Low Carb. High Carb. Low Fat. High Fat. Paleo. Whole30. Vegan. Keto. And on and on and on. There are SO MANY diets out there!
How do you know if the one you’ve chosen is right for you?
It can be tough. This post will help you decide.
Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of the one-size-fits-all diet mentality. I’ve found that most people do better over the long term with an individualized, flexible,and sustainable approach to eating. But, perhaps you were inspired to try a certain diet because you saw a co-worker get great results with it and you’ve been seeing it all over the headlines. Or maybe you have a certain diet that you adopted years ago, but now you’re not feeling that great and you’re wondering if it might be related to food.
Here’s the thing: nutrition is an evolving science. New studies come out daily, often with seemingly contradictory information. To avoid driving yourself insane by adjusting your habits to match the latest headline of what’s “healthy” this week, the key to long-term diet sanity and effectiveness is to tune in, get to know your own body, and be flexible enough to change over time.
Each of us is unique, and therefore each of us require an individualized approach to diet, movement, supplementation, and more. It’s up to you to figure out what works for YOU. We’ll cover later in this post
To avoid wasting time and effort (or even harming your health) on an approach that’s not right for you, use the following indicators to assess your current diet.
How’s Your Energy?
The right diet for you will give you sustained energy throughout the day, without the need to rely on stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Different macronutrient ratios work for different people. You may need higher carb, higher fat, or higher protein. If you don’t know, track your intake for a week and test out different ratios. A good (FREE) tracking app is My Fitness Pal. Start with 40% fat, 40% carbs, 20% protein and adjust from there. Pay attention to your energy throughout the day.
Are You Satisfied?
Are you constantly feeling deprived, and hungry, and always thinking about food? Do you have intense cravings for specific foods, such as sweets? The right diet for you will leave you feeling satisfied, not constantly thinking about your next meal or reaching for snacks an hour after you have a meal. Not being satisfied could be due to the amount of food, the quality of food, the micronutrients (or lack of), or the macronutrient ratio. Most people feel most satisfied when they have a mix of protein, fat, and carbs with each meal.
How is Your Digestion?
Your digestion can be a major indicator that a certain diet is not for you. “Normal” bowel function means that you’re having 1-3 bowel movements daily. They should be soft and well-formed. Check out the Bristol Stool Chart for more details. What you eat directly impacts your digestion.
If your stool frequency or consistency is off or if you’re experiencing a lot of gas, cramping, or bloating after meals, it’s an indication that your diet may not be a good fit for you. Oftentimes, this indicates an undetected food intolerance. Your digestion is at the root of your health, so it’s important to get this dialed in.
How’s Your Mood?
Feeling anxious, depressed, or blue? The gut is often referred to as the second brain because the health of the gut has a direct impact on neurotransmitter production and overall mood. Did you know that an estimated 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut?! In part, this is courtesy of your microbiome, the trillions of yeast and bacteria that live in the gut. The health of your microbiome is directly impacted by your diet (hint: gut bugs LOVE to feed on soluble fiber). Additionally, if your diet deprives you of essential nutrients, like B12 or Omega-3 fatty acids for instance, this could also lead to mood impairment. Similarly, if your diet contains anti-nutrients or other gut lining irritants, you may be harming your gut lining and impairing your ability to extract all the nutrition from your food.
Chronic Health Conditions
This could include many different things, such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, thyroid conditions, chronic inflammation, and so much more. Often times, a key component of underlying inflammation and disruption stems from components in the diet that don’t work for your particular body. Sometimes, this could be gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and other common allergens. Other times, it may be less common allergies, like nightshades, or something ‘random’, like green beans.
(Bonus) Health Markers, like your weight and blood markers.
Regular tracking of weight and certain blood markers over time can clue you in to health conditions that may be diet-related. For example, if you’re gaining weight without changes in your diet or exercise, there may be aspects to your diet that are affecting your blood sugar balance and the hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, like insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and thyroid. Additionally, specific blood markers like hemoglobin A1C can clue you in to chronically high insulin levels, and hsC-Reactive Protein can give you an indication of inflammation levels-both of which may be diet related.
