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Homemade Fuel

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— May 30, 2018

Homemade Fuel

  • When you're going backcountry, stocking up with healthy snacks is crucial.
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When you’re going backcountry, stocking up with healthy snacks is crucial.

When colorado resident heather Legler first started backpacking, she bought snacks to help keep her energy levels up throughout the long, and sometimes grueling, journeys. The only problem was that her go-tos—Pop-Tarts, candy bars and gas station beef jerky—were doing little in the way of fueling her body. They were, however, adding unhealthy levels of saturated fat, calories, sugar, and sodium to her diet.

“It seemed like hiking was an excuse to forget every nutrition rule I ever knew,” recalls Legler, cohost (with husband Josh) of a hiking podcast called The First 40 Miles (thefirst40miles.com). “I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to burn thousands of calories, so I can enjoy junk food.’ But still something didn’t feel right; I went out to experience this pristine wilderness and opened my pack to convenience store food. It just didn’t sync.”

Legler started experimenting with healthy homemade snacks. “I did a ton of reading,” she says. “I don’t have a degree in nutrition, but I knew I could create better trail snacks than what the convenience stores were selling.”

If you’re hitting the trails this summer, making your own lightweight snacks is a healthy and tasty way to go. “It’s a cost-saver, but then you also know what’s going into your food,” says registered dietitian Jessica Crandle, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “You can make snacks that have no added sugar or oils, use the sweeteners of your choice and add things that you know you like.”

Eating Frequency

Crandle recommends that hikers snack every one to three hours, depending on exertion levels. “After 60 minutes of hard work, you need to replenish sodium, carbohydrates, and potassium,” she says. And Legler adds that on high-powered hikes, where you’re pushing your body to its limits for a whole day, the average person burns 3,000 to 4,000 calories. That’s a lot of calories to replenish.

Crandle recommends carrying more than you think you might consume until you get used to your body’s needs, planning for a snack every hour or two. She also explains that when your body is being pushed, it’s more receptive to absorbing vitamins and minerals, saying, “The cells are more hungry and craving that nourishment.”

The Good Stuff

Once Legler started researching healthier snack options, she discovered the most effective ingredients. “It all started with whole foods and a plant-based diet,” she says. “I decided to cut the sugar and refined oil, and use more nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.” After finding her favorites, she released a self-published book called Trail Grazing: 40 High Energy Snacks to Fuel Your Adventures (through Amazon).

When making snacks, Crandle says that combining carbohydrates and proteins is essential. “Carbs help fuel the body, and protein helps you sustain that and keep blood sugar stable,” she explains. “When active, the body also needs antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help you replenish what your body is losing and to support the immune system that helps you stay active.”

According to Crandle, there’s a reason that dried fruit and nuts are a popular choice for hikers. Not only are they lightweight, but they pack a nutritional punch, with the fruit adding the healthy carbs and boosting blood sugar and antioxidants, and the nuts adding valuable protein. But the options don’t end there; here are some others:

Granola—Mix oats with your favorite nuts, sweeteners, and spices to enjoy the benefits of a blood sugar boost, along with high levels of fiber and healthy carbs.

Crackers with nut butter—Make your own crackers (see recipe below), and bring packets of peanut, almond or sunflower butter along for dipping.

Roasted beans—Edamame and chickpeas taste great roasted and are great sources of protein. Dry the beans, mix them with olive oil and your choice of seasoning (garlic, turmeric, curry), and bake at 350°, stirring occasionally, until dry.

Seasoned nut blends—Take boring old nuts up a notch by roasting them with seasonings (see recipe on opposite page). The key here is adding a liquid; lemon or lime juice works well, as does melted butter, egg white, oil or water. Whisk liquid with seasonings of choice, mix in nuts and roast until dry.

Dehydrated foods—For the avid outdoors person, a dehydrator can be a BFF. Try dehydrating meats for protein and fruits, such as banana chips and apples, for potassium and carbs.

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