wellness — By registered dietitian chris mohr
Ah, nature. Nothing beats the sound of birds chirping, leaves rustling and getting away from the hustle and bustle of life.
There’s actually impressive data showing just how beneficial nature is for our health and our minds. In fact, in Michael Easter’s new book, The Comfort Crisis, he lays out, in a very convincing way, that a basic hike in nature just scratches the surface of the benefits getting comfortable with discomfort.
“Today most of us live at 72 degrees, experiencing weather only during the two minutes it takes us to walk across a parking lot or from the subway station to our cars,” Easter writes. “Americans now spend about 93 percent of our time indoors in climate control, and entire cities wouldn’t exist had we not developed air conditioning. Like Phoenix and Las Vegas.”
It’s time to get out in nature.
Now of course with nature and hiking, comes the right foods (and drinks) to pack. Which reminds me of a time my then girlfriend (now wife) took me on a hike for my birthday. She had it all planned out, just told me what clothes I’d need and we set out for a day hike.
What she hadn’t planned for is to get a bit twisted on the trail, making the several mile hike about triple the distance she first planned and we didn’t have the food (or fluids) to match the distance or level of intensity. At the end of the day, it resulted in just a bit of bickering more than anything dangerous, as we weren’t scaling Mt Everest, but planning ahead for everything and anything is key (and it might just prevent some hanger based arguments).
First, make sure you have the right clothing and gear. Hiking in the wrong shoes and absorbent cotton shirts is hard. Insert Rhone Reign Tech shirts and Versatility shorts. Shoes are a little more personal and finding the right fit is key, so try a variety on to see what suits you. Most importantly, understand the terrain and gear up with the right goods to not let this get in your way. And, oh yeah – don’t forget sunscreen – sunburn during a long day of hiking is not a solid combo. Our daily go to is Native Sunscreen, made with zinc oxide for max protection.
Second, consider what you will drink and eat along the way.
Understand that when it comes to hydration, it doesn’t take a lot to have a negative effect on performance and well-being. In fact, as little as a 1% loss of bodyweight impacts performance. In other words, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s just a 1.5 lb weight loss, which can happen quickly when you’re exerting yourself.
So the message around fluids – drink early, drink often – fill up your reusable water bottles and/or Camelback before venturing out and sip on the regular.
Next, think about foods. You need foods that are easily digestible and offer quick acting carbohydrates, which is what your body uses during activity.
Depending on the length of the hike will determine how much you need and what else you need, but start with a base of the carbs like I mentioned.
What does that look like?
Consider dried fruit, which is high in carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugar, along with plenty of vitamins and minerals as well. My go to - figs.
When you think figs, think California. California produces 100% of the nation’s dried figs and supporting our local farms and agriculture is important. California Figs are a good source of dietary fiber. Just three to five dried or fresh figs provide five of dietary fiber, and they are also rich in antioxidants. They are also portable, durable and tasty - and can help fuel even the most challenging (or most basic) of hikes.
But you do you and find your fav. Dried fruit also takes up very little room in your bag, making them easy to transport and won’t weigh you down.
This isn’t to discount fresh fruit, however since fresh fruit is also full of water, helping hydrate you just the same. Durable fruit like apples and oranges are great, offer carbohydrates to fuel your working muscles, vitamins, minerals and hydration. A winning combination for maximum performance.
Next, while quick acting carbs are important in the moment, it’s also important to consider some longer lasting energy, depending on the length of your adventure.
This is where foods like trail mix, with a combo nuts and dried fruit can come in. I prefer to make my own, to control over what goes into the mix. With this, don’t shun the salted nuts – when you’re sweating, you’ll certainly be losing sodium – and the salt on the nuts can offer flavor and replace lost sodium.
Next, because of the energy expenditure with the hike itself, aim for about an equal ratio of nuts:dried fruit. In other words, for every 1 handful of nuts, add 1 handful of dried fruit for the carbohydrate along with some sustaining protein and quality fats (along with other nutrients).
Maybe you’re not interested in making your own trail mix or packing your own fruit; in this case, consider (or add in) some quality bars. Here, again, you want quality carbs, a bit of protein and maybe some fat. In the case of bars that will fuel you for activity, skip the higher protein, higher fat products as those will sit in you like a brick. Remember instead, carbohydrates are your friend!
Outside of snacky type foods, consider a good ‘ol PBJ or a favorite in our house, PB & Banana. Either option has stood the test of time in terms of popularity, but also from a quality nutrition standpoint. While this may not seem complicated, it needs to be done right to give you what you the taste and nutrition you need.
And that first starts with a great bread, backed with fiber filled whole grains for health and energy on the hike. Dave’s Killer Bread is our go to since it’s
packed with protein, fiber, whole grains and even offers Omega-3s … but
most importantly, also delivers killer taste and texture and powerful nutrition
in each slice. Dave's Killer Bread's 21 Whole Grains and Seeds offers 44 grams of whole grains, which is over 90% of what's recommended in a day.
Of course you then layer a quality peanut butter; ideally one made with just peanuts and salt, which also offer healthy fats and protein, followed by the banana (or more carbs, which your body may appreciate on a hike, if you go with the jelly).
But neither option needs to be refrigerated, holds up in your pack for a long hike or even just an enjoyable, shorter stroll in nature that ends up in a picnic.
Admittedly, hiking has been one of our favorite weekend activities. With a 9 and 12 year old, our hikes aren’t what you’d call “epic,” but they’re a way to get us outside in nature, move our bodies, smell the fresh air and ultimately just connect. Sometimes, they also add an element of discomfort. And like author Michael Easter writes in his book The Comfort Crisis, leveraging the power of discomfort can dramatically improve health and happiness.