How to find what’s right for you.
If you went through this list and realized that your current diet may not be working for you, no need to stress! Finding what’s right for you is relatively straight-forward. In addition to the tips above, use the following exercises to get on the right track for YOUR biology.
Keep a Food & Mood Journal
This can begin to clue you into to symptoms you may be experiencing after eating certain foods. A Google search will give you a quick template from which you can DIY your own. I do this with all my clients when we begin our work together. It’s a great exercise to both create an awareness of what you’re actually eating throughout the day as well as provide you with insight into foods that may be causing symptoms.
Complete an Elimination Diet
If you want to take it a level deeper, and particularly if you’re experiencing a lot of health symptoms (fatigue, allergies, weight loss resistance, sleep issues, energy issues, etc.), you might consider at least a basic elimination diet. I have a free guide outlining the entire process, which you can download here. Honestly, I’d recommend everyone try an elimination diet at least once.
Get Back in Touch with Your Intuition
Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of many diets, and all the diet ‘rules’, it’s easy to get further and further away from the innate wisdom of our bodies. This can be a long process, but it can be helpful to get back in touch with what your body really craves and needs. One place to start is the book Intuitive Eating.
How are you feeling about your diet after reading this post? Let me know in the comments!
Food is the through line for me. The growing, the preparing, the consuming, the sharing, and the downstream effects of those things–both on my own health, the health of others, and the health of our environment.
Food is, and always has been, a central part of my life, whether I wanted it to be or not. I write about it, I talk about it, I coach about it. I’ve been on and off of diets (though I never admitted to myself that my strict food rules were diets). I grew up in farm country and worked summer jobs at an agricultural research center. I operated an organic market garden for a season. I worked as a pastry chef, and in restaurants, preparing food for a living. I built wood-fired ovens and hosted community dinners. I’ve always loved the practice of growing food. Hands in the Earth: planting, tending, harvesting. The beauty of simply prepared real food captivates not just my stomach, but my eyes, my mind, and my soul.
But the things is, for most of my life, my relationship with food has been far from serene and charmed. I share this story because food is central life, and the way we relate to food matters. Because how we relate to food is, in many ways, how we relate to all aspects of our lives. Whether that’s from a place of ease, flow, and joy, or from a place of shame, guilt, and restriction.
Your relationship to food, and in turn, to your body, can impact your:
*peace of mind
*ability to carry out your work in this world
*overall quality of life
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have a relationship to food. And, outside of the eating disorder community, I don’t think the impact of our day-to-day relationship with food is acknowledged enough. Full blown eating disorders are destructive, to say the least, but I also want to address the more subtle, nuanced feelings and behaviors around food that shape our lives every single day.
By sharing my story, perhaps you can connect the pieces of your own story. If your relationship with food has ever felt tumultuous (especially in your own mind), know that you’re not alone.
If you have no idea what I mean and you’ve never struggled with food, this post may not resonate. And if you’re here looking for strategies on how to eat and train, hang tight, there will be posts on that again soon. But that’s not the focus of this one.
How we relate to food is a topic that I haven’t written on much, but it’s so central to not just our health and how we perform (which is mostly what I write about), but to our entire lives. You can’t talk about health, performance, and diet without talking about our psychology around food.
I’ve avoided discussing it until now because, honestly, it’s something I struggled with for so long and I carried a lot of shame around the fact that it was a thing for me. But I believe shining light on something dissolves the shame (or it helps, at least). I also delayed writing this because my story is an evolving one. I didn’t feel like I was ‘there’ yet. ‘There’ being… completely neurosis-free eating behaviors and body love perfection? I’m not sure what I imagined the final destination to be. I just knew I wasn’t there. Sounds like the familiar trap of perfectionism.
However, I believe our experiences are what we have to offer. Whether or not we fully see their value, it can be helpful to share those experiences, acknowledging that we’re a work in progress. There is no such thing as perfect. After all, I’m leaps and bounds beyond where I used to be when nearly every bit of my mental energy centered around food: planning, calculating, weighing, measuring, controlling. I may not be neurosis-free, but I’ve learned a few things since then.
