Oregon Desert Trail Resupply Planning

ODT resupply

Food Resupply Plan for the Oregon Desert Trail

This post details how I planned my food for the Oregon Desert Trail. I’ll post more on general trail information and planning resources in a separate post. This one is all about where, what, and how much I planned for food resupply for the ODT. I’ll do a follow-up post when I return about how this plan worked out.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a long one, but hopefully you’ll find it’s jam-packed with useful info.

The following table details where I sent each box, the calorie goals for each day, the specific food I sent, and how that broke down in term of macronutrients (percentages of fat, carbs, and protein), as well as total food weight carried.

The calorie goal for each resupply box is in the top left corner of the table for each location. The actual calories in the box are at the bottom of the table for each section, which is also where you’ll find the macro breakdown and the food weight of the box.

ODT resupply

Determining Goal Calorie Intake

I loosely track daily calories and nutrients with the app MyFitnessPal. To create my calorie goals, I used that data of my current intake and expenditure, coupled with knowledge from previous hikes.

The numbers may seem low considering that I’m 5’7″, have a normal BMI, and I’ll be hiking 25-30 miles per day. However, I made them low for a couple reasons:  1) I’m still recovering from a hypo-thyroid issue, and the thyroid is the master regulator of metabolism, so my current basal metabolic rate (BMR) is lower than it has been in the past. I know this because I track my calorie intake and weight. While some might consider the downside of this being that ‘I have to’ eat less food to maintain my weight, the upside of a currently lower BMR is that ‘I get to’ eat less food to maintain my weight. That’s convenient when you’re backpacking and you have to carry it all on your back 🙂 And reason 2) The time frame (30 days) is relatively short, so I won’t get into full on hiker hunger, and if I do go into a calorie deficit, it won’t be for long.  You’ll also notice that in each box I include several hundred additional calories above the goal amount, just in case.

Macronutrient Percentages

Let’s start by saying that I strongly believe in bio-individuality. Every body is different. Figure out what works best for you. I mean that in terms of both what your diet is made up of, as well as in terms of calories and macronutrients, and in terms of specific foods you do or do not tolerate well. Food quality and a focus on whole foods is the constant and the details are variable.

I’ve found that I thrive when I eat a diet higher in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and slightly lower in carbs. The numbers in this chart show my diet as generally being 50-60% fat, 10-20% protein, and 30-40% carbohydrate. Off trail, the fat number tends to be higher and the carbs lower, but this is how it settled out for the trail and I’m comfortable with that. We’ll see how I feel.

Also, I’m aware that in the table, the macro percentages don’t always add up to 100%. In a couple spots they add up to 102 or 105%. I believe this is due to averaging values for different varieties/flavors of granola, bars, etc. While this is not ideal, the data is still accurate enough to give a good reflection of what the nutritional spread looks like.

Food Planning on a ‘Restricted Diet’ while Going Stoveless

All foods in this resupply plan are gluten free and dairy free. This list does also not rely heavily on grains or added sugars, though there are a few in there. The focus is on including real foods with either no ingredient list or very short ingredient lists made up of recognizable foods. To avoid toxin exposure, most of these foods are organic.

I firmly believe in doing the best you can, and not obsessing about being perfect. While I’m all for eating a high-quality diet on trail, don’t let the idea overwhelm you to the point where you give up before you start. Start where you’re at and any small improvements you can make in food choices and quality will translate into feeling better on trail and supporting a cleaner environment.

 

Supplements & Other Items in Each Box

There are a few items that went into each box that aren’t listed in the chart. This includes maps for each section, wet wipes, and supplements. Oh, and resupply baggies of coarse celtic sea salt 🙂

Supplements I’m carrying: Magnesium Citrate Powder to help with muscle relaxation and sleep; Turmeric capsules to reduce overall inflammation; Vitamin C for electrolyte replacement and antioxidants; and probiotics to maintain optimal gut health.  Not a ton, just the basics.

