Editor’s Note: In the previous issue we featured Beau’s first article in this series, where he explores the correlation between an archer’s target panic and their diet. For part two, Beau digs a little deeper into how to identify diet-related weakness in your shooting fundamentals, and some practical ways to make sure your weekly meal plan supports your accuracy and practice goals.
There are two sides of the camp when it comes to archery training, whether for competition or hunting. On one side, it is believed by some that you must get in as many reps as possible to become proficient and create muscle memory for shooting. The other side of the camp believes in only shooting good shots, every shot. I agree with the concepts of getting in reps to create muscle memory, increasing your success in the moment of truth. I am also aware that bad reps can do more damage than good. So what are “only good” reps, what does that actually mean?
Imagine you are shooting in the backyard and are struggling to keep consistent groups — like the ones you shot yesterday. You are feeling tired and worn out, wondering what you should be doing. Stop shooting. But that can’t make sense? Why would you stop shooting if you need to practice more to get better? Well, when you aren’t shooting well, there is usually a correlation between your mental focus and performance being corrupted. When you are mentally checked out, you simply cannot improve. Should you continue rep after rep until failure you will only gain more bad habits which can compound into confidence issues.
In addition to mental fatigue, your body can be physically drained or tired from a cluster of different things. When your body is tired it is usually evident in your form, and we know that the slightest change in your form can lead to bigger issues as the range of engagement increases. In my opinion, taking your time and shooting ten perfect arrows is better than ten hours of practice when you aren’t performing at your best.
Going through the shot process in your head and executing a perfect release can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when your mind and body aren’t operating correctly. As I touched on in my first article, nutrition — or lack thereof — will compound these effects. Even if you have your backcountry food system dialed, you can develop bad habits from the months of training with “bad reps”.
Through my own exploration of my diet and its effects on target panic, I wanted to create a more in-depth look at the physiological side of this while still keeping it approachable to the average person; I want you to think not just about target panic, but on mental focus and performance in general. I have compiled a list of simple foods that will help you improve your macronutrients and micronutrients while on the road or in the backcountry, further improving your mental and physical presence when competing or hunting.
Proteins – These will help with producing norepinephrine and dopamine which can improve your alertness, reaction speed and overall mental energy. In addition, protein is crucial for recovery in the backcountry as well as for training.
- Fish – Wild Alaskan salmon is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids and lean proteins. Be aware of the differences between farmed salmon, versus wild salmon. Like farmed animals versus wild game, the farmed salmon typically eat unnatural grain products and other ingredients that lead to less nutrition passed on to you. Although, wild Alaskan salmon may not be easy to find all of the time, consider bringing along Heather’s Choice Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder. Their salmon is wild-caught and then cold-smoked. They put six ounces of fresh salmon with carrots, celery, and potatoes in chowder, and lightly season it with dill, cayenne and white pepper. Coconut milk powder makes this meal creamy and calorie rich!
- Unprocessed wild game – If you can have venison steaks or elk backstraps, that’s great! Sometimes it can be tough to travel with meat or find a place to cook them up. Try dehydrating your game meat and making jerky. Jerky tastes amazing and doesn’t require any work to prepare once it’s made.
- Nuts – I have found almonds to be a great snack while on the mountain and to snack on while traveling. They are rich in B vitamins, fats and protein helping give you sustainable, consistent energy. Walnuts and pecans are also good.
- Eggs – When I travel to events such as Total Archery Challenge or Train to Hunt, I always make hard boiled eggs to bring along with me. It saves you money from buying fast food, and gives you the nutrients you need to kick off your day. Having protein in the mornings will give you energy and your blood glucose levels will stay steady.
- Greek Yogurt – This protein rich yogurt has less sugar and more carbs than regular yogurt. If you mix some blueberries in there, you will have a great snack that gives you B vitamins, probiotics, antioxidants and fiber to improve your balanced diet.
Vegetables and Fruits that are lower in carbs, but high in nutrients:
- Broccoli, Kale and Spinach – Containing a high amount of vitamin C, these help control blood pressure and cortisol levels leading to less anxiety under pressure. Kale and Spinach are high in magnesium which will relax your mind and allow you to go through your shot sequence at ease.
- Apples – An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Well, they also decrease anxiety and are high in fiber which makes for a great snack to throw in your pack during a 3D event, such as the Total Archery Challenge.
- Berries – Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are all high antioxidant fruits that lower anxiety. Eat a handful of these in your greek yogurt or alone. If you’re in the backcountry, Buckwheat breakfasts from Heather’s Choice utilize fruits.
Healthy Fat Sources:
- Coconut Oil – Consider small single serving coconut oil packets to add to your coffee in the morning when you’re on the road. It will give you extra energy and increases your healthy cholesterol (known as HDL cholesterol).
- Hazelnut Butter – Low sugar, high in fiber, protein and vitamin E. My personal favorite is adding Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter to my Packaroons. The combination doesn’t look like much, but it will fill you up and give you sustained energy.
- Olive Oil – I carry single serving olive oil packets with me in the backcountry to add to my dehydrated dinners, but can also be added to spinach if you are making a salad before heading to an event. They add extra calories and fats that won’t leave you feeling anxious.
Bars and Snacks that contain the above ingredients:
- EPIC Bars – Whether it’s grass-fed Bison and venison, or wild caught salmon, these bars have the quality protein and nutrition you need on the go.
- Heather’s Choice Packaroons – Lightweight and high in healthy fats from coconut, these cookies will fill you up while tasting great.
- Wilderness Athlete Re-Bars – This isn’t just your typical On-the-Go bar. Wilderness Athlete filled this bar with almonds and berries (depending on the flavor), as well as protein that doesn’t taste chalky like some protein bars.
Limit consumption of these to reduce anxiety and improve mental focus:
- Caffeine – can cause edginess, sleep deprivation and heightened anxiety
- Alcohol – can cause anxiety, lead to dehydration and affect your sleep
- Sugary Foods and Drinks – These high glycemic index foods create an up and down roller coaster of energy levels that will make your anxiety or “buck fever” worsen.
Below is a sample of my daily nutrition for my seven-day backcountry hunt last September. As noted, everyone’s body reacts differently to certain foods, but this is what worked for me.
It’s no secret that improved nutrition will pay dividends while hunting, but each individual is different. Each person must find a nutrition plan that works for them. I can give you a basic outline and foods to try, but only your body can tell you exactly what works the best for you. I can tell you from experience that you don’t want to be in the backcountry in September or the treestand in November when you realize that your body isn’t fond of certain foods… You look forward to that one hunt all year, spending money and time away from your family to create memories to last a lifetime.
If upgrading your nutrition can improve your odds of succeeding in the moment of truth by 10%, why wouldn’t you do it? As a by-product, you will perform better cognitively and physically in your everyday life. By testing out different foods for your specific nutrition, you will learn if you have any food sensitivities and how they may affect you. Just remember, that a balanced diet of macronutrients and micronutrients is key to your body performing at its best — on and off the mountain.