Healthy Lightweight Eating for Hikers: How to Reduce Pack Weight & Have More Energy (part 1)

hikers

Carry a lighter pack, eliminate bonking, free yourself from cravings, reduce hiker hunger, and experience fewer GI issues…. Sound good? Most long distance hikers (or any endurance athlete) would say ‘heck yea’! Well, it’s possible, and it starts with what you’re putting in your food bag. Here’s how I approach eating a healthy lightweight diet on trail.

This post will explain why a healthy high fat diet is ideal for backpacking and how to do it right (i.e. without missing out on essential nutrients and compromising your health).

Personal Backpacking Nutrition Evolution

Over the course of 5000+ miles of backpacking, my nutrition strategy has evolved. Going into the AT in 2009, I had no idea how to eat for backpacking, so I started Googling. Pop-tarts, ramen, and snickers? As a lover of veggies (and feeling good), I knew that approach wasn’t going to work for me. I pieced together as healthy of a diet as I could, but it was still fairly processed and I never really felt great on it.

As a cold-soaking vegetarian on the PCT in 2014, I did a bit better. I’d learned a thing or two, both about health and how to carry that onto the trail. I focused a lot on legumes (dehydrated black beans, refried beans, and hummus), nut butters, tortillas, dried fruit, seeds, nuts, and with a handful of dried kale in my dinners. I felt better than on the AT, but by the end of the trail, my digestive system was…um, ‘off’, to put it nicely. Plus, I had a deep fatigue that had built up by the end of the hike and, it turns out, I was anemic.

So, in prepping for the CDT this year, more has changed. I no longer eat much of the gluten, industrial seed oils, grains, and even legumes that wrecked my gut in the past. I’ve also learned that I feel best when I eat a high fat, lower carbohydrate diet, rather than the traditional ‘endurance diet’ heavy in carbs.

Fortunately, that high fat diet works well for backpacking. More on that in a moment. But it’s important to note that ‘high fat’ can be done in an unhealthy way or in a healthy way. It just takes a bit more knowledge and care to do it right within the constraints inherent to backpacking.

Being part of various endurance communities, I’ve been fascinated to witness hikers loading as much sugar as they can fit into their food bags, thinking it’s the only way to have lots of energy. Of course, it’s the traditional carb-loading approach, and it’s not uncommon to hear nutrition professionals preaching it too. “Calories and carbs are all that matter. It’s not important where they come from.” (You can read here why I think that’s a terrible idea if you want to eat for optimal performance and health.)

I’ve see distance runners struggle with digestive issues as they refuel on sugary gels every 90 minutes. I’ve seen (and experienced) the bonking. And on this standard high carb, high sugar, highly processed diet, I’ve watched hikers suffer with weaker immune systems, experience insatiable hunger, carry heavier packs than necessary, and even have teeth rot from excess sugar.

And that’s just what I’ve witnessed on trail, let alone, what happens to their mental and physical health once they return home.


There’s a Better Way

That said, the focus of this article is to share why my fueling strategy has evolved to what I call Healthy High Fat. I’ll also cover how to execute that in an easy, effective, and efficient way.

Let’s state up front that what I’m NOT talking about is a zero carb diet and going into nutritional ketosis. There’s a time and place for ketosis as a therapeutic approach, but in general, we need all the macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) to stay healthy and to perform at our best.

What I am suggesting is that there are many benefits to be had by using fat as your primary fuel, especially for endurance athletes, like long distance hikers.

I also want to be clear that this is NOT a diet, per say. Just as focusing on eating whole foods is not a diet (but a lifestyle change rather), eating for better metabolic efficiency is a practice that’s implemented over time for improved health and fitness performance. Unlike a ‘diet’, it’s not something you follow for a few weeks, then return to your former ways.   

The Benefits

‘Why bother’, you may be thinking, ‘I like candy bars, bagels, and pasta’. I get it. I like carbs too (hi, my trail name is Salty because I eat all.the.chips.), but I like sustained energy and carrying a lighter pack even more.

Favoring a higher fat/lower carb diet and training your body to burn fat preferentially makes sense for endurance athletes for the following reasons:

Lighter Pack

*At 9 calories per gram for fat and 4 calories per gram for protein or carbs, fats are more than twice as energy dense per unit of weight than protein or carbs. We need a certain amount of protein each day to prevent muscle wasting and facilitate muscle repair. I usually shoot for about 20% of my total calories. The remaining 80% is made up of either fats or carbs, as these two macronutrients are the primary source of your cellular energy.