I also have cordyceps mushroom powder in my morning smoothie mix, along with the coconut creamer, collagen, chia, and spices. The cordyceps is for improved oxygen utilization and endurance. The spices, while not necessarily  supplements, serve similar anti inflammatory and medicinal roles.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

ODT resupply

Specific Brands I Carried

In the table, I left most food descriptions fairly general because I want to convey that in many instances you don’t have to choose one specific brand, and you can often find healthy substitutions that are either more available to you or suit your preferences better. I want the focus to be on the overall quality of the food and the idea that you can fuel a long distance hike with whole foods, made up of real ingredients.

The following are the specific brands I carried on this hike. While some of this food was donated to me, these are all brands I had tried in advance and approve of the ingredients and nutrition profile. Trust me, I wouldn’t be carrying them if I wasn’t certain they would fuel my hike properly. Having gone through adrenal and thyroid issues in the past, I’m well aware that my energy and my body are my greatest asset on any long distance hike.

It’s worth it to me to be thoughtful in my food choices, as well as in what brands I support. I like to feel aligned with the brands behind the products I consume to the extent that I can. This also goes for the gear I purchase.

Laird Superfood Coconut Creamer

Laird Superfood Hydrate Coconut Water

Vital Proteins Collagen Powder

Amazing Grass Greens Powder

Nutiva Chia Seeds

Trader Joe’s Almond Butter

Trader Joe’s Organic Tortilla Chips

Supernola Granola

Gorilly Goods Trail Mix

Wild Zora Meat & Veggie Bar

Trader Joe’s 85% Cocoa Chocolate

Wild Zora Meals

Sante Fe Dehydrated Beans

Natural Grocers Dehydrated Bulk Veggies

Trader Joe’s Individual Coconut Oil Packets

Kate’s Real Food Bars

Four Points Bars

Trail Nuggets

Cusa Premium Organic Instant Tea

If you want ideas for additional foods on my shopping list beyond what’s listed here, download my free Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide here. 

Without further ado, the data…

calories/serving fat g/serving carb g/serving protein g/serving weight/ serving (grams) servings taken total calories total fat (g) total protein (g) total carbs (g) total weight (g)
Start/eastern terminus (5 days) @ 2000 cal/day = 10000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.5 1190 68 17 127.5 238
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
granola 210 16 14 6 42 4 840 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 4 1040 48 40 124 280
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 310 7 38 35 85 1 310 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 9715 662 381 736 4.20
Calories from F/C/P 5958.00 1524 2944 pounds
Percent of Total 61.33 15.69 30.30
ROME (5.5 days) @ 2200/day =12,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 135 3 3 0 4 5 675 15 0 15 20
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
hydrate mix 40 0 10 0 12 9 360 0 0 90 108
0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.6 1204 68.8 17.2 129 240.8
granola 200 16 14 6 42 6 1200 96 36 84 252
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
bars 260 12 31 10 70 8 2080 96 80 248 560
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 6 1260 102 72 36 204
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
0
wild zora dinner 340 2 32 41 85 1 340 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 13054 815.3 509.2 1053.5 5.73
Calories from F/C/P 7337.70 2036.8 4214 pounds
Percent of Total 56.21 15.60 32.28
(MCDERMITT: BUY IN TOWN)
FIELDS (3 days) @ 2500 cal/day =7500 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 3 225 9 0 9 12
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 3 90 15 3 21 30
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 3 210 7.5 30 3 45
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 3 180 15 9 15 39
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 140 7 17 2 28 7 980 49 14 119 196
bars 260 12 31 10 70 3 780 36 30 93 210
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 210 16 14 6 42 2 420 32 12 28 84
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora meal 310 2 32 41 85 1 310 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 8435 550.5 363 656 3.82
Calories from F/C/P 4954.50 1452 2624 pounds
Percent of Total 58.74 17.21 31.11
FRENCHGLEN (4 days) @2500 cal/day =10,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 5 1050 85 60 30 170
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 8 2000 96 80 248 560
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 11420 767.5 476 961.5 5.24
Calories from F/C/P 6907.50 1904 3846 pounds
Percent of Total 60.49 16.67 33.68
PLUSH (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
wild zora breakfast 520 36 43 10 92 1 520 36 10 43 92
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 10 2500 120 100 310 700
jerky 110 2 220 0 0 0 0
nut butter 180 14 8 9 32 1 180 14 9 8 32
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
TOTAL 6605 387.5 297 554 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3487.50 1188 2216 pounds
Percent of Total 52.80 17.99 33.55
(LAKEVIEW: BUY IN TOWN)
PAISLEY (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
wild zora breakfast 520 38 40 11 92 1 520 38 11 40 92
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 4 800 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 10 2600 120 100 310 700
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 2 220 12 14 20 62
wild zora dinner 340 7 38 35 85 1 340 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 6575 373.5 287 567 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3361.50 1148 2268 pounds
Percent of Total 51.13 17.46 34.49
CHRISTMAS VALLEY (4 days) @ 2500 cal/day=10,000
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
bars 260 12 31 10 70 7 1820 84 70 217 490
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 5 550 30 35 50 155
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 9685 647 362 811.5 4.35
Calories from F/C/P 5823.00 1448 3246 pounds
Percent of Total 60.12 14.95 33.52

