We were curious as to the actual breakdown of calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat in our thru-hiker version of a whole food plant-based diet, so we went to the computer lab on campus and entered a typical day of food (for Ross) into the nutrient analysis software. It's hard to know exactly how many calories we need to replace what we burn while hiking, but we do know that the more calories we can eat, the better. Coming in at around 4,000 calories, we figure Ross did pretty well. Adding in some coconut oil or more nuts could even boost it up to near 5,000. In terms of protein, all these plant foods add up to 151 grams of protein, 15% of total calories. Not bad.
Total Calories: 4022
Total Protein: 151 grams (604 kcal, 15% of total calories)
Total Carbs: 675 grams (2700 kcal, 67% of total calories)
Total Fat: 83 grams (747 kcal, 18% of total calories)
Some things to note: portion sizes here were pretty big, one of the advantages of having a hiker's appetite. For the most part, this is what contributed to the high calorie count of this day - the sheer volume of food eaten. Secondly, a shout out to dates. The 6 dates Ross ate totaled 330 calories, according to our analysis program. Pretty impressive!
In addition, all the important micronutrients - vitamins and minerals, were over 100% of the recommended daily value. Even B12 was accounted for, in part due to the Vega Meal Replacement as well as environmental exposure; being closer to dirt means being closer to the bacteria that make B12.
I have to admit I had some apprehensions in preparing for this hike, as it was more miles than I’d ever walked before and my first time in the Mojave Desert. The name alone seemed to carry some dangerous possibilities with it. When I thought of a desert, I thought of barren landscapes with no shade or shelter and venomous creatures everywhere. I was confident that I could handle anything that came my way, but still had irrational fears to overcome.
Once on the trail, I quickly fell into the rhythm of my surroundings and realized there was really nothing to fear. The chance of getting bitten by a venomous snake or being attacked by a cougar were so slim it was not worth the preoccupation. The desert did not turn out to be the barren landscape I imagined. Don't get me wrong - it was very hot and sometimes extremely windy, but, overall, Southern California is a beautiful place that I hope everyone can have the chance to enjoy someday.
With fears of my new environment set aside, I was able to focus on my hiking strategy. Five hundred miles was the longest section hike I’d attempted. Last year, I joined Anna for a 130-mile section from Crater Lake to Elk Lake Resort in Oregon. I can still remember how tired and sore I felt recovering in the motel room in Bend after only a fraction of what I was setting out to complete this time.
A few things were different this year. I cut a lot of weight from my pack, lost some bodyweight myself, and completely changed my diet. Nine months ago, I adopted a 100% whole food plant-based diet. That meant this year no more Mountain House pre-packaged meals or dehydrated eggs, no jerky or powdered milk and definitely no cheeseburgers, milkshakes or pizzas in town. The biggest concern in this way of eating on the trail is calorie intake, as a plant-based diet is inherently low in fat and therefore less calorie dense. To meet my calorie needs, I simply carried a larger volume (not necessarily weight) of food or walked faster between resupplies so I carried less food (and ate constantly in town). I discovered that eating plant-based and nutrient dense food gave my body exactly what it needed to perform and recover at a level I had never experienced before. I felt and still feel stronger and in better shape than ever. My endurance reached a whole new level. This is remarkable to me, since I thought those days were long gone. I have no doubt that for me, a plant-based diet is going to be the most valuable strategy for taking on the rest of the trail this summer.
Since completing my section hike a couple weeks ago, I have been asked several times what the most memorable part was. There were many beautiful views, cool plants, animals and fun trail towns, but the most rewarding experience for me was sharing our Nourishing Journey mission with others - hikers and non-hikers. For the most part, people were very receptive of the insights I offered on diet and how our food choices have global implications. Through my conversations and observations I identified two main barriers to change in the way people eat. First, the nature of our healthcare system is to focus on alleviating symptoms rather than treating the root cause, yielding ineffective, costly outcomes and creating a disconnect between health and diet. Second, our cultural biases and social norms work to systematically override objective science. (Read Whole, by T. Colin Campbell).
Our Western culture is largely unaware of the broad effects of food on human health and the environment. We therefore find it difficult and sometimes impossible to live healthy lifestyles. With the collective influence of media, industrial food production, pharmaceuticals, diet fads, supplements, misleading research, and social norms, change is arduous. Choosing a whole food plant-based lifestyle often causes one to face significant resistance with family, friends, coworkers and even health care providers. This overarching attitude prevents proper nutrition from being the keystone habit for a healthy lifestyle.
The same food that fueled my body through the southern California desert can reverse disease, put an end to global depletion and lessen the burden of a failing healthcare system on our society. Despite the barriers people face, I try to remain hopeful that if we can help others reach a state of better health through food, the evidence to support this lifestyle will be common knowledge to all. As Anna and I prepare food and resupply boxes, I look forward to the many rewards of getting back on the trail - the people I will meet, conversations I will have, and inspirations yet to be revealed.