Ultimately, changing how I relate to food changed everything. Yes, in terms of my health, but also in terms of my creativity, mood, peace of mind, relationships, presence, and overall quality of life. And if this is an area where you’ve struggled, hopefully connecting these pieces can improve every aspect of your life as well. It may sound like a big claim, but bringing awareness to your relationship with food can be more transformative than any diet, exercise regime, or supplement could ever be.
Some days, I wake up shocked that I voluntarily choose to speak to people about food for a living. I was always the person who avoided talking about food and body image to others. I hated when people gave or solicited food/diet/exercise advice. I hated when coaches, teachers, family, and friends would comment on my body. It didn’t matter if the comments were ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. I hated that they noticed that I had a body and that they noticed that it had changed. I think I just hated that I even had a body. I’ve never lived in anything other than a female body, so I can’t say for sure, but I think being a woman and an athlete made this journey even more challenging as I took on everyone else’s expectations about what that body ‘should’ be.
Even more surprising than this being my chosen path is the fact that I actually love working with others around food and health. It’s challenging on every level, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to show up for others compassionately and empathetically as they navigate this intense and complicated space.
It may seem trite, but I believe our greatest personal struggles can serve as a jumping off point for the work we do in the world. Our challenges can be our greatest gifts if we choose for them to be. We can excavate the lessons and share them, if for nothing else than to let at least one other human know ‘I see you and you’re not alone in your suffering’.
In many ways, this feels like a tired story–one which everyone has their own version of. And it could’ve gotten much worse, so it almost doesn’t feel worth sharing. In fact, I know many women for whom it did get much worse. But it shaped who I am, so it’s worth giving voice to it.
There isn’t a single moment that defines this story, but rather a collection of memories. I remember that I learned to fear food early on. It was something to be cautious of. The body was not something to revel in, but something to control. It’s animal impulses were to be suppressed not just in the mind, but in the body as well, through denial, diet, and workouts. Lingering remnants of puritan roots.
One early memory comes from third grade, when a male classmate told me I had a ‘bubble butt’. Thus was born the awareness that I had a body and that this body was different than other bodies. Why, of all the memories, do I still remember that one? I was never overweight, but my build was always athletic and curvy. I also remember seeing my mother judging her own body in the mirror, fighting her appetite, and being compulsive about exercise. She was fighting her own battle and, of course, had no idea that I was noticing and absorbing it all.
And then there was athletics, when I became even more aware of my body and how it was changing. On the one hand, it was empowering to feel my own strength, but participating in sports also invited comparison and judgment. Being forced to march in parades in a skimpy majorette uniform. Track, swimming, and cross country practices and being valued on how my body performed. My shoulders growing too big for my sweaters during swim season. The comments of a male cross country coach after a summer of over-exercising and under-eating: “Now you’re starting to look like a real long distance runner”. What does that mean? What was I before? I wondered.
Then there was the concern/criticism/jealousy (depending on the source) of coaches, friends, and family upon returning from my freshman year of college 20 pounds lighter than when I’d left. I hated the attention on my body, no matter it’s size. No matter if it was criticism or praise.
This is not a pity story. It’s simply the events that I remember shaping the way I viewed myself and my body, and how that then impacted my relationship to food. We all have these stories. During that time, sadly, the primary purpose of food and exercise for me was to experience a sense of control. That view now feels so shallow to me because food, movement, and the body are all portals to so much more.
This path naturally led to an obsession with health. I read every nutrition magazine and book I could get my hands on. I experimented on myself, trying to figure out the secrets, the one right way to keep the unruly body in check. Like a game-show contestant, I knew the calorie count of every food by memory. I tracked and logged.
Looking back, I’m saddened by how much time and energy I wasted thinking about food, calories, exercise, and my body. So much time and energy that could’ve gone into creation, self-expression, learning, connecting, and actually living.
There were so many phases and rules, and it changed by the month. Only skim milk, never whole. Fruit is the only ‘safe’ dessert. Eat meal bars for exact calorie counts. No eating until your stomach growls. Don’t eat meat or dairy. Avoid social events because you don’t know what food will be there or how it was prepared. So. Much. Obsessiveness.
