We’re going to make a confession. Despite having very strong opinions on how to optimally train for mountain hunting, if you’re doing any form of physical training at this point in the year, you’re ahead of the game. Do we believe there are more “mountain appropriate” ways to train than others? No question. We’ve been pretty clear on that point. But we’d rather a person get some exercise than none.
Fitness is a multi-factorial game and success goes far beyond how you train or where you train. The rewards reaped are heavily influenced by three primary factors (in no particular order):
- Your training program.
- Your nutritional habits (note we did not say diet).
- Your sleep patterns.
- Your sleep patterns.
In this article we’re going to scratch the surface on what is arguably the most important of those three: your nutritional habits. The best training program in the world combined with 8 – 10 hours of sleep every night won’t mean squat if they’re not backed up by a solid foundation of quality foods and nutrients.
Now this is a DEEP subject, one that goes far beyond the limitations of this column. It would literally take us years to fully cover this topic. With that in mind, this article is designed to give you a blueprint to build upon. To help you identify the core pieces of the nutritional puzzle to get you started on the path to improvements in a variety of aspects of your life.
Increased energy. Elevated focus. Weight loss. Muscle gain. Increased endurance. Improved recovery. These are all within reach if you follow the guidelines we’ve laid out.
If you’re tired of your energy crashing during the work day, tired of feeling too sluggish to train or to train as hard as you’d like then read on.
More importantly, if you’re tired of hitting the wall a few days into a 10 – 14 day hunt then this article is going to help you.
This is NOT a dieting article. Far from. Diets are, by and large, unsuccessful. What you eat is far more important than how much you eat (within reason). And THAT’S the secret…what you eat.
In the past number of years we’ve seen some truly disruptive nutritional philosophies gain traction across a broad spectrum of the population. The primal/paleo craze is alive and well despite the fact most people thought it was just another fad. More recently, the ketogenic aka low-carb, high fat (LCHF) diet has been making waves and has some compelling data to support it. From athletes to people looking to lose weight or those suffering from chronic metabolic and inflammatory conditions, “clean” eating has become an industry of its own.
And by and large this is a GOOD thing. But it can be hard to sift through all of the science, opinions, conjecture and marketing efforts being thrown at us.
The fact is, nutritional physiology is highly individualized. What works for a friend or family member may not necessarily work for you. To ensure long-term success you must implement a short-term process of experimentation to really drill down on what actually works for YOU.
The absolute key is to start making changes now so you have plenty of time to test your response well ahead of your planned hunt or hunts. Depending on what you have planned this fall, you’re likely 4 – 6 months away from your “main event” of the year. These are the critical months to be experimenting with and reaping the rewards of a nutritional overhaul. The time to start is NOW.
We’ve pooled two close and trusted colleagues to help us outline the basic arguments for why you need to be thinking about your nutritional habits as much as you do your gun, bow, pack or training program.
When it comes to both daily (aka real life) and backcountry (aka hunting) nutritional planning that takes health and performance into account, Heather Kelly, founder of Heather’s Choice Meals for Adventuring, is in our opinion one of the true thought leaders in the field. Most of you should be familiar with her by now.
On supplementation there is no one in the industry more knowledgeable than Mark Paulsen, founder of Wilderness Athlete, the pioneering and industry leading authority on sports nutrition supplementation for backcountry pursuits. Not only does Mark bring decades of coaching and nutritional experience to the table but he also has a team of world class biochemists, nutritional scientists and physiologists on his team at Wilderness Athlete.
Enter Coach Paulsen:
“Establishing healthy eating habits is paramount. Highly processed foods today are generally loaded with fillers, void of nutrients, and have had the fiber removed for longer shelf life.
I think it’s noteworthy that Canadians and Americans are among the most nutritionally educated people on the planet yet neither country is in the top ten when it comes to rankings for health and longevity! What’s that all about? Well, as you can imagine there are many variables, not the least of which are overeating and a general lack of exercise, but let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon.
Most people are aware that the foods they purchase at the local grocery store are inferior to what they used to eat as a kid or perhaps to products purchased at, let’s say, a “Farmers Market”. Who can make the claim that a tomato from a chain grocery store tastes remotely close to a homegrown tomato? Nobody is really even arguing the point.
Research appears to indicate that the lack of vitamins, trace minerals, and associated nutrients (due in part to depleted soils and premature harvesting practices) is a primary factor in many health problems including obesity. The prevailing theory posits that when a body is properly nourished the natural response will be a “trigger mechanism” that tells us we’ve had enough, and the desire to continue to eat will diminish. Conversely, when the foods lack sufficient nutrients this natural shut off mechanism is not activated and therefore we continue to eat in pursuit of those precious nutrients that signal satiety (feeling full) and cease the feeding frenzy!