Despite my best efforts, this chart is a bit difficult to read. For a copy of the chart, as well as a template for your own resupply planning, click here: ODT resupply.

Questions? Post them in the comments below.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

How to Eliminate Sugar Cravings for Good

wind river hiking

“How do you make desserts all day and not want to eat it all?” Working as a baker and pastry chef over the past handful of years, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. And to be honest, it used to be a lot more tempting to snack on the sugary treats that were around me all day. However, now that I’ve learned to tame my sugar cravings and rely on fat for fuel, it’s easy to steer clear of sweets. It’s not that I have iron-clad willpower–I just rarely crave sugar anymore.

sugar

Eschewing candy and quick-burning carbs in favor of whole foods provides more consistent energy and endurance. It’s one thing to know this, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it can be a struggle to break the sugar habit and combat cravings.

If you identify yourself in any of these statements, you might be experiencing blood sugar imbalances, and you’ll likely benefit from keeping your sugar cravings in check.

  • You get hungry an hour after eating
  • You’re jittery and light-headed if you miss a meal or snack
  • You crave sweets after a meal
  • You need sugar and/or caffeine for quick energy
  • You get ‘hangry’ and hunger comes on immediately
  • Life without sugar sounds unbearable

Blood sugar swings result in that post-lunch slump and the inability to maintain energy for a long day in the mountains (or at the office). Blood sugar dysregulation can also have a host of other negative physiological consequences, including increased inflammation and oxidative stress, and decreased liver detoxification.

What this means in real life for the endurance athlete is increased fatigue, decreased endurance, slower recovery, and being more prone to injury and illness.

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colorado trail

The key to balanced blood sugar is stepping off the sugar roller-coaster. Here are the primary approaches I’ve used to transition from relying on sugar for quick energy to the ability to go from meal to meal with steady energy.

  • Stay Hydrated

Whether on trail or off, start your day with at least a liter of water. Add sea salt and lemon, if it’s available, for a boost in minerals and energy. Drinking water before eating breakfast or a sugary snack ensures that you’re not confusing hunger for thirst. Staying hydrated also helps you avoid unnecessary blood sugar swings, keeping you from craving more sugar.

  • Get Enough Sleep

The amount and quality of sleep you get directly impacts your hormones. Your hormones impact every system in your body. In terms of blood sugar, a decrease in sleep causes higher cortisol, which results in higher blood sugar, which drives up insulin, which causes cravings for simple carbohydrates. Eating the simple carbs further drives up blood sugar and insulin, which further drives up cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.

journal stress reduction

  • Reduce Stress

Stress can come in many forms and it impacts your body negatively whether it’s real or perceived, physical or emotional. It could be stress from a fight with your partner or stress from walking 20+ miles per day. The result is higher levels of cortisol. As described in the previous tip, higher cortisol leads to higher blood sugar, which leads to higher insulin, which leads to even more cortisol, and round and round it goes. Find stress reduction techniques which work for you, such as meditation or journaling.

  • Eat a High Protein Breakfast

As this study indicates, eating a higher protein breakfast can decrease levels of ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone. It also slows stomach emptying, which means you stay satiated longer and have more consistent energy. This keeps you from reaching for those simple carbs an hour after breakfast. A commonly recommended regimen is 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking.

salad

  • Eat Balanced Meals

A balanced meal is one which contains protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This will keep your blood sugar levels and hormones stable. You’ll have consistent energy and stay satiated between meals. Examples of balanced meals on trail include 1) a smoothie with greens powder (fiber), whey powder (protein), and hemp seeds (fat, fiber) or 2) rehydrated black beans (fiber, protein), chicken (protein), and olive oil (fat).

