With a long weekend and our packs packed, Mud and I set off to find a place to walk. Our plan is to hike on the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) as far as possible. This is the trail that connects the Continental Divide Trail with the Pacific Ocean, traversing the mountains of Montana, Idaho and Washington. It's 1200 miles long, and practically in our backyard! On Saturday morning we find ourselves on the Olympic Peninsula with maps in our hands. We compare the GPS dot on our phone to the red line on the PNT maps. The PNT goes through the town of Port Townsend, down the highway and cuts into the Olympic National Forest through a small gravel road. We drive around, chasing the trail until hours later we find ourselves at a trailhead.
And we're off! Except that we've driven so far that we're off the maps we originally printed and not quite on the PNT. We're at the trailhead for Mt. Townsend, a place we never intended to be. But then again, we were never quite sure where we intended to be. Anyway - there's a trail, and our packs are ready, so we walk.
Soon we're climbing above the clouds, quads burning, propelling ourselves with our trekking poles past the day hikers. The trail takes us higher and higher and is completely snow-free out here on the Peninsula. The landscape is moody and dramatic. At the top we cross a ridge with howling wind and sporadic raindrops. The cold wind that was my most hated enemy on the PCT in the desert now feels like an old friend. It pierces through all our barriers, forcing a connection. To the earth. To reality. This is exactly where I want to be.
Then we walk down and there is no wind, no rain. Just sun and shadows following us as we navigate against the pull of gravity. I slip in the loose dirt and gravel, my legs too weak from climbing. If I didn't have my poles I'd probably tumble down the entire way. So steep! At the bottom we find a creek, a wooden shelter and a fire ring and call it a day. It's quiet here in the woods. Silent except for the rushing sound of water. I try to soak in the silence. I wish I could bottle it up and take it with me to keep me safe against the noise and distractions. Everything seems too loud since we left the desert last November.
In the morning we walk the velvet, wooded path lined with moss and ferns. Before we know it we're climbing out through a canyon, speckled with wildflowers! Everywhere we look is beautiful and exciting. This is why Washington is so amazing. The trail constantly changes and entertains. We climb to a forest, then a meadow, then straight up relentless switchbacks before we're at last walking the crest of Marmot Pass. We are tiny specs in the panoramic expanse. Mountain peaks tower just bellow a bed of clouds in every direction. A grumpy old mountain goat resides up here - we saw him last time. We look for him now but he must be hiding. We hide too, in an outcropping just before the pass, to eat lunch.
Down the other side we go, as if descending back into the life of a city-dweller. The views become less and the people become more. Like waking slowly from a dream. We arrive at a trailhead where our car is not parked and spend a few hours walking on the gravel road. We eventually put our hitchhiking skills to work and get a ride the last 5 miles to where the car waits.
And then we have wheels again and suddenly the power to go anywhere, at any time, oh so fast. It is both wonderful and burdensome. We drive back to our front-country lives to play the games we play. Just waiting for the next hike.
A study released in February made quite the splash in the sports nutrition world. Scientists compared junk foods, such as hamburgers, fries and soda to standard athletic supplements like cyatomax, gatorade, powerbars and cliff shots as they relate to exercise recovery. To do this, they asked 11 cyclists to come to their lab after fasting for 12 hours, do a 90-minute interval workout, rest for 4 hours, and then complete a 20 kilometer time trial. During the four hour recovery period, they fed them either a junk food meal or sports supplement meal that was equal in calories, protein, carbohydrate and fat. They then measured outcome markers such as glycogen, insulin, glucose, blood lipids as well as the general energy levels and feelings of the athletes during the next session.
And what did they find? There was no different between the two groups in time trial performance, lab values or general acceptance of the food. The cyclists on the junk food diet had the SAME results as those on the sports supplement diet. Results showed the diets to be equal in terms of short-term athletic recovery. Results did NOT show that junk food worked better than sports supplements, let's just get that clear.
So, let's break this down. What does it really mean? Should we throw out our cliff bars and get some fries? Make a pit stop by McDonalds on our way home from a long hike?
The point is that sports supplements are sometimes just an expensive marketing ploy aimed at athletes, and may be no better than the worst foods out there. The point is NOT that we should be eating junk food for recovery, or for anything at all.
Junk food is not for athletic recovery. Junk food is not food.
That being said, there's an important problem with this study - it was only a short term measure of some very specific outcomes. It didn't take into account the whole picture. In a post-work out, depleted state, our muscles are searching and desperate for glucose. This means that ANY form of sugar will do the job.
What the study didn't look at was how the athletes felt the next day. Sore? Tired? Ready for another time trial? True recovery is more than just replenishing glycogen (muscle energy) storage. That's important, sure. But what's also important is all the tiny repairs that need to be made and inflammation to be tamed. For this, you need not only carbohydrates, but vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. That's why foods like berries and beets have gotten such a strong reputation for boosting athletic performance.
Junk food also has a plethora of negative health effects. No matter how much you exercise, you can't run (or hike) off a bad diet. That's why we see NFL football players with heart disease and hikers with chronic injuries. This food is strongly linked to serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, hypertension and digestive problems. So, really, is that what we should be eating after a workout? Is that what we should be eating to hike 25 miles, day after day after day?
Instead, eat food that supports our body's natural ability to heal and prevent disease. Eat plants! Smoothies, fruit, nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, vegetables.
Check out these videos to learn more about plants that can help athletic performance (way more than both junk food and sports supplements).
Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries
Raisins vs Jelly Beans for Athletic Performance
Doping with Beet Juice
This study isn't the only one to compare two ineffective interventions and get blown up by the media. This happens a lot - a bad diet is compared to a slightly less bad diet, and suddenly... butter is back! In the face of all this confusion regarding what we humans should eat, don't let this sensationalism confuse you.
Eat plants. And keep things simple.
Just a little reminder here - the public comment period for the Dietary Guideline Recommendations ends Friday, May 8th. It's really important for everyday people just like you to submit your opinion! And it doesn't take long, if you don't want it to.
Click here to go directly to the report itself and make your comment.
Or click here to read my summary in a previous blog post and a sample comment that you can copy/paste/edit as you see fit.
As part of my internship, I was lucky enough to attend the Oral Testimony meeting on this report at the National Institutes of Health in DC. Let me tell you, it's crazy what those food industry folks are trying to spin as science to get their way within the Dietary Guidelines. But also, there's a strong level-headed science-based community of health and non-profit organizations rallying against the craziness and picking up speed swiftly. It's inspiring.
No new adventures to report, though we did manage to get ourselves out to Ross Lake for a weekend trip a few weeks ago. Mud is discovering the wide world of Biostatistics as he prepares to start a Master of Public Health program at Bastyr University next fall. He is officially accepted and ready to change the world. YAY!
Bug is living the life of a Dietetic Intern. A few months here, a few months there. She's looking forward to spending the summer in the little town of Willits, California interning at a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital. But for now, it's all vegetable-chopping, poster-making and temperature-taking in the kitchen at Bastyr.
We have hopes and dreams of getting out the dehydrator, making some rockin' plant-based meals and setting out to climb mountains sometime soon.
If you have any nutrition questions, hiking questions, or just things you'd like to see addressed here on the Nourishing Journey Blog, let us know!! You can post a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We love questions. And new ideas.
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