But I never did land on the ‘one thing’ or actually figure ‘it’ out. There was always a new article telling me to do the opposite of what I’d been doing. I tried and I tried. I chased perfection with my diet. I followed all my food rules. I never missed a day of working out. And no matter how my body changed, it never became ‘perfect’ in my eyes. So I beat myself up mentally and became even more disciplined.
In college, I was under more pressure than ever (at least in my own mind). Advanced classes, sports teams, multiple jobs, new peers, dorm rooms, and dining halls. All far from everything and everyone that was familiar and comfortable to me. Of course I grasped for control. The compulsive exercising and undereating became extreme.
After a year or so of anorexia, I was broken. My body was screaming for nourishment and thus came the binges. First it was only rarely. Then it was happening more often. Then it was daily. All the things I’d restricted. I could no longer out-exercise the binges, so then came the purging. And the bulimia. The shame. The secrecy. I couldn’t believe what I was doing, who I had become. A shell of my true self. I was living in a self-created hell of shame and destructive behaviors.
Every aspect of my life suffered as all my thoughts revolved around food and exercise, and how messed up my life had become. Relationships fell away. Money was wasted. I lied to people I loved. I avoided social functions. I wasn’t truly engaged in anything I was doing.
Finding My Way Out
This was controlling my entire life in a way I could’ve never imagined if I weren’t living it.
The cycles of binging and purging, the overindulgence and the restriction, were not limited to food. It affected how I was expressing myself (or lack thereof) in every part of my life. I was ruled by perfectionism, control, and fear. My body couldn’t be trusted to know what it needed. If I just ate when and what I wanted, who knows what might happen? If I had to miss a day of exercise, I was grumpy and angry. My mindset reflected a deeply distrustful relationship to myself, my body, and the world.
Just as there was no one incident that led me into this hole, there was no one moment that pulled me out of it. It’s been a long journey and it’s an ongoing one. And that’s what I want to emphasize: it’s a process. Just as I slowly dug myself into the hole, finding my way out would take time and reprogramming as well.
It involved therapy, building a metaphorical toolbox of tools to deal with challenges, developing emotional resilience, and trusting (my body, my cravings, other people, the world). I worked on incorporating more joy into my life, connecting with a healthy social circle, and learning to see my body for the powerful force that it is. Finding my way out also included being vigilant about what I was feeding my mind, and examining the expectations I was setting for myself. It involved learning grace and learning to hold it ALL lightly.
Part of digging out of the hole of restriction and fear was understanding what these behaviors were doing for me. It’s different for everyone, but personally, these behaviors served as a sense of control when everything else in life felt like too much. So I learned how to bear discomfort.
Eventually, I became more alive, more myself. I learned to spot those Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and to squash them, rather than letting them colonize my brain as I had before. I put more energy into relationships and laughing with people I love. I forgave myself for not being perfect.
In fact, I learned to laugh at the idea of perfection and embrace the beautiful flaws of being human. Indeed, it’s the ‘imperfections’ of others that make me adore them the most. Couldn’t I learn to turn that mindset inward?
Feeding myself and others became an expression of love and creativity. I attuned to my pleasures, my desires, and the way that life was seeking to move through me. I sought to release all the little knots in my heart and the ways I was resisting life.
I began to take immense pleasure in what my body could do. Using my strength and endurance to move through the mountains has been the most empowering, transformative force for changing how I relate to body. I noticed that I shifted from wanting to feel SMALL to wanting to feel STRONG. To feel the power in my legs as I glide up a mountain, to feel my lungs pound in my chest as I run along the trail, to truly inhabit my animal body, that is what lights me up now. The size of my thighs doesn’t cross my mind when I’m out in nature experiencing life.
Why Real Food is Always the Starting Point
But, before any of that, it started with letting go of ALL of the food rules and everything I thought I knew. The only guideline I followed was to just eat real food and listen to my body’s feedback.