*Because fat is more calorically dense, you can carry the same amount of calories for less food weight than you can if you were carrying predominantly carbs.

Sustained Energy (less bonking!)

*Favoring fat over carbs leads to more sustained energy. Here’s why: Consuming carbs causes blood glucose levels to spike which causes the pancreas to release insulin to shuttle glucose into cells, which then causes blood sugar to quickly drop, and you bonk, hit the wall, get cranky or tired, and crave another hit of sugar.

*Additionally, “The average person has approximately 1,400 – 2,000 calories worth of carbohydrate stored in their body and 50,000 – 80,000 calories stored as fat.”  By training our bodies to use fat more efficiently as a fuel source, we can go longer without bonking. More on that in a moment.

Less Extreme Hiker Hunger

*As described earlier, fat and protein are slower burning fuels than sugar. They are absorbed more slowly and do not cause the same roller-coaster spike and crash of sugar.

*While I do eat slightly more calories on a long hike than in my everyday (significantly more sedentary) life, I generally don’t experience the extreme hiker hunger which my companions describe. I believe the difference is that I eat mostly whole foods as opposed to ultra-processed, low fiber, high sugar foods.

*Studies have indicated a significant decrease in hunger on a high nutrient diet when compared with a low nutrient diet. In an attempt to make up for nutrient deficiencies, the body reaches for more and more food despite consuming sufficient calories. Many hikers report needing 5000-6000 calories per day. I generally feel good, experience sustained energy, and little weight loss at 3000-3500 calories per day, even on a thru-hike. Of course it depends on body size, but I believe a reason many hikers consume so much is because their food choices are low in nutrients and fiber.

Less GI Distress

*Most hikers and long distance runners I know talk a lot about poop and farts. It’s not uncommon for endurance athletes to experience frequent gas, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea. This is especially true during challenging efforts, like a race or a particularly hard day on trail. This makes sense as blood is shunted away from your GI tract to fuel muscles. There is also the mechanical pounding of hiking/running and the production of stress hormones that impair digestion during hard efforts.

*While on the one hand, because fat and protein are slow absorbing fuels, high fat or high protein or large volumes of food in general will impair performance if eaten right before a hard effort. However, during a longer, less intense effort (like hiking at a steady pace all day), fueling on fat can reduce digestive distress because you can eat less frequently, which means less work for your digestive system.

Better Immunity

*Excessive sugar can set off an inflammatory cascade that suppresses the immune system. Your body is already under a great deal of physical stress on a long hike. Stressing it out more by forcing it to subsist on fare that is high in sugar and low in stress-fighting nutrients sets you up for issues. It’s not uncommon to see hikers catching colds and experiencing injury more often on trail. This may be due to weakened immunity.

Less Inflammation

*The reduction in systemic inflammation that can result from eating less processed foods, and focusing instead on balancing blood sugar, is the main driver of my interest in high fat/lower carb eating. I balance blood sugar by focusing on plenty of fiber, fat, and protein in each meal or snack. Due to my history with autoimmune thyroid issues, reducing inflammation is critical, especially on trail.

Fat is Ideal for Low to Moderate Efforts

*Fat is an ideal fuel for low to moderate efforts, like hiking all day. When you train at a low intensity, you keep your heart rate lower, in the aerobic zone, where fat is used as the primary fuel. The more you train at low intensities, the more efficient your body becomes at converting fat to fuel. This article and this article explain this concept well, as does Mark Sisson’s Primal Endurance.

*On the other hand, all-out efforts (like sprints) are a more glycogen-dependent activity. This is where carbs can come in handy. It’s why I often eat a bit more carbs when I have a big climb ahead of me and need quick-burning fuel for my muscles. Essentially, I try to use carbs strategically.

Understanding Metabolic Efficiency

What this all comes down to is increasing metabolic efficiency (ME). ME refers to how efficiently the body uses its internal stores of fats and carbohydrates. The goal of ME training is to improve health and performance. This concept was established by Sports Dietician Bob Seehobar. Find the details here.

Through ME training, the body can be taught to favor burning fat over carbs. Increasing ME speaks to your ability to burn more fat versus carbs at the same intensity. As mentioned, the average person has approximately 1,400 – 2,000 calories worth of carbohydrate stored in their body and 50,000 – 80,000 calories stored as fat. Training your body to burn more fat spares it’s limited glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.

