“The best way to predict the future is to create it” – President Abraham Lincoln
This quote is a good example of one that wasn’t intended for health but fits well. If you have a vision for your future self, the only way to become what you want to become is to take action. Sculpt and create yourself so that your vision becomes a reality on your own terms. If you fail to take action toward your goals, the future becomes uncertain, filled with “ifs” and “I don’t knows”. But if you take the steps to own your future, then it can easily be predicted.
You have a dilemma. After a long day at work, you come home to discover the two plates shown on your table ready to eat. You would love to just dig in, but you also realize you’ve been watching your health and need to be careful about what you eat. Both plates look nearly identical. Each has 2 servings of meat, 2 servings of rice, 3 servings of vegetables, 1.5 servings of fruit, and a serving of dairy. But upon further inspection, you realize something is literally a bit salty about one of these dishes. You realize that the meal on the right has 30% more calories, 50% more fat, and 850% more sodium. You decide to eat the meal on the left. But how do two nearly identical meals have such different nutritional contents? Also, why should you care?
The differences between the two meals are as listed: pork vs chicken, light vs regular yogurt, not salted vs salted for taste, “reduced sodium” soy sauce vs no soy sauce, added sugar to sweeten the smoothie vs no added sugar, processed and packaged white rice vs whole brown rice, and boiled rice vs stir fried rice. If there is one thing I want you to learn from this article is that when it comes to food, there is always a “versus”. You always have options for adding an additional ingredient or substituting foods, and by substituting the right foods and using the right ingredients, the same meal can be significantly healthier for you. Let’s discuss each of these food showdowns.
Pork vs Chicken: Pork has about 25 more calories than chicken per serving, and about 3 times as much fat. By switching from pork or beer to fish or chicken, you can significantly decrease the amount of fat you are consuming.
Light vs Regular Yogurt: Both of the yogurts used in the two meals were very sweet, dessert tasting yogurts. However, the light yogurt had 90 calories per serving as opposed to 150 calories per serving, contained only 80 mg of sodium as opposed to 190 mg of sodium, and was fat-free compared to its counterpart which packed a couple grams of fat. Switching from normal to light yogurt is a good way to cut back on overall calories, fats, and sodium without eating less. We will discuss why you might want to do this later in this article.
Salted vs Not Salted for Taste: The meal on the right was lightly salted for taste. Just 1/4 teaspoons of salt contains 580 mg of sodium which is 25% of your recommended maximum daily sodium intake. A light salting of your food will more than likely skyrocket your sodium quota (and your blood pressure).
“Reduced Sodium” Soy Sauce vs No Soy Sauce: Many people enjoy eating their rice and vegetables with soy sauce and purchase a reduced sodium soy sauce thinking it is healthy. One tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce has 570 mg of sodium, almost as much as the 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Just two tablespoons spread out among your meal can put you at 50% of your daily max value for sodium.
Added Sugar to Sweeten the Smoothie vs No Added Sugar: When you go to a restaurant and order a smoothie, they will normally add simple syrup, a solution that is mostly just sugar and water. Most fruits already have enough natural sugars to make them sweet, so next time you make a smoothie at home, try making it with just fruit blended with water. This will help keep the calories down, and will still taste very good.
Processed and Packaged White Rice vs Whole Brown Rice: White rice is often fortified to have about the same benefits of brown rice, but the point to make here is if you take a food that you can but fresh and whole, and then package it, the company is almost always going to add sodium to increase the shelf life of that product. Choosing processed over whole foods will almost always increase your sodium intake.
Boiled Rice vs Stir Fried Rice: When you stir fry rice, you are adding additional oil, thus you are adding additional fat and calories into your diet. The extra oil in the right side meal saw a significant increase in calories just from the small amount of extra oil it took to stir-fry the rice. This doesn’t take into account any added ingredients that are usually added to rice such as egg and additional vegetables.
So why is increasing your calories, fat, and sodium bad for you? To keep it short, increased calories may lead to weight gain, increased fat may lead to heart disease, and increased sodium may lead to high blood pressure. By not eating an excessive amount of calories, fats, and sodium, you will likely stay free of illness, as well as look and feel better. That is why it’s important to be very cautious about how much you salt your foods, how much salt is in the foods you are purchasing, and that we look for alternatives to high-fat foods such as replacing pork with chicken. Also, be aware of what sauces and seasonings you are adding to your foods. Ketchup, BBQ sauce, steak sauce, and soy sauce are just a few examples of sauces that will add extra sodium and calories to your meal. This happens in restaurants all the time! What your eating may look and sound healthy. However, they may have added excess oil and salt to make it taste better.
