You Are What You Eat
Imagine a doctor prescribing all the foods you should avoid lest you end up with premature maladies of the cardiovascular system:
Trail nutrition means cramming as much of those foods as you possibly can into your belly. And when that’s full, carry on cramming up to your neck, your cheeks, the peak of your head!
I’m talking about things like the infamous Jumbo Honey Bun, which is 23% fat, most of it saturated, providing 85% of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat when stuffed into the mouth on bleary-eyed mornings!
I’m talking about bagels slathered with mayonnaise or peanut butter!
I’m talking about tablespoons of oil added to instant ramen or mashed potatoes!
There’s a theme here, something I learned intellectually in school, but which my body didn’t fully grasp until pressed on the trail – fat is the most calorifically dense foodstuff.
Carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9, giving more than twice the calorie bang for the weight. Of course, man cannot live on fat alone.
Carbs, particularly simple carbs, provide ready access to energy for the long climbs, and protein allows muscles to regenerate and heal during rest. Recommendations vary, but generally suggest 45-55% carbs, 35-40% fats, and 10-15% protein for a thru-hike.
For me, a typical breakfast is 4 small packets of instant oats, 2 packets of breakfast protein powder, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. One of my backpack’s hip pockets has 8 snacks for the day’s hiking, typically 2 protein bars, 4 candy bars (Snickers are a hiker favorite, but I like Paydays just as much), and 2 pop-tarts.
Lunch is one large tortilla with mayo and cheese, and another with peanut butter and trail mix. Dinner is instant mashed potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil, perhaps more mayo, and a packet of tuna.
The picture below is of 5-days worth of food. My food bag is by far the heaviest thing in my backpack, so it goes right near the bottom where the weight is better distributed to my hips.
Off the trail, in “real” life, I’m vegetarian, almost vegan. I decided to add tuna to my trail diet to ensure that I got enough protein. Without that, after long miles of hiking, your body can start to self-cannibalize. A tell-tale sign of this is sweat that begins to smell like ammonia. I prefer my sweat to smell like wet dog – fortunately most of the time I am on my own!
Nutrition on the trail is invaluably aided by “trail magic.” At trailheads and gaps with road access, hikers will often come across some good soul who has set up a table with foods and drinks for free. These, and the big-hearted folks who prepare them, are potent tonics for the body and mind. A big thank you to all the trail magicians whose enchantments I have tasted.
While I have to make an effort to stay appropriately fed on the trail, I am never in danger of truly going hungry. The same cannot be said for many people in Zimbabwe.
I know from seeing ZANE in operation how some of the funds raised are spent on a highly nutritious supplement that does wonders for people on the edge of malnutrition and starvation.
I have seen children transformed from listless, gray, too tired to move, to bright eyes, sunny smiling and kicking around a homemade football.
I have seen old folk suddenly come alive again and discover the joy of social engagement – all in only a few short weeks through the use of the supplement but – of course – it has to paid for.
I would like to think that my hike might draw attention to the wonderful work ZANE is doing in Zimbabwe and prompt people to support this amazing cause.
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