When I focused on whole foods instead of ‘diet’ foods (like meal replacement shakes/bars and other highly processed items), everything became easier. I learned that when I ate whole foods containing fat, fiber, protein and micronutrients, that my body regulated it’s hunger levels. I realized that fat doesn’t make you fat.
Sure, it took time and practice, but eventually I could hear the feedback my body was providing. It was telling me how much food I needed. I could feel which foods were nourishing me and which I was better off avoiding for now. I found freedom from the diet mindset through real, as-close-to-nature-as-possible, foods.
It’s true that there are certain foods I tend to avoid, but not because those foods are ‘bad’, but because I feel better without them in my diet. It’s different to come from a place of love than a place of punishment. Unfortunately, most women I know tend to be really good at denying their bodies cravings and punishing themselves through restriction.
Whereas before my ‘food rules’ came from a place of fear and self-hate, any ‘rules’ I follow now come from self-love and a place of wanting to feel my absolute best. I want to be able to show up for myself and for those I care about. I want to be of service and to have all my energy available to do my best work in this world. I want to have my energy freed up to be present to the life unfolding around me.
Finding Food Freedom for Yourself
That’s why I don’t ascribe to one ‘perfect diet’ and why I don’t encourage clients to follow specific diets either. Maintaining an outlook of ongoing learning and adaptability to my body’s feedback is why it wasn’t as difficult as I expected to leave 15 years of identifying as a vegetarian to becoming a conscious omnivore. We have a tendency to think in ideals with diet and, for some, to make it an identity. But that will only limit our freedom and growth.
There are no rules, only choices. Rules are restrictive and prevent you from tuning in and listening to what works for YOUR body. Real health comes from real food and learning how to figure out what works for your body. And learning how to listen to your body is harder than following a set of rules. We want a pill, a prescription, a quick fix. The one perfect diet. But the real work of long term health requires more introspection than that.
There can’t be one simple set of rules because everyone needs something different and that changes throughout their lives. Following what works for someone else while tuning out our own bodies can have real impacts on our health and hormones. Ever had the experience of trying to eat the same diet that ‘works’ for your mom/friend/sister/boyfriend and find it either does not for you, or worse, makes you feel awful?
Our world if full of eye-catching headlines and snappy sound bites telling us what to eat and how to exercise. There’s so much conflicting information out there, with new studies coming out daily. It’s so.damn.overwhelming. No wonder most people are confused about what to eat.
Let go of seeking the perfect diet. Remember that it’s going to be different for everyone, but it will always start with just eating real food. That will never change based on new studies or fads.
It’s time to make peace with food and with our bodies instead of letting how ‘perfectly’ or not perfectly you think you’re eating control your mind, your self-worth, your confidence, your energy, your mood, and your quality of life.
We make it so much harder than it needs to be. And all of the rules and guilt keep us in fear, living a limited life and a limited version of ourselves. And this is not the life I want for myself or for you.
Your relationship to food is central to how you show up in every aspect of your life.
So, what is your relationship to food? Stop distracting yourself long enough to be honest. Because it matters. And it starts with awareness. Guilt? Shame?Joy? Make room for all of it. Because your relationship to food is your relationship to life.
Focus on the Journey (There is no destination.)
As I mentioned, this process is a journey. Give yourself some grace.
Years after I thought I’d healed myself, I was going through a particularly tough spot in life. I’d left a relationship, a business, a career, a home, and a community. I was on entirely new and shaky ground. Everything about my identity was in flux. Without even realizing what was happening, those old behaviors crept back in.
It wasn’t easy to navigate and I certainly stumbled, but I was able to approach it with more wisdom having walked that path before. It took time for me to get a handle on it, but the thing that actually helped was not fighting what was happening, but instead revisiting many of the tools that pulled me out of my mess before. Returning to the basics.
It’s a journey and a practice. There is no destination.
It all starts with real food. Food is a source of nourishment, joy, beauty, sustenance, and fuel for your adventures. It’s not something to fear. It’s can be a connection to others, to culture, to the past. It’s SO. Much. More. than calories, macronutrients, or a way to control life.
Good food is good for the planet.
Nourished humans can live their best lives: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They can live on purpose.
