Tips for Planning Your Backcountry Menu

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Thank you for tuning in to our first #FoodFactFriday Facebook Live Q&A. The idea behind this is that you guys have a ton of fantastic nutrition questions and we want to make sure all of those are getting answered. First, I want to start off by telling you a little about myself and why I care about your nutrition and what you’re eating. I was raised in Alaska and grew up eating really healthy food and wanted to make sure that I was eating healthy for various college sports. I took it upon myself to learn everything that I could about sports nutrition and ended up graduating from college with a degree in evolutionary nutrition from Fairhaven College at Western Washington University and additionally I went on to study at the Institute of the Psychology of Eating. I ultimately wanted to help people cultivate a healthy and satisfying relationship with food.

After college I went to Colorado, where I was pursuing my raft guiding career. I took it upon myself to start working with athletes at my local Crossfit gym to start teaching them about nutrition. This turned out to be super satisfying and fun. I did that for over five years through my first business OpeNutrition. Still to this day I really enjoy the whole process of helping people figure out what to eat in order to squeeze the most performance out of their nutrition. Once I moved home to Alaska I learned it was really hard to apply my really high calorie paleo rich diet to the backcountry. This ultimately evolved into Heather’s Choice. I decided I wanted to start dehydrating really high quality food and making it fit into a bear canister so I could eat just as healthy on these backcountry trips as I was at home. That’s what brings me here and why I’m passionate about talking to you guys about what to pack for your backcountry trips.

I think a really good place for us to start when talking about backcountry food is actually ‘What are you eating at home?’ I strongly advocate for a whole foods nutrition plan. You can get the most nutrition and the most quality from whole foods; sweet potatoes, apples, lean meats, nuts and seeds, green vegetables, etc. When I’m recommending nutrition plans to people I want them to look at the macronutrient breakdowns (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) of what they’re eating.

Start by using a program like Myfitnesspal or any other food tracking app. This will give you the opportunity to see how many proteins, carbohydrates, and fats on a daily basis. I would encourage you to strive for a macronutrient breakdown around 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fats. I highly recommend testing your backcountry nutrition. Find out what works well for your body by tracking your food intake on day hikes. Find out what number of calories you need to maintain on an average day and consider bringing nearly double that number into the backcountry.

Are there some foods that are better for dehydrated meals than others?

This is where people have a hard time dehydrating their own food, because a lot of the time people try to take their favorite high fat recipes, throw them in the dehydrator and hope that they turn out. It’s actually really hard to dehydrate fats, so that’s why we use coconut milk powder in a lot of our products here at Heather’s Choice. Which foods dehydrate well? All of your favorite carbohydrates and all of your favorite proteins dehydrate super easily. You can make jerky, apples, raisins, but fats are a little more difficult.

Do you use supplements in the backcountry?

I only take stuff into the backcountry that I would use at home. My favorites are Magnesium, probiotics in a powdered form. I’ve tried to do fish oil supplements in the backcountry, but it’s just gross. I can’t find a product that can tolerate a lot of heat. The supplements I recommend to people would be the things you’ve tested at home and know you respond well too, everything else is going to come from whole foods.

What types of foods do you suggest for a cook-free backcountry lunch?

I personally don’t stop for lunch. A lot of the times we’re having a large breakfast option, lots of snacks throughout the day, and then sitting down for a large dinner meal and really beefing up on calories at the end of the day. That way you sleep soundly through the night and keep your metabolism hot all the way into the morning.

Part of the reason I don’t recommend eating a large lunch is because you’ll get lethargic and sleepy now that your body has to send blood to your digestive system to process all of the food. It’s preferable to take in a consistent number of calories throughout the day after you’ve left camp.

My suggestions are jerkies, fruit leathers, dried fruits, salamies, roasted salted nuts, nut butters, hard cheeses, and coconut products like Packaroons. This is where you really want to make sure you’re planning your backcountry menu. Make sure that you have 500-1000 calories worth of snacks for each day. I recommend eating salty and sweet snacks to keep your it interesting and make it easier to consume a large number of calories.

What snacks do you recommend in the backcountry?

How do you recommend getting a good understanding of personal calorie needs in the backcountry?

Start by logging your food at home and then nearly double that calorie intake for the backcountry. If you go into the backcountry and you feel like you’re withering away and losing muscle mass, I would suggest trying to eat close to a gram of protein for every pound of body fat while you’re in the backcountry. That means you’re going to want a lot of protein at breakfast, protein rich snacks, and lots of protein at dinner to help reduce the amount of muscle waste.

Can we add fat back to our dehydrated meals?

Heck yeah! Let’s say you have a really great chili recipe that you make at home, remove the excess fat and add additional carbohydrates. Then add ghee, coconut oil, grass fed butter, or olive oil to your dehydrated meals.