The same meal with a few non-cosmetic changes can make or break your diet, always be on the lookout for hidden nutritional contents such as additional sodium, fat, and calories.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige
“I’m getting old” is a common phrase heard from someone who is groaning while standing up, hand on their lower back supporting the tightness and pain. A common reply might be “age is but a number”, and this is very true. Our age often defines us, but what if your birth date was never recorded. If the record of your age is only how you look and feel, what age do you think you would be? If your real age is 40, if you’re in great shape and healthy the answer may be lower, and higher if you are carrying a few extra pounds and added stress. The truth is once you get older, age may as well be measured as years remaining rather than years lived. So how old are you?
In The Mountains are Calling Part 1, we discussed the importance of general health and fitness during the off-season. But now the hiking season is just around the corner, and we need to get more specific with our training. The law of specificity is a fitness term that tells us that to get better at a sport or activity, one must practice that activity. Hiking is no different. To get better at hiking, you need to hike. That is why to avoid getting beaten by the unbeaten trail, you must begin to practice hiking before the season begins.
That doesn’t mean completely stop your general health and fitness routine that you were doing during the off-season. It just means that a month or two before you get back out hiking, you should ease back into it. To practice getting back into hiking shape, you should first set your goals for the season. If your goal is to through hike a thousand mile section of trail, then your training will take longer than someone trying to accomplish a 15-mile day hike. Regardless, it all starts with strapping on your pack and getting out walking as part of your workout. A couple months away from the hiking season, start with shorter hikes with the weight you plan on carrying with you during the season. If you plan on having a 30-pound pack, then throw on 30 pounds and go for a three-mile walk. If you feel like your goal weight is still too heavy, start with lower weight and work your way up to it. To add weight to your pack without actually loading it up with food and water, you can put a medicine ball or a plate weight in the pack to give you the weight you want. If you are unable to get outside to do some pre-season hiking and/or walking, then you can use a treadmill to train. This works very well when it’s cold out, or when you want to train for steep hills. Just set the treadmill to the elevation you want to keep walking!
As the season draws closer, you can walk more and add additional weight. During this time you also want to continue with your general fitness routine. Keep doing resistance training a couple times per week, eating healthy, doing calisthenics, and jogging/running. Here is what a sample plan may look like for someone preparing for a 1 week, 100-mile hike in the mountains with a 40-pound pack.
Last Week of Off-Season Training:
Sunday: Recovery day
Monday: Resistance Training Upper Body
Tuesday: 3-mile walk or jog
Wednesday: Resistance Training Lower Body
Thursday: Cardio exercise of choice
Friday: Recovery day
Saturday: Full-body calisthenics circuit
First Week of Pre-Season Training (4 weeks until hiking trip):
Sunday: Recovery day
Monday: 3-mile variable incline walk on treadmill with 30-pound pack
Tuesday: Resistance Training Upper Body
Wednesday: Resistance Training Lower Body
Thursday: Recovery Day
Friday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
Saturday: 15-mile outside day hike with 20-pound pack (trail food permitted)
Second Week of Pre-Season Training (3 weeks until hiking trip):
Sunday: Recovery day
Monday: 3-mile incline walk on treadmill with 40-pound pack
Tuesday: Resistance training (upper and lower body)
Wednesday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
Thursday: Recovery Day
Friday: Full-body calisthenics circuit
Saturday: 15-mile outside day hike with 30-pound pack (trail food permitted)
Third Week of Pre-Season Training (2 weeks until hiking trip)
Sunday: Recovery Day
Monday: 3-mile incline walk on treadmill with 50-pound pack
Tuesday: Full-body calisthenics with a focus on your legs
Wednesday: 4-mile walk or jog no weight
Thursday: Recovery Day
Friday: Full gear test – Overnight camp with approx 5 miles of hiking after work
Saturday: 15-mile day hike with 40-pound pack (trail food encouraged)
Final Week of Pre-Season Training
Sunday: Recovery Day
Monday: 3-mile incline walk with 40-pound pack
Tuesday: Full-body calisthenics workout
Wednesday: Recovery Day
Thursday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
Friday: Recovery Day
Saturday: Depart for Hiking Trip / Recovery Day
Sunday: Begin 100-mile hike
Hiking can be a strenuous activity, and like any activity or sport we should train up to our more difficult events. By training your general fitness during the off-season and gradually getting more specific with your training as your hiking season or trip grows closer, you will find yourself feeling better than ever while overlooking the mountain range you just finished climbing, or after finishing a hike you never thought was possible.