Your body and food are vehicles for pleasure. Whether that means a perfect Greek meal made by your nanna or a lung-busting run up the side of a mountain (type 2 fun), enjoy this animal body while you have one because, as we all know, our time here is short.
That wraps up part 1 on this topic. In part 2, I’ll explore how all of this ties into how you eat on trail, or on any other adventure for that matter.
In the meantime, comment below. Did this resonate with you? Can you relate?
(gluten free, grain free, paleo, vegan, refined sugar free…nothing but the good stuff)
Unless you’re new here, you may know that I have a strong affinity for salty, crunchy snacks. I’m always on the look-out for convenient foods that will make my body function optimally, and of course, snacks should be tasty.
Hit with a crunchy craving recently, I went rummaging through my cupboard and nary was a salty snack to be found. Not feeling like going to the store, it was time to get creative, and thus these Herb Crackers were born. They’re gluten free, grain free, vegan, contain no refined sugar, and are made up of few simple ingredients. They’re also ridiculously simple and result in a house filled with savory scents while they bake.
I searched online to generate ideas and inspiration for the basic cracker process and to see if there was anything special to know about baking with tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is the starch extracted from the cassava root, while cassava flour is the whole root. Generally, tapioca is well-tolerated and avoids causing an immune response, as happens with many other grains. Plus, it’s fairly neutral and lends itself well to taking on any flavor you want. However, it’s still a starch and will therefore raise insulin, so eat in moderation and pair these crackers with a fat and a protein.
These crackers are quick and easy to make, even if you’re not an experienced baker and have never worked with alternative flours. They only have a handful of ingredients, most of which you likely already have. The tapioca flour could be swapped out for other fours like cassava, almond, or coconut.
In addition to making your house smell glorious, and being able to tailor the herbs to your personal preferences, another benefit of homemade crackers is that you don’t get the myriad of preservatives, food coloring, and additives that are often found in commercial baked goods. That alone makes it worth the little bit of effort it takes to whip up these savory little crunchies.
Easy Herb Crackers (grain free, gluten free, vegan)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the dries in a mixing bowl. Feel free to use the combination of spices listed above, or create your own concoction. This is just what I had on hand. Add in olive oil and water. Combine thoroughly.
Dough should be a somewhat sticky consistency, but it will stick together in a lump. It won’t be overly loose nor will it be so dry that it doesn’t stick together. You should be able to hold it without it falling through your fingers. Add more flour and/or liquid to adjust consistency as necessary.
Dump the dough onto a piece of parchment, flatten it into a rough rectangle with your hands, and place another piece of parchment over it. Smooth dough and press into an even 1/4″ rectangle(ish) with a rolling pin. Remove the top piece of parchment and pull the bottom piece onto a baking sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into roughly 1 inch squares. Return squares to baking sheet with some space in between each. Bake another 25-30 minutes until golden brown and lightly crisp.
Cool completely and store in airtight containers. Enjoy with soup, nut butter, hummus, cheese or cured meat.
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Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies aka Autumnal Equinox Cookies
Sweaters, fuzzy slippers, flannel pajamas, golden leaves, and cozy evenings by the fire. Ahh, fall. The season for hygge. In my book, the autumnal equinox is the mark for when it’s officially time to start baking with pumpkin again and roasting root veggies on the daily.
After finishing my hike of the Oregon Desert Trail at the end of September, I returned to my hiking partner’s house in Portland for a couple of weeks. As often happens when I’m on trail, I missed preparing food. Real food. There’s something about chopping, mixing, and combining beautiful ingredients that is so tactile and enjoyable.
As it’s wont to do in Portland in the fall, the weather cooled down and the skies clouded over. The cool rainy weather coupled with a dinner party in honor of my hosts’ 15th wedding anniversary meant some baking was in order.
We kept it casual with roasted veggies, grilled fish, and the following fall-flavored cookies. These cookies are naturally gluten free, and can be made dairy free by substituting the butter for coconut oil. They can be made free of refined sugar by swapping the brown sugar for coconut sugar. They can be made vegan by swapping the eggs for flax eggs (1 egg=mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal + 3 Tablespoons water & allow to sit for 15+ minutes).
