Adaptogens for Athletes

adaptogen endurance

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

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

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

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

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

Eleuthero

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

American Ginseng

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

Maca

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

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

Turmeric

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

Cordyceps

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

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

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Five Steps to Prepare for a Successful Thru-hike

thru-hike

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

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

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

thru-hike
Cross country travel on the Oregon Desert Trail

Master Your Mindset

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

Start Planning. All the Planning.

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

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

Dial In The Gear

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

Strategize Your Food/Resupply

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

Optimize Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

thru hike

This post originally appeared on the Trek.

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

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

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

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

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

How I Prepare My Health for a Thru-Hike

Prioritize Gut Health

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

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

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

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

Increase Variety and Prioritize Whole Foods

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

Up Your Fiber

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

Probiotics

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

Limit Inflammatory Foods

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

Limit Inflammatory Foods with a Personalized Diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Skip the Sugar Crash Trail Smoothie

oregon desert trail resupply

“AG said you have a great trail smoothie recipe. Do you mind sharing it with me?” This was a text I recently received from a friend who’s prepping his resupply boxes for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike this year.

Of course I’ll share! AG was my ODT hiking partner and beneficiary of surplus smoothie packets from my resupply boxes. As I wrote up my recipe, I thought it’d be great to share with you as well. Anything that helps people feel great and get outside more, I’m all about!

Whether on trail or at home, I like to start my days with healthy fat and some protein. This gives me sustained energy rather than the spike and crash I get from high carb, high sugar meals first thing in the morning.

smoothie

Skip the Sugar Crash Trail Smoothie

1 serving greens powder (I use Terra Greens or Amazing Grass)

2 Tablespoons organic coconut milk powder (I like Terrasoul Superfoods)

1 serving (2 scoops) collagen peptides (I like Vital Proteins or Primal Kitchen)

1 Tablespoon chia seeds

1 teaspoon cordyceps mushroom powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger powder

Pinch of sea salt

Nutrition: 220 Calories, 11.3 g fat, 10 g carb, 22 g protein

Of course, you can use different spices, add more or less of the ingredients, etc. But no matter what changes I make, I always follow the template of liquid base + healthy fat + protein (I aim for 20+ grams) + greens + spices.

What’s the Benefit?

The greens provide micronutrients. There’s fat from the coconut milk powder and protein from the collagen to keep energy levels steady. The collagen is also great for joint health, which is particularly helpful on trail. The chia seeds are an additional source of healthy fat. The cordyceps mushroom are for immunity and enhanced endurance benefits. The spices are anti-inflammatory and make it all more tasty.

For long trails, I make individual packets ahead of time and drop them into resupply boxes. It’s a bit of effort to order the ingredients and assemble, but I find it’s a great way to start my day with a lot of nutrition right up front.

Each night before bed, I dump the smoothie packet into my clean soaking jar, add water, and allow it to soak overnight. When I wake up, I like to get going, so I pack up and hit the trail right away. I can sip my smoothie immediately or whenever hunger strikes.

I love to see people getting out and eating to fuel their bodies well. Give this a try and tag me on Instagram (@katiegerber) out on your adventure!

Want to dial in your diet so you can have more energy on your next adventure? Click here for a free 12-page guide where you’ll get a 28 day plan and learn the top 8 inflammatory foods that could be holding you back from feeling your best.

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7 Ways to Control Appetite Naturally, without Pills, Stimulants, or even Willpower

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Feel like your appetite is out of control?

For many outdoorsy folks, winter is the ‘off’ season, which translates into 1) more days spent sitting at a desk (saving money for next season), and 2) fewer outdoor activities. Days are shorter, the weather is colder, and we naturally tend to spend more time on the coach planning our upcoming adventures rather than out on them.

Furthermore, many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who are coming off a season of being more active have difficulty adjusting their food intake to a less active lifestyle. Weight gain, and manatee season (as my friend likes to say) are the result.

So, you’re less active, you still have your hiker hunger, and you’re finding yourself standing in front of the fridge when you know you’re not actually hungry. You’d rather not spend the winter in ever-expanding sweatpants, knowing in the back of your mind that you’re compromising your goals for the upcoming season.

It’s one thing to know what you should and shouldn’t be eating, but tackling the psychological aspect of food is a whole other beast. Identifying true hunger versus emotional hunger is a skill gained with experience. I encourage you to when you’re truly hungry and use the following practices to keep your appetite in check when you’re eating out of boredom/frustration/etc.

Stay Hydrated

Confusing hunger for thirst is incredibly common. When you’re less active and the weather is cooler, it’s easy to drink much less than normal. You may be looking for something to eat when it’s actually water your body needs, not food. Next time you’re about to snack, have 12 ounces of water, wait 20 minutes, and if you’re still hungry, grab a healthy snack and go for it.

Looking for something a little more exciting than water? Consuming calorie-free seltzer water, mint water, or other herbal infusions can be another tasty way quench the desire to consume something without the calorie load.

Limit Your Options

Studies have shown that having a greater variety of foods to choose from leads to consuming more calories. This phenomenon is called sensory-specific satiety and refers to the declining satisfaction experienced by consuming a certain type of food, and the renewal in appetite resulting from exposure to a new flavor. This is why buffets can be so dangerous and why you seemingly have room for a piece of pie even when you’re stuffed.