This week, we were lucky enough to be featured on the No Meat Athlete Community Blog! Read our post here!
The No Meat Athlete Blog is an online plethora of resources and inspiration to help people be the healthiest and happiest version of themselves. For many, this involves staying active and eating a plant-based diet, which is what we're all about. We're constantly inspired by the growing community surrounding the plant-based lifestyle. More and more people are catching on and spreading the word. Things are changing for the better, and No Meat Athlete is just one of the many forces out there supporting the transformation.
“Let thy leafy greens be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy leafy greens”
Leafy green vegetables are some of the most nutrient dense foods in the world. They pack in a greater amount of nutrients per calorie than any other food. Some say they should be their own food group. I say they should be eaten at least once a day to maintain optimal health and vitality. Some of the specific nutrients that green leafies contain are fiber, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins K, C and folic acid. Additionally, they’re a powerhouse of disease-fighting molecules called phytochemicals including lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin.
As thru-hikers, we should care about green leafies for multiple reasons. First off, they contain naturally occurring nitrates - not to be confused with nitrites, found in cured meat (hot dogs, bacon, etc.), and shown to cause cancer. Nitrates in vegetables are a precursor to nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator, which opens up the blood vessels. When our blood vessels are dilated, we get more oxygen traveling faster to our muscles and are capable of working harder. Consumption of nitrates from beets and green vegetables has been associated with increased athletic performance and exercise tolerance, not to mention prevention of hypertension and heart disease. Vasodilation from eating greens can lead to all kinds of favorable health outcomes, on and off the trail.
Secondly, as we are walking miles upon miles, day after day, we put a lot of stress on our bones. Nutrients such as calcium and vitamin K are essential for rebuilding and strengthening bone mass. The calcium in greens is actually absorbed twice as well as calcium found in milk. Furthermore, one cup of cooked kale contains 1300% of the Daily Value of vitamin K. The more greens we can eat, the better off we will be as we put our bodies through the equivalent of a marathon every day for 5 months straight.
So how can we do it? Since we’ll be hard pressed to find a good juice and smoothie bar making fresh green smoothies along the PCT, we need to think creatively and expand our definition of leafy green vegetables beyond spinach and kale. Some ideas…
Seaweed is green AND leafy and comes conveniently dehydrated and pre-packaged at Trader Joe’s and other health-food stores. My friend Sarah was the first to introduce me to the genius of eating seaweed on the trail. Her favorite is to crumble it up inside of a tortilla full of hummus.
Also known as green tea powder, matcha actually has three times the antioxidant power of green tea. This means it will work wonders to promote healing and combat the oxidative stress that occurs in our bodies after hours and hours of walking at altitude. This is a great warm morning beverage in place of coffee. Just mix a little bit of the powder in with hot water, add some cinnamon or sugar (or both!) and drink up. It also has the added benefit of the calm but alert caffeine buzz that green tea is known for.
In a world where green surrounds us, why not explore the nutritional value of our natural environment? Edible plants such as Lambs Quarters, Miner's Lettuce, Nettle, Chickweed, Dandelion and Chicory offer some convenient health benefits when found on the trail. Pick some to add to your evening meal. This strategy does take some background knowledge and education. Never eat any plants unless you are absolutely sure of their identity. Check out this book to learn more.
4. Load up in town
Ross has a great strategy when it comes to towns. His first order of business is usually to go to the nearest grocery store or market, if there is one, to buy one bunch of kale, a lime and a ripe avocado. All he needs to do for a magnificent kale salad is rip up the kale, squeeze the lime over the top and massage the avocado and lime into the leaves. Add some salt, or if there’s time, add some salsa and black beans. All of these can be easily found at most markets and assembled in the ice container of a cheap motel room.
5. Barlean’s Greens
A company best known for its flax seed oil, Barlean’s also makes a convenient powder that includes everything from wheat grass to apple extract. This is a great way to add antioxidants and micronutrients to a trail diet. It comes in a few different flavors. I’ve only tried the chocolate, but it is quite tasty.
As Ross and I embark on our thru-hike this summer, we plan to implement all of these strategies on top of eating dehydrated meals with plenty of collard greens and spinach.
Do you have any other creative ways or resources for getting greens on the trail? Leave a comment below!
1. Hever, J. The Greatness of Greens. The Plant Based Dietitian. 2010. http://plantbaseddietitian.com/the-greatness-of-greens/
2. Greger, M. NutritionFacts.org.
3. Hever, J. Holy Kale. The Plant Based Dietitian. 2013. http://plantbaseddietitian.com/holy-kale/
4. Tilford, GL. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Mountain Press Publishing Company. 1st ed. June 1, 1997.
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