On trail, I think of food as fuel to feed the machine. With my experiences and growth in knowledge of food and nutrition in accordance with my ‘machine’ I have tried to improve my diet to improve performance each year. This year on the VL is no different, and I feel I have made some advancements in my diet on trail through off trail lifestyle changes this winter.
One of my goals this winter was to experiment with vegetarianism, in believing that nutrition is the utmost method of powering, increasing recovery time, and providing your body with endurance. I wanted to see how my body would digest food without having meat to ‘work’ on. I purposely have fed myself more vegetables and found other ways of getting protein and fat. Last year on the CDT, I found out I am lactose intolerant. This was a big catalyst to start looking for other means of protein. I, then, found vegetable based protein, TVP and powder-based smoothie mixes, which I will implement into my diet on the VL this summer. The results of this experiment has shown my body to lack in general soreness despite running close to 14 miles per day in some weeks. I believe because I am giving my body the right food/fuel my body is using the energy appropriately and efficiently. Also, my digestion has maintained a fluid efficacy (pardon the pun). Before with meat in my body, I noticed sluggish mornings and a feeling of fullness. This winter’s smooth digestion has been the opposite of sluggish. Overall, I have noticed a positive and tremendous mental and physical effect by going vegetarian.
One concern I have while on trail is binging on unhealthy food while on my in-town stops. Previously on other long distance hikes, I would fuel my body with enough energy while on trail to sustain performance until I got to a town for re-supply. Once in town, I would gorge, eating anything and everything, sometimes eating meals tallying 6,000 calories! Addictive personality, I should think so! However, what I have noticed was that after I left town and embarked on a next section of trail I felt extremely lethargic. I believe that that sluggishness is from not eating the right types of food. When I enter a town my body signals my brain exactly what type of nutrient I need: fat, protein, or carbs. It sounds crazy, but while thru-hiking you become so in tune with your body and surroundings you know exactly what your body needs. My body, nerves, or total oneness, communicate in synchronicity. So, when I hit a town and my body is screaming FAT!!!! I will find the most densely fat source I can scrounge up. I then enter a food coma from hyperphagia. I usually left town walking slowly and gazing at the surroundings in a torpid state. I essentially became disconnected from the environment and self, which in turn can put me in grave danger while on trail. This pattern was frequently repeated and I did not like it. I loved the gorging part but the hangover from the unhealthy food made me feel like shit. My point: rather than just answering the urge of FAT!!!! with unhealthy food with a whimsical choice, I now must be conscious and disciplined in choosing the right types of food to eat when I am in my hyperphagic state.
So, one way to mitigate these pointless urges was to quit drinking alcohol. Basically, I did it to show myself I can quell urges I have within me, whether emotional or addictive, by making sensible choices based on needs rather than wants.
I have broken the meatless diet in the past month, but nothing too indulgent. I wanted to re-introduce meat back into my diet slowly, because I now while I am on the VL, managing emotional and mental stress is of utmost concern. So, the occasional reward with food items I like, like a cheeseburger, will provide me with comfort when I may need to be comforted. Make sense?
I have not broken my alcohol-less diet. We will see… however, I like being sober, especially knowing how good my body and mind feel. The VL is a super-strenuous adventure and I need to be on point. I am in a point in my life doing very challenging things and I need my body to be in the best shape possible. I have to find ways to keep the machine efficient and healthy. From the meatless diet and alcohol-free lifestyle I have maintained a steady lean weight of 190lbs, which is my average thru-hiking weight, where generally in the off-season my weight hovers between 195-200lbs. This too will be an advantage when I start the VL. I will be light and ready to go mashing!