3/4 cup add-ins (chopped walnuts or almonds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, cranberries, chocolate chips, etc.
Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla until evenly combined. Mix all dries together in a separate bowl then slowly add to wets, mixing until well combined. Add in whatever ‘add-ins’ sound good to you.
Form into small (golf ball size) balls on parchment-lined baking sheet. Press flat. Bake at 350* for 12-14 minutes.
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What to Eat When the Healthy Choices are Non-existent or Obscure
Let’s start with a quick story of an experience I had like this on the Oregon Desert Trail. We had just walked the remaining 7 miles into McDermitt, NV, arriving around 8am for what would be the closest day we’d have to a zero on this 750-mile route through the very sparsely populated region of eastern Oregon.
It’d been 10 days of 90-degree dusty desert hiking since we’d had a shower, and 6 days since we’d had any meals other than backpacking food. I was jonesing for some vegetables. I’d been dreaming of a big bowl of dark leafy greens with tomatoes, beets, walnuts, avocado, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Alas, as much as I’d prayed to the desert gods for some real, healthy food, I knew I wasn’t going to find it here. McD is a ranching, farming, and mining town that straddles the NV/OR border. It consists of a motel, a cafe/casino, a PO, a high school, and an all-in-one gas station/market/convenience store. This was one of the few places I didn’t mail myself a resupply box on the ODT and I was immediately regretting it.
After our first (of four) meals at the Say When Casino and Cafe, it was time to create our resupply for the next 5 days. We walked into the small gas station/market/c-store and I saw about 8 rows of packaged foods, some coolers of soda and beer, and a small stand of “fresh” produce (Hey, at least there’s some produce at all!). Time to get creative.
There are many such towns from which you may have to resupply, especially if you are going to hike any trails or routes off the beaten path. And especially if you decide to hike in one of the most remote regions of the country.
How to Approach Eating for Optimal Health and Energy in a Tiny Town C-Store
First, accept that you’ll have to make some compromises, but don’t give up on the goal of healthy eating entirely! It may all look like junk, but some choices are better than others here. Let’s look more closely.
Don’t make the process overwhelming. The process is simple.
Make Your List
Until you get the hang of what items you need for a healthy resupply, and before going into the store, write a short list of ideas for breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/beverages. For efficiency and cost, choose items that can be used in multiple ways for different meals (like corn chips you’ll eat with PB for lunch and again with beans for dinner OR trail mix that can be added to oatmeal for breakfast or used as a stand alone snack). Keep your list general: nut butter, salami, breakfast bars, oatmeal, nut butter, etc. Be sure to have a mixture of flavors and textures as well as macronutrients (aiming for about 20% protein, 40% fat, 40% carb-or whatever feels best for your body).
Choose Your Food
Browse the shelves. When you see an item from your list, you’ll likely see multiple different varieties (chips/pb/trail mixes/etc). Which to choose? Look at the ingredient label. You are looking for the least number of ingredients possible. You are also looking to avoid added industrial oils, preservatives, food colorings, and high fructose corn syrup when possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible in these tiny stores, but do your best. You are also looking for items in their most whole food/least processed form. Focus on proteins, healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts), and low sugar carbs.
If there is a produce section, look for the freshest (not wilted or bruised), most nutrient-dense items to either pack out or eat before leaving town. Amazingly, many of these tiny places sell avocados (great for potassium, fiber, antioxidants). Bags of spinach or carrots are also widely available and easy to pack out.
Calculate Your Calories
Before leaving the store, use your phone calculator to quickly get an estimate of the calories. This takes less than 5 minutes and can help you avoid overspending on (and carrying) food you don’t need and/or assure you that you have enough if you’re feeling uncertain.
For the amount of calories you need each day, that will take a bit of experimentation, but use this calculator (or something similar) to get in the ballpark, and adjust from there depending on terrain, climate, and whether you’re losing a bunch of weight or not. Add up the calories in your basket and divide by the number of days you plan to be out. Voila. If you want to go above and beyond, calculate your macros to be sure you have the right ratios of fat, protein, and carbs. This would likely be easiest by entering the foods into a free app, such as MyFitnessPal.