  • Consume Minerals and Electrolytes

Cravings for sugar can be masking mineral deficiencies. Chromium and Vanadium have been shown to affect glucose metabolism and the action of insulin. Magnesium affects the production of insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon–hormones which impact blood sugar. Consider a product to add trace minerals to your water. Use an electrolyte replacement powder or make your own. Add pink sea salt, which contains over 80 minerals, to your food and water.

  • Boost Gut Health

This study on how gut microbes influence eating behaviors indicates that supporting a healthy level of microbial diversity can have a plethora of positive results, from decreased cravings to increased immunity and neurotransmitter production. Support your gut by eating more soluble fiber from sources such as legumes, veggies, and nuts. Also eat more probiotic-containing foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, or take a high-quality supplement.

Sustainable behavior change and new habits are formed gradually. Incorporate the above suggestions one by one and you’ll notice that your cravings for sugar and other simple carbs are drastically reduced. If you do still find yourself wanting to reach for something sweet, choose natural sources of sugar, such as fruit. The fiber slows digestion and the rise in blood sugar. Pair sweets with protein and fat to buffer the insulin and blood sugar response.

When you’re no longer relying on sugar for quick hits of energy, you’ll find yourself with more consistent energy throughout the day and fewer cravings. You’ll likely consume less food overall, thereby allowing you to carry less food on your adventures. You can miss a meal without becoming jittery, shaky, or angry. Perhaps best of all, you’ll have better metabolic resiliency and improved overall health in the long run.

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How to Eat Healthy on a Thru-Hike

hiker eating

Of the many tasks hikers must think about before a long distance hike, food is at the top of the list.

Where will you resupply? How much food will you need? What will you eat? How do you choose which food to carry?

Either because they see no other option or because they don’t see the benefits of choosing healthier foods, many hikers settle on the standard diet of highly-processed packaged foods by default.

In this video, I give you a glimpse into what a sample day of eating might look like on trail for hikers who prefer simple to prepare, whole food options for increased energy, faster recovery, and better endurance.

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

Besides gear, there are few other topics hikers like to discuss as much as food. The ins and outs of resupplying are often one of a hiker’s primary concerns before embarking on any long distance trail. In this 2 part series, we break down the before and after diet changes to optimize performance, as well as compare cost, calorie density, and overall nutrition.

This ‘trail food makeover’ is a collaboration between Chris and Katie. In 2017, Chris hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) eating wh

at most would consider a typical ‘thru-hiker’ diet (i.e. cheap, highly-processed foods). How did he feel? He had days where he felt great, and days where he felt completely fatigued, especially towards the end of the hike. Chris recalls one particularly rough day:

It was barely noon, and he felt lethargic, like he was in “zombie-mode”. He kept pushing through, but finally had to stop for an early dinner around 4 pm. He gorged himself because he was so hungry.

That day was an eye-opener, and he thought, “Man, I’m not doing something right here.” He wasn’t sure whether his resupplies contained enough calories, he lost a lot of weight, and by the end of the trail he was feeling worn down. Read more about his hike here.

Enter Katie. As a nutritionist, health coach, and fellow long distance hiker, Katie understands the specific concerns of thru hikers and the physical demands of a long distance hike on the body. After working through adrenal fatigue and autoimmune issues herself, Katie now helps other hikers fuel for optimal energy, endurance and performance with meal planning, personalized coaching, and through her website.

continental divide trail

Heading into the 2018 hiking season, Chris knew he needed to revamp his trail diet to have the energy necessary for hiking big miles and climbing peaks. His goal was to eat for sustained, consistent energy throughout the day, and to make sure he was getting enough calories, and the right kind of calories, for long term health.

In this post, Chris breaks down what his diet looked like on the CDT, and Katie adds insight into what he could change to eat for improved energy, endurance, and optimal performance.

Chris:

In April of 2017 I was brand new to thru-hiking. I planned to thru-hike the CDT and my preparations were constantly on my mind. One of my biggest concerns was resupply. Would I have to send myself resupply boxes? How much food would I need? What would I eat? What foods would last on trail?

