Supplements on the CDT for Energy, Immunity, and Endurance

supplements on trail

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

Why I Use Supplements

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

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

Supplements I Carried on my CDT Hike

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

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

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

The Method

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

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

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

These supplements went into every box: 

Ashwagandha

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

Astaxanthin 

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

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

Spore-based Probiotics

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

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

Turmeric

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

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

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12

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

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

Multi Vitamin

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

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

Colostrum

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

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

Magnesium

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

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

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

Trail Smoothie

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

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

Related: 

Healthy Lightweight 5-Day Meal Plan

Diet & Supplements for Managing Tendonitis Naturally

How to Choose the Best Electrolytes

Adaptogens for Athletes

How to: Supplementation on Trail

Free Guide: Supplementing Wisely

Managing Tendinitis Naturally

hiking

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.

Adaptogens for Athletes

adaptogen endurance

Spring is officially here. It’s time to emerge from your winter cocoon to get outside and play, and there’s an increasingly popular class of herbs, called adaptogens, which can boost your performance. Though it’s only recently that adaptogens are getting their moment in the health limelight, the use of these herbs is not new, particularly to cultures like India and China with long histories of natural medicine.

Adaptogens are plants and mushrooms that improve the body’s ability to respond to stress. Traditionally, they’ve been used to balance the body’s stress response, improve sleep, support the immune system, maintain reproductive health, and yes, improve stamina and exercise recovery.

The effects are subtle, but real, and adaptogens are safe for long-term use in most populations. Despite a long history of use, we’re just beginning to see scientific studies to support what many traditional healers have known for centuries.

You already know the importance of fueling your body with whole foods and staying well hydrated for optimal exercise performance. To support your body’s hard efforts and give yourself a boost, consider adding the following herbs to your self-care routine.

Upgrade your diet with a free guide to the top five anti-inflammatory foods to eat every day!

Eleuthero

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is an herb from Siberia, which has been used to support healthy blood sugar levels, optimal use of glycogen, and the production of cellular energy. Eleuthero has also been shown to strengthen the immune system. One study in mice found Eleuthero to increase time to exhaustion by lessening the build-up of lactic acid (the compound responsible for muscle soreness after a workout).

American Ginseng

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has long been used by the Native American populations of North America. Studies suggest that supplementation could “reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammatory responses, resulting in improvements in insulin sensitivity”. This herb has been shown to enhance cognitive function, which may support faster reactions times. Ginseng has also traditionally been used to reduce fatigue, making it ideal for endurance athletes.

Maca

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian herb which grows in the high Andes, where it serves as an important food source. Traditionally, maca has been valued for its high nutritional value and its ability to enhance fertility.

Studies suggest that supplementation can support endurance and stamina, as well as healthy libido. Furthermore, studies in rats suggest that maca can improve endurance capacity and reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Turmeric

Turmeric (Cucurma longa) is a root whose primary active constituent, Cucurmin, is a potent natural anti-inflammatory agent, making it an ideal addition to any athlete’s diet. Cucurmin supplementation can  attenuate exercise-induced oxidative stress by increasing blood antioxidant capacity.” A combination of cucurmin and piperine, a component in black pepper, supports recovery by reducing muscle damage incurred during workouts.

Cordyceps

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is a mushroom highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. It is used by modern herbalists to support stamina and energy levels, in addition to enhancing the immune system. Chronic supplementation may improve tolerance to high intensity exercise. Furthermore, studies suggest that in some populations, Cordyceps may increase the metabolic threshold, above which lactic acid accumulates.

Now, get outside, get active, and consider using adaptogens to improve performance and overall health. As always, it’s important to consult a health care practitioner and find high-quality sources when using herbs or supplements.   You sign up for a free account with my online dispensary here to receive 20% off professional grade supplements.

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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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.

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, Adventure Ready!

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

Top 5 Supplements to Take on Trail

hiker supplements

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

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

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

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

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

colorado trail

Supplements for the Trail

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

As detailed in this post about my Oregon Desert Trail resupply, in addition to packing nutrient dense food in every box, I almost always include the following supplements.

For high quality supplements, I prefer to shop exclusively through specific trusted companies. Shopping from random sources can be hit or miss in terms of buying products that are real, safe, and effective. To ensure you’re buying safe products, you can access my online dispensary of professional-grade supplements by clicking here. There are hundreds of brands and you can save 10-20% with this link. There are no gimmicks. It’s simply a resource I want to provide to readers. If you insist on shopping Amazon, you can find links to a few of my favorites by clicking on the supplement name below.

One last note before we dive in: I am not a doctor and, as such, I don’t diagnose, prescribe, treat, or cure. The following ideas are simply what I’ve seen work for myself and for others. For personalized health advice, see a qualified practitioner. If you’re on prescription medications, don’t start supplements without the guidance of your doctor.

High Quality Multi-Vitamin

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

Probiotics

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

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

Krill Oil

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

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

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

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

Turmeric

Turmeric is a major source of the plant polyphenol Curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2017 research review of it’s effects on human health attributes the following benefits to this powerful spice:

It aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and performance in active people.

It’s important to choose a high quality source that contains piperine (the active component of black pepper), which increases the bioavailability of the curcumin by 2000%.

Magnesium

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

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

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

supplements

Supplementation in the ‘Off Season’

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

A Word on Choosing Supplements

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

Every body is different. For an individualized approach and deeper guidance, working with a health practitioner is helpful to determine what supplements may be helpful specifically for you. Again, if you’d like access to my online dispensary where you can save 10-20% off top brands, click here

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

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Improve Your Digestion Today with 7 Simple Tips

veggies

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

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

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

relax digestion

Relax

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

Chew More

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

sauerkraut digestion

Feed the Gut

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

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

Hydrate

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

Drop Unhealthy Habits

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

exercise digestion

Exercise

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

Consume Herbs to Enhance Digestion

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

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

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How to Create a Resilient Immune System

immune strength

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

stress relief

Stress Less

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

sleep

Get Enough Sleep

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

immune

Take Adaptogen Herbs

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

play outside

Play Outside

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

salad

Eat a Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods Diet

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

supplement

Supplement with Vitamin D, Vitamin C, & Zinc

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

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

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How to Improve Focus & Attention

attention focus

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

meditate

Meditation

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

exercise

Exercise

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

attention focus

Cognitive Enhancing Herbs

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

clean diet

Eat to Support Brain Health

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

productivity

Use Productivity Techniques

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

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

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