“You are one decision away from a totally different life” – Unknown
Have you had a moment in your life when everything seemed to change, such as meeting your future spouse, having a kid, or a near death experience? These experiences are the ones that define and change who we are. While events like these are often unexpected, they can also be driven by decisions that you make. Choosing to make small changes now to live a healthier life, even if they’re small, could be one of those life changing events. One decision to make a small change to your diet or exercise patterns could lead to a happier, healthier life.
The mountains are calling, the sands are beckoning, but you’re worried the unbeaten path is going to beat you. That’s fine because you have time to train and build up to your hikes. Whether you are preparing for a 2000 mile thru-hike or a 5-mile day hike, there are tips and tricks you can use to increase your hiking fitness before you hit the trail.
First, I want to discuss the training schedule of athletes. Regardless of what sport an athlete is training for, there is often a difference in training between off-season and the in-season. During the off-season, athletes often focus more generally on their fitness, while as the season gets closer they tend to focus more on sport specific fitness. For example, a cyclist during the off-season may be in the gym weight lifting more often to build leg and core strength before they go back to cycling every day to prepare for the season. We can do the same thing for hiking. During winter when you are likely not out hiking, you can prepare for the season by practicing general fitness. Here are some ways you can prepare for the hiking season by improving your overall fitness:
Resistance Training: The off-season is a great time to strengthen your legs, hips, core, back, and shoulders. Weight lifting to strengthen your upper body can help you carry the loads of a heavy pack. If you’ve ever finished a hike and your shoulders and back were very sore, you can help prevent that by strengthening these muscles before you hit the trail. Also, strengthening your legs and hips will greatly improve how you feel during a hike. Hills will become no problem with a strong set of calves and quads.
Calisthenics: While resistance training will build strength, calisthenics will build muscular endurance. Better muscular endurance will keep your muscles running efficiently throughout even the longest hikes. By doing squats, lunges, leg lifts, crunches, push-ups, calf-raises, and other calisthenics of your choice, you will prepare your muscles for extended periods of stress which is what you experience while hiking.
Walking/Jogging: By walking and jogging during the off season you will help keep your body adapted for walking long distances, and you will improve your cardiovascular endurance.
Nutrition: What you eat during the off-season shouldn’t be what you eat while on the trail. Trail food is often high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium which helps you maintain energy on the trail. During the off-season try to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. There is nothing better for off-season hikers than eating unprocessed fresh foods. They usually have low sodium, no trans-fats, and ample dietary fiber as opposed to their processed counterparts. As a hiker, if it comes packaged try not to eat it during the off-season. Your health will thank you since once hiking season comes around, packaged processed foods are almost all you will be eating while on the trail. A 10-mile hike will burn over 1000 calories, so if you eat as much as you eat on the trail while off the trail, you will begin to gain weight.
Weight Control: This brings us to weight control. During the off-season stay fit and skinny. As a hiker, you’re always looking for ways to reduce the amount of weight in your pack. Turns out one of the best ways to reduce your carried weight is to burn away your own fat. For some general tips for weight loss and weight control check out this article on weight loss basics.
The off-season is your time to work on your overall fitness and health. Once the hiking season begins to draw closer, you will want to start getting more specific with your training to prepare for your hikes. Stay tuned because next week we will discuss pre-season hiking fitness!
“People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty” – Timothy Ferriss
In general, we are not risk takers. Once we get into a routine, that routine becomes very hard to break. So instead of changing, we choose to stay the same partly because we don’t know what the results of the change will be. Getting into a rut that isn’t good for your health, such as eating junk food or not exercising, can be hard to break, especially when there’s a voice in the back of your head saying that no matter what you do, you won’t be able to reach your goals. Although there is uncertainty in making a lifestyle change, you can’t let your previous actions stay and become your future actions, because you will stay where you’re currently at, unhappy about not reaching your goals.