The logistics of food resupply quickly sorted themselves out once I was actually on trail. I spoke to fellow thru hikers who had way more experience than I did. I pieced together bits of their resupply strategies to create my own. (Nobody I met ate what might be considered a “healthy” trail diet). Before long I was carrying a food bag of what might be considered a thru hiker’s traditional resupply: Snickers, cheese, summer sausage, rice sides, chips of varying kinds, and candy.

After 2,000+ miles of hiking, I had dialed in my food plan.  Below is what I ate in a typical day on trail.

Katie:

Remember, you don’t have to completely overhaul your diet all at once. Nor do you have to give up all your favorite foods. Even small improvements, substitutions, and tweaks can make a big impact on your health and how you feel. Below are my suggestions for how Chris can meet his energy goals by adjusting his diet.

continental divide trail desert

Breakfast

Chris:

I typically start my day around 5:30-6:00 am. The night before I usually filled a powerade bottle ¾ of the way full with water, add an instant coffee pouch and a Swiss Miss hot chocolate pouch, then give it a good shake. I’d wake up to a nice, cool, caffeinated drink in the morning.  

I’d also eat a 20-gram protein bar from either Power Bar or Gatorade. This temporarily eased my immediate hunger upon waking. I’d also eat a caffeine-containing Clif Bar (Mint Chocolate or Toffee Buzz). Another part of my morning food intake became cookies, most often Nutter Butters!

Here was the breakfast breakdown:

  • Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Packet
  • Starbucks Via Instant Coffee Packet
  • Either a Power Bar or Gatorade Bar containing 20g of protein
  • Clif Bar containing caffeine
  • 5-6 Nutter Butter cookies

Katie:

When eating to sustain energy levels throughout the day, I find that many hikers feel best starting the day with fat and protein. By eating a lot of sugar first thing in the morning, you may feel an initial surge of energy as glucose enters the bloodstream, but you’ll soon experience a “crash” as insulin shuttles glucose into cells and blood glucose levels rapidly decline. This is experienced as bonking, fatigue, and hitting the wall. For more sustained energy, consider fat and protein, which do not spike glucose and insulin levels as much, thereby giving you longer-lasting energy without the crash.

For Chris, I suggest cutting back on the sugar at breakfast and increasing healthy fats. By healthy fat, I’m referring to saturated fat and unsaturated fat from whole foods, as opposed to the harmful trans fats found in many commercial products.

Chris can keep his instant coffee drink, but consider having it black, with powdered full fat coconut milk, or even with just half the Swiss Miss packet. He’s doing great by eating a bar with at least 20g of protein first thing. This will help satiate him. Ideally, if he can find one with fewer processed ingredients, he can further reduce inflammation. Finally, rather than reaching for artificial energy with the caffeine Clif Bars and sugary cookies, Chris could save himself stress on his adrenals, and fuel with healthy fats instead.

Makeover:

hiker eating

Snacks/Lunch

Chris:

I’ll start by saying I never had a specific lunch-type meal. Instead, I carried several snacks to munch on throughout the day during several short breaks, rather than taking a longer lunch break. So, from the time I broke down camp until the time I stopped to cook dinner, it was all about a variety of snack foods!

Here is what I snacked on:

  • Chips
    • Ranch Doritos
    • Pringles
    • Cheetos
    • Fritos
    • Frito Twists
  • Bars
    • Nature Valley
    • Power Bars
    • Pro Bars
    • Beef Jerky
    • Slim Jims

Katie:

Most of Chris’s snacks are highly-processed foods, consisting of simple carbs. Many of these foods have preservatives, artificial colorings, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup, which can all create inflammation. This leads to greater fatigue, as the body tries to keep up with the physical demands of hiking all day coupled with the demands of combating chronic inflammation. Also, relying solely on simple carbs without adequate protein and healthy fats will keep Chris on the blood sugar roller coaster of energy swings.

