The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 52: Fueling Yourself, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Our body is the engine that powers our wilderness trips. You'll go farther if you know how to fuel it up. This week on The WildeBeat, part two of Fueling Yourself.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number fifty two.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Last time we talked about nutrition for wilderness trips with Mary Howley Ryan. Mary is the nutritional adviser for the National Outdoor Leadership School, also known as NOLS. She wrote their Nutrition Field Guide. She's a masters-level registered dietician, and she consults from her company, Beyond Broccoli, in Jackson, Wyoming. Here's more of my interview.

STEVE: You said before that one has to make sure that they're bringing enough calories for the trip that they're going on. How does one determine the number of calories they're going to need for a trip, and how does one plan to bring enough food to meet those requirements?

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: Well, it depends I think on the length of the trip and some of the particulars we discussed earlier, you know, where you're going, what kind of environment it is... if I'm just going for a weekend, really any time a week or less, I'm not necessarily going to sit down and figure out OK, I'm going to need x-many calories per day. I'm just kind of going to go through and make sure I have enough food to make 3 meals and some snacks during the day. And I think that that's probably realistic for most people... If you're going on a longer trip, then there are some excellent resources to kind of figure that out.

STEVE: How does one find out how many calories they're going to need for a trip out. Is there a way you can calculate that, is there a book you can look that up in, do you have to go by experience? How do you figure this out?

MARY HOWLEY RYAN:'re going to need somewhere between 2500 to 3 thousand calories a day per person. If you want to individualize it, what you could do, is that there are several web sites where you can plug in your information, like your height, weight, age, activity level, and it will tell you how many calories you need to burn per day. In fact, ... is a free web site where you can go and you can find out how many calories you would burn doing a particular activity based on your age, height, and weight... And then I guess the other caveat there, is that if you're going into the high country, if you're going to be at high altitude, or if you're going into a very hot environment, that can affect your appetite. So you might not need as many calories, or you might not want as many calories as your body really needs in that situation... And if you're going on a winter trip, your calorie needs are going to be significantly higher, particularly if your skiing, so you have added gear and weight, bulky clothing, all of that.... That might be a situation where... you might need to kind of wing it, and add a little bit extra just to compensate for those added nutritional needs... So sort of have to go by your own experience, and if you haven't had experience to draw from, then my advice would be to bring more than you think you're going to need. And then, if you eat less, well, at least you had enough to get yourself covered... and I think that on the NOLS courses, too, they found that the first couple of days as students are acclimating to the whole new environment, and carrying heavy loads, and being tired, they don't typically eat their full allotment of calories. But after 3 or 4 days, appetite kicks in, and you know, they sort of make up for it...

STEVE: What people should be packing for weekends and longer trips. The default for most people is to go to their local outfitter and buy a pile of these prepackaged backpacker meals. Is that the best option for most people?

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: Well, it depends on a few things. I think the most important thing it depends on is if you like those foods. I personally have not found a lot of those foods to be all that palatable and I've also found that the portion sizes that they claim on the packages don't really coincide with my appetite in the backcountry, and I'm not alone in that that assessment.

So I would say, if you found some of those that you like, great. They're easy, they're convenient. If you're going on a trip where, say, you're going to do a lot of miles the first day and you want to have a really quick, easy dinner, if you know you won't have a lot of easy access to water or for other things you might need to prepare something a little more complicated, and you want to keep it as simple as possible, great... I still think there are a lot of other options that you can use without having to go to those. And I also think that Americans in general, the trend is we want to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, even on a regular basis, and so there are a lot more of options now for just add water products that aren't necessarily geared to backpacking but can be used in that way.

STEVE: Can you give any examples of some of the off the shelf stuff that would be equally adequate to some of the stuff sold by outdoor outfitters?

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: There is a company called fantastic foods that happens to make a lot of just add water type products that I've used in the backcountry. You can find in regular grocery stores. Typically it might be in the health food section of the grocery store because they are vegetarian items. They have a taco filling that's really good. You just add water, you cook it for 5 minutes, you let it sit for another 2 or 3 minutes and it looks, tastes and smells just like taco meat. So that's a great backcountry -- you can do all kinds of things with that. And there's a sloppy Joe mix. Also same thing. that one I think it calls for a small can of tomato paste but you can actually use dried tomatoes or dehydrated tomato powder or something in place of the tomato paste. There are several kinds of couscous that you can buy, or tabouli that you can just add water and cook it just a short period of time or not cook it at all. Several companies have powdered hummus that you can just add water to, and that's great for making quick sandwiches on the trail.

STEVE: OK. Well, to sort of wrap things up, can you think of ...any really important points about planning and understanding nutrition for the backcountry that we haven't talked about so far?

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: When you talk about planning for the trip, I think it's really easy to get swept up in what you should be taking -- which foods and you know, OK, we want to have this meal or that meal and not look at the whole picture of the trip... A lot of those things can get overlooked very easily in planning for the trip, and um, you know, if you only bring things that need to be cooked, for example, and you don't have enough fuel, a few days into it you could really be in trouble.... And I also believe the backcountry is no place for a restrictive diet. So, I know that a lot of Americans are really concerned about weight, and carbohydrates and fat and various things, and you know, and I guess my advice to people going in the backcountry is just go into the backcountry and enjoy it. You know, don't get hung up on do I have, you know, I'm eating too many carbs or am I eating too much fat or you know, I don't have enough protein, or you know, those types of things. I think that having a good balance of nutrients is really important, but I think being kind of obsessive and getting too carried away with it can take some of the enjoyment out of being in the backcountry.

STEVE: Mary Howley Rayan, thank you for talking with me on the WildeBeat today.

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: You're welcome. Thank you, Steve. I appreciate it.

STEVE: We'll hear more from Mary Howley Ryan in a future edition. You can find links to other sources of information about nutrition for your wilderness travels, on our web site.

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Next time — stuff we left out.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number fifty two. Thank you for listening.

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