I refer to this oxymoronically as malnutrition induced obesity. I don’t believe everything I read, but I firmly believe, and the research fully supports the fact that everyone can significantly boost their health and improve their overall quality of life by incorporating some high quality supplements.”
As the Coach points out, one of the most significant nutritional issues we face in the 21st century is the highly refined and processed food sources that are produced in our industrialized food system. That’s not meant to be construed as some left leaning hippy shit. It’s just a fact of an efficient, mass production model of food delivery. But it comes at a significant nutrient cost.
Not only are many of these foods deficient in many of the key micronutrients our bodies need to perform, a HUGE proportion of these mass-produced food products are very high in carbohydrates. Specifically, highly refined and therefore quick burning carbohydrates. Pantry staples like grain based pasta, bread, buns, and a variety of “healthy” cereals are utterly jammed with these fast burning carbohydrates that are basically metabolic grenades. They just blow up our blood sugar levels in a very brief period creating a cyclic spike and crash effect. And although for years carbs and even “carb loading” were considered essential for people training at even a moderate level, the rules have changed.
Enter Heather Kelly:
“Nutrition is often simplified into three basic macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Micronutrients are our vitamins and minerals, and absolutely key to nutritional success and overall health. Unfortunately, many important micronutrients are lacking in much of our food choices these days due to processing and mass production techniques.
Which of these macronutrients do you think is the easiest to get a hold of? You guessed it, carbohydrates. Most people WAY overestimate the amount of carbohydrates they need to fuel daily life and their training sessions and actually need more protein and fat. But aren’t athletes supposed to eat lots of carbohydrates and even “load up” on even more carbohydrates in advance of a big event or trip?
Yes, sustained exercise programs require some carbohydrates. In human metabolism, carbohydrates are the body’s “preferred” fuel source because they are easy (aka quick) to burn and therefore access for fuel. Eat a banana and your body has an easy to digest, almost immediately available source of calories that you’re able to cook through in no time.
The problem is if you’re eating too many easy to digest carbohydrates throughout the day, you burn through those calories pretty fast, and then you have to keep loading up with more carbohydrates to refuel. Your body basically becomes “hooked” on them and you’re constantly going through the highs and lows of blood sugar management. If you have trouble with blood sugar regulation, meaning you find yourself “bonking” during the day or during your training sessions, then I’m speaking your language.
You need and want carbohydrates for quick, explosive, and high exertion movements and efforts. You do not need a lot of carbohydrates to fuel the majority of your day-to-day life.
In contrast your body’s other fuel source, fat, takes much longer to digest and metabolize. The benefit to this is that if you incorporate more high-quality fat into your meals, you will feel fuller for longer, have more sustained energy levels, and won’t experience the “bonk” because your body doesn’t run out of fuel. The average person can live for weeks without food (water is a different story) and this is entirely due to the fat stores we carry around in our bodies day in and day out…even if you’re already quite lean.”
In summary, both the Coach and Heather have outlined a few key points:
- Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals play an integral role in regulating hunger and metabolic processes essential to daily life and training, recovery and performance. Supplementation is key.
- Highly processed carbohydrates should be minimized or eliminated…within reason…we’re big believers in the 80/20 rule although when it comes to nutrition we prefer a 90/10 rule. Eat clean but don’t be afraid to cheat now and then.
- “Good” carbohydrates are a necessary macronutrient in our diets but should comprise a lower percentage of our total caloric intake than has been conventionally recommended.
- High quality fats and proteins are essential for hunger management and blood sugar (aka energy) regulation.
But the question remains, where the hell do you start? How does this look in the real world? How does it all apply to your hunt or hunts coming up this fall? And last, do you really need to worry about all this shit?
Implementing these changes at home is relatively easy. It boils down to making the choice to make a change and sticking to it. Following the guidelines we’ve listed below will produce results.
Proper micronutrient supplementation is the easiest part by far. The supplements we’ve listed below are readily available and take no more “work” to incorporate into your life than simply opening a package or bottle and taking the recommended dosage. If you can’t manage that, there’s no point in reading any further.
On the pure diet (aka what you eat) side of the coin, it will take a little more work. The obvious outcome we’re focused on in this column is increased performance in the backcountry. And this is the most compelling argument for why NOW is the time to focus on this topic. It takes time to “train” the body to readily use different fuel sources like fat, especially if you’ve been following a conventional Canadian or American diet. But in our opinion, backcountry hunting is THE activity where a higher fat, lower carb fueled diet truly shines.