According to Seehobar’s website, the benefits of improved metabolic efficiency include 1) decreased body weight, 2) decreased body fat, 3) improved and sustained energy levels and mental alertness throughout the day, 4) improved recovery, 5) improved cognitive function, 6) improved power to weight ratio, 7) improved running velocity, and 8) better sleep.

ME can be tested through a machine that measures the oxygen you inhale and the carbon dioxide that you exhale while exercising on a treadmill or cycling ergometer. By plugging these numbers into an algorithm, one can determine the amount of carbs versus fat they burn at any given intensity.

Generally, as you increase the intensity you shift from burning more fat and less carbs to burning more carbs and less fat. For an example of what this looks like, check out this post by the highly accomplished long distance backpacker and runner Andrew Skurka.

As mentioned, the high fat, low carb paradigm goes against traditional endurance nutrition practices, but is backed by solid science. Researchers supporting this approach include Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney, Dr. Peter Attia, and Dr. Tim Noakes, among others. Furthermore, this nutrition strategy is being employed by endurance all-stars like Timothy Olson and Zach Bitter.

Curious to see what type of foods and brands I carry on my endurance endeavors, from long day hikes to thru-hikes? Click here for a free copy of my “Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide“.

How to Improve Metabolic Efficiency

While there is a genetic component to how good of a ‘fat-burner’ you are, it’s something that’s highly trainable.

According to Seehobar, “The majority of improving metabolic efficiency lies in daily nutrition changes and the ability to control and optimize blood sugar through eating proper amounts of protein, fat, and fiber, while accounting for the proper nutrition periodization to support athletes in different training cycles.”

Optimizing blood sugar, or glycemic variability, is something I talk about a lot. It refers to how much our blood sugar shifts throughout the day. According to health guru, endurance athlete, and personal trainer Ben Greenfield, “when it comes to your health, (glycemic variability) is, in my opinion, a more important variable to consider than cholesterol, vitamin D, minerals, telomere length, cortisol, testosterone or just about any biomarker one could ever measure (except, perhaps, inflammation, which I would rank right up there with glycemic variability).”

Reducing glycemic variability is critical to the overall picture of health, including reducing risk for metabolic syndrome, which predisposes you to stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

As Seehobar states, the key to optimizing blood sugar is to include protein, fat, and fiber with everything you eat. Reducing the overall amount of carbs consumed is also essential, as when you limit incoming glucose, your body will rely on stored body fat for energy.

As mentioned, you don’t need to go extremely low in carbs to see benefits, and in fact, too little carbs can cause issues, such as hypothyroidism. Further, extreme restriction can lead to binge and purge cycles.

It’s difficult to give a blanket recommendation as everyone’s carb requirements are different due to gender, fitness level, body size, and metabolic history. Essentially, consuming carbs (or even too much protein) tells your body to release insulin. Insulin shuts down fat burning in favor of carb metabolism.

How to Do High Fat Healthy

So, fill up on pork rinds and other highly processed fatty junk food? Nope. Sorry. That’s where most folks miss seeing the whole message, and that approach will only lead you down the path of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

As I mentioned, there is a healthy way and an unhealthy way to do high fat. My approach is about HEALTHY High Fat. That means we focus on high fat, moderate protein, and lower carb, all while prioritizing nutrient density.

What does this actually look like in practice? That’s what we’ll cover in part 2.

Interested in a mini course that compiles all healthy lightweight eating resources in one spot? Enroll for free here.

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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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How to Eliminate Sugar Cravings for Good

wind river hiking

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

sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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colorado trail

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

  • Stay Hydrated

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

  • Get Enough Sleep

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

journal stress reduction

  • Reduce Stress

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

  • Eat a High Protein Breakfast

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

salad

  • Eat Balanced Meals

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

  • Consume Minerals and Electrolytes

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

  • Boost Gut Health

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

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

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

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How to Eat Healthy on a Thru-Hike

hiker eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

continental divide trail

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

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

Chris:

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

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

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

Katie:

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

continental divide trail desert

Breakfast

Chris:

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

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

Here was the breakfast breakdown:

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

Katie:

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

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

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

Makeover:

hiker eating

Snacks/Lunch

Chris:

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

Here is what I snacked on:

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

Katie:

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

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

Makeover:

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

trail

Dinner

Chris:

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

My Usual Dinner Options:

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

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

Makeover:

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

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

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

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

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Coconut Maca Energy Bites

maca bites

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.