Can you talk about sodium content in backpacking foods?

Sodium has been demonized kind of like fat has been demonized. The problem is that got blown out of proportion so now people are fearful of any and all sodium. We actually need 1,500 mg of sodium in our diets every day according to the FDA and we need a minimum of 500 mg of sodium a day just to survive. Now imagine if you’re going into the backcountry and you’re sweating like crazy and losing a ton of water, you’re losing a lot of sodium through your sweat, and you need to be replacing that ideally every hour. That’s why electrolyte replacements are popular. I’ve found that just eating salty snacks like roasted salted mixed nuts and jerkies has always been plenty for me, but if you’re heading for the dessert you might want to consider taking an electrolyte replacement.

What you see in a lot of freeze-dried foods is that they add a ton of sodium as an additional preservative. With dehydrated food, we don’t have to add sodium, because the removal of water is the only preservation process we need. If you’re getting swelling in your fingers or starting to get fatigued it could be a sign that you need more sodium.

What’s your favorite at home dehydrator?

Do your meals have soy?

No they don’t. As a sports nutritionist there’s a handful of things I noticed; everybody felt better when they eliminated gluten, soy, and dairy from their diets. I know I’ve talked about cheeses as a healthy snack to take into the backcountry. I’m talking about aged cheeses which have had the lactose eaten up by the healthy bacteria. It’s low lactose so it’s won’t give people as many stomach problems as homogenized, pasteurized dairy products. We are making a commitment to keep soy out of our products.

Any tips for dehydrating sweet potatoes?

Yes! I like to make sweet potato chips. Take a sweet potato, take a mandolin or cut super thin wafers, spray some olive oil or coconut oil on there, sprinkle some salt on there, and dehydrate until crispy. But I will warn you, I’ve never actually taken these on the trail with me because they always get eaten before we leave the house.

Another fun way to make instant mashed sweet potatoes is to boil them up, remove the skin, put them in a food processor, spread them on the dehydrator tray on top of a piece of parchment paper. This will dry like a fruit leather. Take that sweet potato leather and put it back into the blender and make it into a powder. You’ve just made an instant sweet potato powder! Just add hot water and coconut oil, some shredded coconut, and raisins. It’s so freaking good and packs a lot of calories.

What tips would you give for packing backcountry food for long trips?

I like to take a gallon sized ziplock and pack the entire day’s worth of calories in there. If you’re concerned about space, increase the amount of high calorie fats you’re brining, like coconut oil, nut butters, and ghee. Put those gallon ziplocks at the bottom of your pack and they’ll form a nice solid base. Put your lunch and snacks for the day at the top of your bag and in your hip belt. This also keeps you from overeating snacks designated for days to come.

What do you recommend besides buckwheat for breakfast?

You could be making your own super dense energy bars with a grass-fed whey protein isolate, some really good nuts and seeds in there. Or a gluten-free muesli with powdered milk. I like powdered coconut milk or powdered goat milk. I’ve also made some nonfat yogurt fruit leathers. Take a nonfat fruit yogurt and pair that with canned peaches or another canned fruit. Make that into a smoothie in the blender, then spread that in your dehydrator and make a fruit leather. Slather that with nut butter and roll it up! You can also consider pre-cooked bacon, salami, or dried fruit.

What hot drinks do you like in the backcountry?

Hot chocolate. I make my own with cocoa powder, sugar, coconut milk powder, and a little bit of vanilla bean powder. If I’m going to buy something at the store I want to make sure I avoid corn syrup or any hydrogenated fats. Also, we take Dark Timber Coffee. They make little coffee adventure packs. We also like Alpine Start and Starbucks Via for the backcountry. I also recommend bringing a hot tea that you really like. Additionally Emergen-C packets are a great way to help me drink more water in the morning. If you’re looking for more calories add a scoop of coconut oil or ghee to your instant coffee in the morning for another 200 calories.

Do you plan the number of calories you consume in a day?

To be honest, I’m not super scientific about it. Usually we take a Buckwheat Breakfast, instant coffee, some mixed nuts, jerky, dried fruit, trail mix, Packaroons, ginger chews, dark chocolate, a Heather’s Choice dinner, a hot cocoa packet, and some hot tea. That has been plenty for me on shorter trips, but if I was going out for a lot longer, I would consider bringing an additional 1,000 calories per day.

How do you overcome loss of appetite on high activity days?

The reason why you’re probably struggling is because we do shunt blood away from our digestive system when we’re doing high activity output. This is the basis of my training and eating psychology is that we as humans are really evolved to respond to high intensity things. Schedule time to take breaks for snacks throughout the day and give yourself enough time to take a few deep breaths.

Have some questions of your own?

Join us for our next #FoodFactFriday Facebook Live Q&A on July 14th at 12pm AK (4pm EST). Join our email list or follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

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