What I Chose in McD for my 5-Day Resupply
My calorie goal for 5 days early in the trip was about 11,500, or 2,300 per day. Here’s what I found in the convenience store. A couple items, where noted, were leftover from my last box, but these calories could have been substituted with other bars or trail mix or another avocado from the c-store.
1 lb bag Tortilla Chips=1500 calories
1 lb whole carrots=150 calories
1 large avocado=300 calories
1 apple=100 calories
Dehydrated Refried Beans=300 calories
2 Coconut Oil packets (leftover from my last resupply)=240 calories
3 coconut-greens-collagen smoothie mixes (leftover from last resupply)=600 calories
3 Kates/Fourpoints bars (leftover from last resupply)=900 calories
3 Granola packets (leftover from last resupply)=750 calories
4 tuna pouches=300 calories
1 lb peanut butter=2600 calories
3 bags of fruit/seed/nut trail mix=2300 calories
Chocolate Bar=600 calories
Electrolyte drink mix=50 calories
Kombucha (drank in town)=80 calories
total= ~12,200 calories
I usually pack just a little bit extra, such as a couple bars, for calories in case I’m hungrier than expected or take longer to reach the next town than expected.
As you can see, it’s not ‘perfect’ in terms of being organic, super high quality food, but it covers my nutritional bases, and it’s far from the typical pop-tarts/snickers/doritos resupply that could be purchased from the same store.
Even when options are limited, you can still make good choices that will fuel you for optimal energy and endurance!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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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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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (like this one) 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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A couple ounces of mixed nuts or seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
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:
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.
Granola, ideally homemade (higher in nuts/seeds, low in added sugars)
Nut/seed butters, such as peanut, almond, sunflower, without added sugars or oils
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)
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
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.
Rice noodles (just the noodles, without the preservatives)
Instant Potato Flakes (just the potatoes, without preservatives, like this one)
Summer Sausage (grass fed sources)
Spices such as garlic powder, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne
I recently prepared an unusual resupply box for a friend who is currently thru-hiking. This was not your average resupply box full of ramen, snickers, and pop-tarts though. This box focused on performance-enhancing ingredients. He’s nearing the end of a 2200-ish mile route, so his body is getting tired. His primary concerns are enhancing recovery and optimizing sleep. These maca coconut energy bites were a key component of the goodies I sent him.
Food is always the first line when it comes to optimizing performance. However, during a demanding endeavor, such as a thru-hike, supplementation can certainly support the mind and body in performing better.
There are many supplements that came to mind when I began brainstorming around endurance, recovery, and sleep. Note: Since I am not a doctor, I don’t prescribe, treat, or diagnose. However, I do know what I’ve seen work for myself and others in the past.
I included several items in the box, but an area I focused on in particular was a class of herbs called adaptogens. Adaptogens have become one of those buzz words in the holistic health space as of late, but they’ve been studied since the 1960s and herbalists have used them for decades. Simply put, adaptogens aid the body in adapting to stress. From the journal Pharmaceuticals, “studies on animals and isolated neuronal cells have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity.”
In addition to an adaptogen tincture I included in his box, I was also interested in including Maca root (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon). While more clinical trials are needed, Maca has a long history of traditional use. It’s a Peruvian staple food grown in the harsh, high plateaus of the Andes. It’s been used to improve stamina and endurance, balance hormones, and improve immunity. It’s also believed to be an aphrodisiac and improve libido. Due to these properties, many consider Maca to be an adaptogen.
Maca can be purchased in powder form and lends itself easily to including into foods. It has a pleasing nutty flavor, and it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, so it boosts the nutrition of any food to which it’s added.
These bites were designed to be energy-dense and durable. They are a convenient and tasty way to get in nutrient-packed maca, as well as healthy fats from the hemp hearts, coconut oil, and walnuts. The dates provide sweetness and quick energy. Due to the fats, protein, and fiber, they’ll boost your energy without the sugar crash afterwards.