Maca Coconut Energy Bites

Makes 11x30g bites

  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup hemp hearts
  • 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp organic maca powder
  • 1 Tbl coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbl cacao powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until mixture is well blended and creates a soft dough. If dough is not coming together, add a bit more oil or a tiny bit of water.

maca bites

Roll dough into 30 gram balls (a hefty tablespoon), roll them in coconut and put into an air tight container. Store in the freezer until you’re ready to eat.

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Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day: Nutrition

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

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

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

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

rim to rim to rim food

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

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

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

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

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

8am: Primal Kitchen Bar

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

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

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

3 pm: Primal Kitchen Bar

4pm: 1 date bite

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

6 Nuun electrolyte tablets in water throughout day

Explanation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grand canyon

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5 Immune Boosting Herbs You Already Have in Your Kitchen

immune

There are morning routines, evening routines, and a hundred other healthy habits we’re ‘supposed’ to fit into each day.

You know herbs are good for you, but sometimes it feels like one more thing to fit into your day. You have to buy them, prepare them, take them. It can feel overwhelming, so we forego our herbs even though we love using plant medicines to enhance our daily lives.

Does this sound familiar?

The good news is that some of our most powerful herbal allies are likely already in your kitchen. With a few changes in your habits and mindset, you can up your ingestion of these potent plants and reap the myriad benefits with little extra effort.

An easy way to incorporate more herbs into your day is to include them into an activity you’re already doing. Eating is one such activity. As Hippocrates said, food is medicine, and eating is one of our prime opportunities to take in more medicine. Before each meal, ask yourself “How can I make this even healthier?”.

Building a strong immune system is always important, but it’s even more crucial this time of year when colds and flu are common. The following list includes 5 immune-boosting herbs and how to incorporate them into meals.

 

ginger immune

Ginger

Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb due to it’s rich phytochemistry, which includes compounds such as gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone. In addition to many other health benefits, it boosts circulation and has potent antimicrobial properties, which make it an ideal immune-boosting ally.

Ginger is easy to incorporate into any meal. Add raw or powdered ginger to your morning smoothie. Add ginger to your oatmeal. Drink ginger tea. Add ginger to curry dishes and homemade desserts.

 

turmeric immune

Turmeric

With over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, turmeric is one of the most researched herbs with several wide-ranging health benefits. A member of the same family as ginger, turmeric also has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, all of which contribute to it’s immune enhancing abilities.  

Turmeric is a great addition to smoothies, and goes well with most soups and stews. It’s great added to eggs or sauteed veggies, and is a natural fit for rice dishes and curries.

garlic immune

Garlic

Second only to turmeric in the amount of research supporting its health benefits is garlic. The antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties of raw garlic make it ideal for fending off colds and flus, largely due to the compound allicin.

Garlic is a great addition to any saute, homemade salad dressings and dips, soups and stews, or any meat and veggie seasoning blend.

turmeric immune

Cayenne

Cayenne is packed with immune-boosting beta carotene and antioxidants. It increases circulation, and helps break up and move mucus out of the body, reducing flu and cold symptoms.

Cayenne can be added to any drink, sauce, or meal that needs a spicy kick. Adding it to eggs, veggies, nuts, dressings, and meat are all great options.

cinnamon immune

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is at the top of the charts in terms of its antioxidant levels. Additionally, it has antibacterial, antiviral, and circulation stimulating properties. Its high content of the anti-inflammatory compound cinnamaldehyde make it essential for cold and flu season.

Adding cinnamon to oatmeal and smoothies is a great way to start the day. It also goes well in homemade desserts, chilli, curries, stews, and any dish needing a warming flavor.

Start slow and add any of these herbs in when you can. They’re sure to add a boost to the health and flavor of any meal.

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The Danger of Fueling with Faux Foods

wind river cirque of towers

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

 

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

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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

What are Faux Foods?

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

Faux foods are:

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

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

real food backpacker

What This Means for Hikers

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

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

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

PCT katiegerber.com

 

10 Reasons to Reconsider Your Resupply

1) You Are What You Eat

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

2) Inflammation

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

3) Gut Health

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

4) Slower Recovery

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

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

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

6) Slower Wound Healing

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

7) Blood Sugar Balance and Bonking

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

8) Mental Clarity & Motivation

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

9) Post-hike Depletion

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

10) Overeating and Carrying Extra Food

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

BONUS:

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

pollution

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of Faux Foods

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

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

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

1) Eat more whole, unprocessed foods on trail

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

2) Read labels

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

3) Send resupply boxes to places with limited options

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

4) Make up for micronutrient deficiencies in town

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

5) Make small changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start slow and do what you can.

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

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