Snacking throughout the day can be a great way to maintain energy, and carbohydrates are essential for fueling a long distance hike; however, I’d suggest choosing more whole food sources, and pairing them with protein, fat, and fiber for stable blood sugar. For chips, look for varieties with less than 5 ingredients, ideally without vegetable oils, such as canola (though that can be hard to find). For jerky, look for grass-fed sources, raised without antibiotics, with no added nitrates, MSG, or gluten.

Makeover:

  • Other
    • Granola, ideally homemade (higher in nuts/seeds, low in added sugars)
    • Nut/seed butters, such as peanut, almond, sunflower, without added sugars or oils
    • Dried Fruit
    • Nuts & Seeds
    • Homemade trail mix, with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut, chocolate chips, etc. (Go down the bulk bin aisle and choose your favorites for endless variety)

trail

Dinner

Chris:

I would tend to stop and cook my one hot meal of the day around 5:30pm. I often ate a Knorr rice side or Idahoan dehydrated potatoes with chunks of cheese and summer sausage. After dinner I’d continue to hike on and treat myself to some candy when I set up my camp for the night.

My Usual Dinner Options:

  • Various Flavors of Rice Sides
  • Various Flavors of Pasta Sides
  • Various Flavors of Idahoans
  • Cheese
  • Summer Sausage
  • Skittles

Katie:
Chris could upgrade his dinners by looking for less processed versions of these staples, which would help keep inflammation lower. Consuming carbs at the end of the day helps restore muscle glycogen, so he’ll be ready to hike again the following day. Having protein with those carbs can further aid in restoring muscle glycogen. Aiming for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein works well for many athletes. Additionally, I would suggest adding in a healthy fat, such as olive oil or coconut oil, to help replenish calories and aid in satiation. Chris’s diet also contains virtually no fruits or veggies, so I would suggest adding dehydrated veggies to his dinner and/or a greens powder sometime during his day. Dinner is also a great place to add in spices, which can boost the overall nutrition and antioxidant content of his meal. Finally, I would swap out the highly processed skittles, for a dessert such as dried fruit or dark chocolate, which are loaded with the antioxidants your body desperately needs to repair.

Makeover:

  • Rice noodles (just the noodles, without the preservatives)
  • Couscous
  • Instant Potato Flakes (just the potatoes, without preservatives, like this one)
  • Dehydrated Veggies
  • Cheese
  • Summer Sausage (grass fed sources)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Spices such as garlic powder, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne
  • Dark Chocolate  (85% cacao or higher)
  • Dried fruit

In part 2, we’ll discuss how these resupplies compare in terms of calories, macronutrients, and nutrition. We’ll discuss the importance of considering both calorie dense and nutrient dense foods and compare common options. We’ll look at the weight of each of these resupplies, and finally, we’ll address the all-important concern of price and budget when it comes to the standard thru-hiker diet versus the healthier thru-hiker diet.

To follow Chris’s progress this year as he takes on the JMT and LT, subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Download a free copy of Katie’s “Eat for Endurance” ebook here for more ideas on how to eat for sustained energy. Learn more about her private coaching, meal planning services, and read more of her articles here. Follow her adventures in the kitchen and in the outdoors on Facebook and Instagram.

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Are you carrying the most calorie-dense foods?

junk food

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

eat calorie dense food

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

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

trail mix calorie

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

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

Check out the following list to get an idea of which foods meet the calorie mark and which fall short. I randomly chose 10 common processed hiker foods and 10 unprocessed alternatives. I actually wasn’t sure exactly how the options would shake out, so the results were interesting and affirming to me.

Foods are presented in order of descending calorie content. For ease of reading, calorie density values are in bold, as are whole food choices. Processed food options are italicized. I’ve linked to some of my favorite brands, in case you’re curious. 

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

calorie dense olive oil

Overview

This review is admittedly brief and it does not definitively suggest that packing all healthy food will be the most calorie dense route or that packing all junk food will be either. Interestingly though, the top 5 most calorie dense options are whole foods.

Again, while this post was primarily looking at calorie density as the only metric, it’s worth noting that the whole food options are packed with more vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat than the junk food alternatives.

This demonstrates that you don’t need to sacrifice calorie density while getting all the benefits that come from eating whole foods, and avoiding the pitfalls of junk food, such as inflammatory preservatives, dyes, and trans fats.

