bit of gut dysbiosis. This is where you have inadequate amounts or diversity of the ‘good’ gut bacteria and overgrowth of more pathogenic strains.

Gut health impacts your immune system, nutrient absorption, energy levels, hormone production, weight, and much more.

Led an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

There’s a lot that goes into this one, but when I thought about all my daily actions, I could boil it down to ‘Will this lead to more or less inflammation in my body?’.

Knowing that inflammation is at the root of most chronic conditions, and living in a world where we’re bombarded by stressors from every direction, it makes sense to instill habits that reduce the burden.

This includes making adequate sleep non-negotiable. It also means making sure I actively manage stress levels, whether I feel stressed or not. This means daily mindfulness, like meditation or keeping a gratitude journal.

One of the most important practices I do now is listen to my body. I used to train hard every day, no matter how I felt. I now take time for rest. I slow down. I train in seasons.
Knowing how to eat and train is important, but I’ve also learned how to trust the ebb and flow cycles of the seasons and my body.

I tend to go hard in the summer. And to do that for the long haul, I need a period of repair and rebuilding. With dark days and cold temperatures, winter lends itself well to a season of nourishing the body. I’ve learned to hear my body before I’ve pushed too far.

We dive deeper into all these topics in my course Adventure Ready. It launches spring of 2019, just in time for you to optimize your health, so you can be standing on that summit or at that terminus monument later this year.

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