In Praise of Junk Food
I’ve never been known for moderation. When something interests me, I tend to go off the deep end, flinging myself totally into the task. So it’s only natural that given my lifelong interest in nutrition and facing an upcoming AT thru-hike (a grueling, six-month long endurance event) I’d be spending my final weeks of preparation obsessing about food.
The problem thru-hikers face is this: when you’re hiking upwards of fifteen miles a day for months on end – and hauling all your food on your back – you have to make every calorie count. Meals have to be easy to prepare, unlikely to spoil, and lightweight. They also have to carry out a lot of functions — repairing your exhausted muscles, replacing lost minerals and electrolytes, and giving you both the long and short-term energy you need to fuel your hike. Hopefully, they’ll taste good, too.
Luckily, I don’t have any food allergies or special dietary requirements, so that part has been easy. But I’m not proud to admit that I don’t handle hunger well. I metabolize my food quickly and get very cranky fast. Add in the infamous “hiker hunger” that eventually kicks in — where famished hikers can’t consume enough calories to ward off starvation mode — and you can see why I’m concerned about the food supply.
So for the past few weeks, I’ve been chowing down on a veritable list of superfoods I plan to take on the hike. In my usual gung-ho manner, I’ve turned every meal into a nutrient-dense experience, trying to cram as many “health foods” into my day as humanly possible, just as I expect to do on the trail.
For breakfast, for example, I’ve been eating a granola concoction made with chia, buckwheat, hemp, flax, pumpkin seeds, oats, coconut, brown rice, sunflower seeds, amaranth, millet, and quinoa topped with whole milk. I have protein bars for snacks. Or gorp made with a variety of nuts and dried fruits. Lunch is either a peanut butter/coconut oil sandwich on 16-grain bread or a protein shake with blueberries. Dinners feature quinoa, tofu, olive oil, and beans.
The result? Well, I’m certainly glad I bought a trowel! And I suspect that my good cholesterol level is one for the record books. I’m also no longer hungry. Despite increasing the mileage on my training hikes, all those healthy fats and calorie-rich superfoods seem to be doing the trick. I used to be ravenous after hiking five miles. Now I’m only mildly hungry after ten.
But the bad news is that I’ve gained five pounds. Seriously, all this healthy food is making me fat! (And sadly, it is not an increase in muscle.) So I guess it’s time to go lighter on the quinoa and pack some good old junk food instead. Any suggestions? My gurgling stomach will appreciate any tips you have!
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