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

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

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

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Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day: Nutrition

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

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

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

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

rim to rim to rim food

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

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

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

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

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

8am: Primal Kitchen Bar

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

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

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

3 pm: Primal Kitchen Bar

4pm: 1 date bite

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

6 Nuun electrolyte tablets in water throughout day

Explanation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grand canyon

How to Use Herbs to Enhance Athletic Performance

trail

The days are growing longer and if you haven’t already started getting back outside and getting after it again, it’s time.

It’s easy to understand how what you eat and drink can impact your body’s performance, but did you know that you can optimize your active lifestyle with certain herbs as well?

Herbs can aid in reducing inflammation, improving stamina, and increasing speed of recovery, among other benefits. Include the following herbs in your daily routine to help your body perform better, whether your preferred style of movement is running, biking, backpacking, yoga, or a stroll in the park.

runner

Adaptogens are a class of herbs which promote homeostasis and increase a person’s resistance to stress. Some key adaptogens to consider for an active lifestyle include Rhodiola, Eleuthero, and Ashwagandha.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)

In regards to athletic performance, Rhodiola has been shown to reduce both lactate levels and parameters of skeletal muscle damage after an exhaustive exercise session.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero, also called Siberian Ginseng, has long been used by athletes to improve endurance. This study showed that 8 weeks of supplementation (800 mg daily) “enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen”.

Ashwagandha (Ashwagandha Somnifera)

Ashwagandha is another herb that has been shown to improve aerobic capacity. Eight weeks of supplementation (500 mg twice daily) significantly improved VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)

Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, the active component in turmeric, may offset some of the performance deficits associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) & Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

This 2014 study indicated that athletes supplementing with Cordyceps and Reishi mushrooms showed an increased capacity to quench free radicals, thereby protecting them from oxidative stress and over-training symptoms.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

In addition to its hormone-balancing effects, research suggests that Maca root, taken daily for as little as 14 days, has the ability to improve endurance in athletes.

stretching

In addition to considering these herbs to facilitate an active lifestyle, support a healthy, balanced body by including a mix of strength training, aerobic training, and stretching into your physical routine.

With a little planning, supplementing with high-quality herbs can enhance and optimize your active, healthy lifestyle!

Fueling a Healthy Adventure on a Budget

wind river hike

This post originally appeared on the Trek

 

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

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

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

happy hikers sunset

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

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

Tips for hiking healthy on a budget

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

budget

Preparation before hitting the trail

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

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

How to prepare in advance:

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

For the love of whole foods

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

cascade locks pct

On trail and in town

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

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

pacific crest trail

The Most Important Rule: Know Thyself

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

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

Pay attention

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

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

The Danger of Fueling with Faux Foods

wind river cirque of towers

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

 

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

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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

What are Faux Foods?

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

Faux foods are:

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

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

real food backpacker

What This Means for Hikers

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

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

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

PCT katiegerber.com

 

10 Reasons to Reconsider Your Resupply

1) You Are What You Eat

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

2) Inflammation

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

3) Gut Health

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

4) Slower Recovery

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

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

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

6) Slower Wound Healing

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

7) Blood Sugar Balance and Bonking

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

8) Mental Clarity & Motivation

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

9) Post-hike Depletion

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

10) Overeating and Carrying Extra Food

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

BONUS:

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

pollution

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of Faux Foods

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

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

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

1) Eat more whole, unprocessed foods on trail

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

2) Read labels

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

3) Send resupply boxes to places with limited options

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

4) Make up for micronutrient deficiencies in town

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

5) Make small changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start slow and do what you can.

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

Making Progress: Hashimoto’s Update

This is the second post in a series about my journey with the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Here’s part 1, in case you missed it. My intention with this series is to share my personal experience so that anyone who recognizes themselves in the symptoms can move forward with healing and know that lifestyle changes can make a HUGE positive impact. 

Contrary to my wildest hopes, my Hashimoto’s and adrenal issues did not spontaneously go into remission as soon as I started targeting them. Unconsciously acting in alignment with the negativity bias, I tend to see how far I still have to go and what’s still wrong more than I focus on how far I’ve come. Can you relate?

However, though I can’t say I feel 100% everyday, when I look back at how I felt 3 years ago, or even just a full year ago, without a doubt, I feel much better.