While, in general, it’s a good idea nutritionally speaking to eat a wide variety of foods, at any one meal, it may be best to limit your options in order to avoid overeating.  

Use Smaller Plates & Bowls

Visually, the same amount of food will look like more on a smaller plate than on a larger plate. I recently read a study that this technique may not be as effective as we thought at controlling how much you eat if you’re truly hungry; however when it comes to mindless eating, you’ll most likely still do less damage by using smaller serving dishes. Portion out one serving and put the rest away rather than snacking out of the container. We’re less likely to eat more when it requires effort.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Rather than keeping tempting, calorie-dense treats front and center in the fridge or on the counter, put them out of sight. Research indicates that if you see food sitting in front of you, such as in a candy dish, you’re more likely to eat it. Keep food out of sight entirely, either in the pantry, in non-transparent containers, or in the fridge. Make healthier items easier to see and access. Finally, don’t hang out in the kitchen (or in front of the food table at a party) if you don’t want to eat.

Remove Distractions

Many people watch TV, read magazines, or scroll through their phones while they eat. This keeps you from fully being aware that you consumed a meal, and also from recognizing when you’re actually satisfied, so you’re more likely to overeat. When you sit down for a meal or snack, be intentional. Breath in the aroma, see the food, be present, and fully enjoy your meal.

Fill Up on Fiber

Fruits and vegetables have a high water content and a lot of fiber. This makes them great for filling you up for fewer calories. It’s easy to eat 1000 calories in a few handfuls of nuts, but to eat the equivalent calories in apples in one sitting, you’d have to eat 10 apples, for example. Not easy to do. Yes, that’d be a lot of sugar, but most likely you can’t eat more than an apple or two without feeling pretty full.

Slow Down

With eating and with life, take a moment to slow down and savor it. Along with the tip about not distracting yourself, slowing down while you eat give your brain a chance to register that you’re eating, to prepare your body to better digest and absorb nutrients, and to register when you’ve had enough. Chew thoroughly rather than inhaling food. Sit down rather than eating in the car. Slow down, savor the food, the experience of sharing a meal with others, and you’ll not only enjoy your meal more, you’ll likely consume less.

Of course, you can use these practices year round, but they’re often particularly pertinent in the off-season. They are just one of many ways to support your health in the off season and prepare for next season’s upcoming adventure.

In my new course Adventure Ready, which is set to launch in February 2019, you’ll learn how to dial in your eating habits and much more. It’s designed to up-level every aspect of your health, inside and out, so you can reach your ideal weight, balance your hormones, and increase your energy. Don’t miss another hiking season feeling sidelined with sub par health. It’s not worth it. Join my email list to stay updated about enrollment.

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Top 5 Supplements to Take on Trail

hiker supplements

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

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

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

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

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

colorado trail

Supplements for the Trail

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

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

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

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

High Quality Multi-Vitamin

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

Probiotics

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

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

Krill Oil

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

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

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

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

Turmeric

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

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

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

Magnesium

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

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

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

supplements

Supplementation in the ‘Off Season’

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

A Word on Choosing Supplements

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

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

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

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Improve Your Digestion Today with 7 Simple Tips

veggies

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

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

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

relax digestion

Relax

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

Chew More

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

sauerkraut digestion

Feed the Gut

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

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

Hydrate

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

Drop Unhealthy Habits

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

exercise digestion

Exercise

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

Consume Herbs to Enhance Digestion

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

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

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How to Create a Healthy Resupply in a Tiny Town

oregon desert trail

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.

tiny town resupply
Veggies were sparse in McDermitt, NV.

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.

convenience store

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.

tiny town healthy resupply

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

Pepperoni=800 calories

Salami=700 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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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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Paleo Granola

trail

This granola is super simple to make. It’s quick (less than an hour including bake time) and the ingredients are easy to find in any supermarket.  A little bit keeps me satisfied and full of energy for a long day in the mountains.

I like to make a batch of this to have on hand as an easy on-the-go snack for long day hikes and backpacking trips. It’s full of healthy fats and protein. It’s free of gluten, grains, dairy, and refined sugar. It’s calorie-dense, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it’s easy to omit or swap out ingredients depending on what’s in your kitchen!

granola

Paleo Granola

*free of gluten, grains, dairy, refined sugar

1 cup (4.5 oz) chopped pecans
3 cups (6 oz) coarse coconut flakes
1.5 ( 6 oz) cups sliced almonds
1 cup (6oz) pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup (4 oz) sesame seeds
1/2 cup (3 oz) sunflower seeds
1/8 cup (0.75 oz) chia seeds
1/4 cup (1 oz) hemp hearts
1 tsp sea salt (Pink Himalayan is my favorite)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves)

1/2 cup (4 oz) grass-fed butter (or olive oil or coconut oil)
1/2 cup (6.5 oz) honey

Mix all the dries together. Melt honey and butter, and mix into dries. Spread onto parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake 25 min at 300 or until lightly golden brown. Be careful not to overbake! This can happen quickly.

Allow granola to cool,  and break into clusters of whatever size you like. Add in dried fruit, such as blueberries or cranberries, if desired.

Store in glass jar at room temp for up to 10 days.

Yum!

granola

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