This excerpt from an Outside Magazine (online) article summarizes the benefits to the backcountry hunter:
“The basic logic of the high-fat approach is simple. An average person can store about 2,500 calories of carbohydrates, enough to last a couple of hours; in contrast, even the slimmest of athletes has something like 50,000 calories of fat ready and waiting. If, by subsisting on a higher fat diet, you can train the body to burn primarily fat rather than carbohydrate, then you’ll never run out of fuel, and you’ll be freed from the need to suck down nausea-inducing quantities of gels and sports drinks.”
Translation? You’ll more easily sustain your energy when you’re training and even more importantly, in the backcountry when it matters most. You’ll be able to carry a lighter pack due to the reduced need to carry bars and snacks to constantly re-supply carbohydrate stores.
Putting the backcountry aside for a moment, from an overall health standpoint the benefits are even more substantial. Reducing your dependency on quick burning carbs and elevating your intake of protein and healthy fats will quite literally, change your life. If you’re looking to lose some weight there is no faster way to do so AND sustain that weight loss. If you’re looking to add and keep lean muscle mass (NOT bulk up), again this is the fast track when combined with the appropriate exercises. During the workday you’ll experience less post meal or post snack fatigue.
Long story long, we couldn’t believe more strongly in this nutritional approach. We’ve outlined the blueprint below. To be clear, this is just a starting point. You will likely want to play around with carb, protein, and fat ratios and the foods that provide those macronutrients. From a supplementation standpoint, it’s always a good idea to do your homework on the brand and the manufacturing processes and their quality standards. This is one of the key reasons we are proud to work with Wilderness Athlete. Two other companies to consider for supplements are Primal from the Primal Blueprint crew and Onnit. Like Wilderness Athlete, both these companies do everything they can to source and produce the highest quality products available.
JOMH KEYS TO NUTRITIONAL SUCCESS
1) Eat as much food as possible that does not come in a package, this excludes supplements obviously. Best course of action here is to do a “purge” of your cupboards and re-stock with the foods on Heather’s list (link below).
2) Start with a macronutrient profile of 40/30/30 for carbohydrates/proteins/fats respectively and adjust based on your response day to day, in training and on some “test runs” shed hunting or scouting. Refer to Heathers list of preferred foods in Why Your Diet Sucks for specific food guidance.
3) Start to play around with intermittent fasting. Easiest approach here is to skip breakfast. Yes skip breakfast. This helps “train” the body to become more fat adaptive. The only reason we wake up alive and breathing is because our fat stores allowed it. This can be a tough transition but if you stick with it, we guarantee you’ll be surprised by the results. If you try it and get the hunger grumble mid-morning, drink a glass of water. This tends to get you to lunch. Alternatively you can start with a high fat, moderate protein, ZERO carb breakfast to help train the body to not “need” carbs to get going at the start of the day.
4) For supplements, incorporate a high quality multivitamin and Omega 3 supplement on a daily basis. Wilderness Athlete has both in their product mix. Onnit also produces an excellent Krill Oil supplement that some people prefer to a fish oil derivative but it’s more costly. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are integral for muscle function and recovery if you’re training on a regular basis, especially as your training volume ramps up in approach to the season. Wilderness Athlete’s Hydrate & Recover has a nice dose of BCAAs within each serving but there are also “pure” BCAA powders you can buy and simply mix with water. Do your research here. Read Matt Thompson’s Recovery article for more details on Omega 3s and BCAAs. He covers these two specifically in depth in that article.
5) For snacks, both in the backcountry and on a day-to-day basis stay away from the typical “grab and go” options like muffins, cookies, banana breads, gels, high sugar bars, etc. Don’t be afraid to indulge every now and then but keep these to a minimum. Heather’s Packaroons are an incredible, easy to pack, high fat snack option that will keep you going at home or in the field. If you’re more of a DIY kind of person, try the Powerball recipe we published a few months back. Another option is a tablespoon of coconut butter or a blended coconut and almond butter.
6) High fiber is key for “gut flora” and the synthesizing of fat-soluble vitamins. The best source of fiber will be fruits and vegetables but if you’re someone that blows out the door in the morning a high protein, high fiber supplement like Wilderness Athlete’s Meal Replacement and Recovery Shake or Primal Fuel from the Primal line is a great “on the go” option.
7) For your actual hunt, forget Mountain House. That’s right. MH and all the other standard brands are JAMMED with shitty, quick burning carbs. Try Heather’s line of amazing backcountry meals, you’ll never go back. A word of caution, these are VERY different from the norm so test before you take them into the field. Some people find them a little rich and you may want to pack some extras like tortilla shells or wraps and shredded cheese to combine with these very nutrient dense meals. We’d also recommend packing a magnesium supplement on your hunts. It’s an integral mineral for recovery and readily available in our diets BUT it’s predominantly found in plants. Not something we typically take on extended backcountry hunts! You can read more about this very important mineral in the Recovery article referenced above.