In this post, I’ll briefly discuss what symptoms have improved for me, what I’m still struggling with, and a brief overview of the protocol.

What has improved for me?

My energy levels throughout the day are much more consistent. I don’t struggle with afternoon fatigue much. I can go running and go to the gym again without feeling completely drained or experiencing the deep muscle fatigue that I couldn’t shake previously.

My hormones are becoming more balanced. I know this because, among other indicators, my monthly cycle is regular again. Also, my sleep cycle has regulated. I feel tired in the evenings and fall asleep easily, I sleep through the night, and I usually wake without an alarm, with plenty of energy to start the day. This also indicates to me that my cortisol level and rhythm is balanced. See this article if you’re curious to learn more about adrenal health, especially as it pertains to endurance athletes.

I no longer struggle with feeling cold as much as I used to, especially in my hands. I used to have constantly cold hands and feet. This was particularly a struggle in shoulder seasons and on winter adventures when my hands would get so cold (even with multiple gloves on) that I would need my adventure buddy to help me with zippers, clasps, and opening food wrappers. This was so frustrating and often unsettling on solo adventures.

My immune system feels strong. Despite several sick coworkers, being out in public places often, and having a very full schedule, I haven’t gotten sick this winter. I never used to get sick much either, but this is also confirmation that my immune system is healthy.

Finally, (and this is huge), I feel like my digestive system is working so much better again. As I mentioned in the previous post, leaky gut is one of the factors which contribute to the expression of autoimmune disorders, so getting my gut health in order is top priority for me. Pardon the graphic nature of this next paragraph, but this is a health website after all, so properly documenting my full experience is important and hopefully helpful to anyone else who is struggling.

How did my gut health change? I started digesting and assimilating my food much better. I know this because my BMs went from not-so-regular and loose to regular and well-formed. This is so important because it was very noticeable evidence that I was healing my leaky gut. Hooray! That translates to less immune system activation (a good thing in this case) because large proteins are no longer permeating the gut lining. Digesting my food properly has also given me more energy.

I didn’t realize my digestion was so out of whack until it got better. I spent several years as a baker and pastry chef. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I would eat bread, it was organic and naturally-leavened (think sourdough), so it’s not like I was going crazy with pastries and bread on the daily. In retrospect though, I now realize that even that small amount of gluten was likely significantly contributing to my poor gut health, and the expression of autoimmune symptoms.

What still needs improvement?

It’s satisfying to reflect on the positive changes that have taken place, because healing any health condition with diet and lifestyle changes takes true dedication and commitment, and it can be challenging.

That being said, many autoimmune conditions can be put into remission, but you can’t expect them to disappear overnight. While I feel significant improvement in many of my thyroid symptoms, there are a couple things I still struggle with.

One is not feeling as resilient as I used to be. For example, if I don’t get the sleep that I need, I really struggle with energy levels the next day. My hope is that as I continue to repair my hormone profile, I’ll be able to bounce back quicker from a night of poor sleep.

Another issue is occasional brain fog. While I feel much more clear and focused and have better memory recall than I did a couple years ago, I still find that some days, I just don’t feel as on point as I know I’m capable of being. This is greatly impacted by diet and sleep.

Finally, and this is a difficult one for anyone athletic, or anyone at all really, is that my body is still holding on to some extra weight despite a clean diet and regular movement practice. This makes sense since the thyroid governs metabolism, but it’s frustrating none-the-less.

What’s the protocol I’ve followed?

I’ll briefly outline the protocol I’ve followed and then will dive in more deeply in a future post.

It was important to me to try as many lifestyle changes as possible to heal my thyroid gland before going on medication, so the protocol I used is based entirely around diet, sleep, stress management, and supplements.

It’s organized in 3 stages, including a liver cleanse, an adrenal reset, and a gut healing phase. Each stage progressively eliminated more trigger foods and focused on key supplements to start taking. Lifestyle practices, such as getting optimal sleep and reducing stress as much as possible, were also emphasized.

I definitely didn’t complete the program perfectly, but the changes I made were enough to elicit big shifts in my health. I understand there’s still a journey ahead, but the progress so far is promising.

Post questions/comments below or reach out to me via my contact form, and keep an eye out for the next installment.