5 Tips from a Nutritionist to Prepare for the Appalachian Trail

“You should probably gain some weight”… Said no one to me ever, until this past weekend.

Julieann Hartley, backpacking the White Mountains with a primal and nutrient dense diet!

Julieann Hartley, Nutritional Therapist, backpacking the White Mountains with a primal and nutrient dense diet!

You see, I’m not overweight, but I’m a sturdy woman. I cross fit and eat primal (meaning lots of organic grass-fed meats, local organic veggies, ghee, butter, coconut oil and bacon). When looking at me, most people’s first thoughts are generally… “Woah, look at that booty” and then they feel guilty for staring at my butt and quickly say, “You have nice eyes”. So, this weekend, I was definitely caught off guard when I was speaking with a friend who had completed the entire Appalachian Trail a few years back. She looked me up and down and calmly gave the advice that I would need to put on a few more pounds before Springer. Now, I’ve heard many stories of people stopping their hikes because they were physically too weak, tired or injured to continue. We’ve all seen pictures of hikers that are looking eerily thin. But seriously, the idea of purposely gaining weight before the trail never crossed my mind. What did cross my mind? I’m focusing these next several months on loading my body up with NUTRIENTS. I feel confident that if my body has the proper tools and has an abundance of vitamins and minerals, it will be able to properly handle the stress put on it by long miles, thus helping to prevent overuse injuries and fatigue.

Five tips from a Nutritional Therapist to help you prepare for the AT

1) Regulate your blood sugar. Right now.

You’ll be able to hike faster, longer and with a much quicker recovery time. As a nutritional therapist, I see a lot of people with headaches, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety and “foggy thoughts”, all of which are big symptoms of poor blood sugar regulation. I could go on and on about the terrible effects of sugar on your physical and mental health, but I will save that for another post. For now, I want to emphasize the importance of good blood sugar regulation. When you are well regulated, your body can more efficiently use stored FAT for energy. You can go longer without snacking (which means more hiking time), become better hydrated (sugar takes a lot of water and electrolytes to process in the body) have better hormone regulation and more efficiently repair muscles. Sugar also feeds a variety of parasitic creatures and bad bacteria in the body, which also tend to be a major cause of fatigue and digestive upset in people. The best way to regulate your blood sugar is to stop eating refined sugars now! 

2) Eat more food sourced vitamins and minerals.

Although I do think supplementation with a very high quality vitamin is a good idea for particular situations, nutrients are often most “bioavailable” to us when they are food sourced. All real food has some sort of nutrient content, but, this fall, winter and spring, I’m going to be focusing on regularly adding into my diet the powerhouses of nutrition like: homemade bone and vegetable broth, fermented cod liver oil, herbal teas (nettle, blackberry leaf and strawberry leaf are loaded with minerals), 100% grass-fed/pastured meats, butter, and local organic vegetables (fermented, cooked and raw).

3) Eat more fat.

Unfortunately, for years we were told to reduce our fat intake as much as possible, causing massive nutrient depletion and health problems in so many people. We need fat to help us absorb, use and store nutrients. Our hormones and cells NEED fat for their basic structure to function to work. The key to eating more fat though is to eat high quality sources of fats. Most vegetable and seed oils are rancid by the time they get to the store. Fried food? Don’t even think about it. The ingestion of these rancid oils causes a host of problems (I’ll save it for another post), but for now, just picture these fats causing a ton of inflammation and damage in your body. This winter, I’m going to focus on cooking with and consuming nutrient dense sources of fat like grass-fed butter, ghee, fermented cod liver oil, fish (not the refined oil, but just eating more fish itself), coconut oil and lard. I love taking a spoonful of coconut oil before cross fit or a hike in the morning. It’s so easy for the body to convert right into energy.

4) Absorb your nutrients better.

There are many factors in our foods, bodies and environment that can keep us from absorbing our nutrients well. For instance, if you have low stomach acid levels, you will not be able to properly absorb a variety of minerals, like calcium. You also won’t be able to breakdown proteins properly, or kill off pathogenic bacteria about to enter your small intestines. Without digested proteins, your body is going to have a tough time using resources other than sugar for energy, further hurting your chances of regulating your blood sugar. So, help your digestion out by taking a small shot of raw apple cider vinegar diluted in water before you eat to help bring up the acid levels in your stomach. You could also try taking digestive bitters before you eat (see your local health food store), or drinking a lemon and ginger tea. But most importantly, avoid eating foods that block your mineral absorption! Carbonated beverages (except for naturally carbonated mineral water and Kombucha), contain phosphoric acid and will completely mess up your ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Other foods that will interfere with the absorption of nutrients are grains, nuts and seeds that haven’t been soaked or sprouted. Alcohol and sugar are also big ones that will mess up your digestion, so try to limit these as you prepare for your hike.

5) Relax. 

The body cannot perform the processes of digestion properly when we are stressed out. Try to really take some time to relax and enjoy your healthy meals. Our body also requires a lot of nutrients to process stress, so give yourself a break and start doing some mindful yoga or meditation! Make a list of stressors in your life and see if there is anything you can do or change to reduce the effect of these on you. Sometimes, when I’m really stressed and there is nothing I can do to change the situation, I just watch funny youtube videos….

Are you trying to clear up some health problems before you hit the trail? Perhaps those migraine headaches or irritable bowel syndrome is holding you back? As a nutritional therapist, I can work with you to address and rebalance any nutritional deficiencies causing these problems. For information, tips and recipes, check out my website: www.wildatheartnutrition.com   JulieannNutritionalt   See you on the trail!

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