Alli Harvey: Eat right in the outdoors

Alli Harvey
PAUL TOPLE/AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

There is the moment after you've been outside for a while when it feels appropriate to use the word famished.

Low blood sugar is a more modest, scientific way to describe the need to eat in that moment. Saying, "I have low blood sugar," is a way of putting hunger outside of you, of diagnosing a condition you have that should be remedied to maintain proper balance.

"I'm about to fall over," "I am going to gnaw off your left arm if we don't eat something soon," or -- this is the worst -- stony cold hungry silence are other ways to convey the need to consume a calorie or a thousand.

So what's the best way to eat well in the great Anchorage outdoors?

Frequently

We go to the gym to burn calories. There is a doodad we can strap to our arms to see what our heart rate is, and a calculator tells us what we are (supposedly) burning based on our height and weight. This is all very nice, allowing us to wear shorts in the middle of winter and exercise at a precise rate for a predetermined duration.

Conversely, we go outside for a dose of unpredictability. Out there it is sometimes full of stunning snow-capped peaks and vast-beyond-the-imagination beauty. Other times there's harrowing snow-and-ice-in-your-face misery. Usually it's a mixture of both; thanks, Alaska. We take the outdoors as we get it. The outdoors doesn't offer us much choice; it simply is what it is, and that's why, perversely, we enjoy exploring it.

Given this level of unpredictability, we need to keep on our toes. I mean this in both the literal and figurative senses. We must remain upright and energetic (read: full of energy, i.e. calories) and we must also be alert, because, in case other articles in the outdoor genre have not said it enough, outside can be dan-ger-ous.

Bringing along no snacks when heading outside for something longer than a walk around the 'hood is not hard core, it is stupid. If you are not already a parent thinking along these lines, think of yourself as a child to bring on an outdoor excursion. You wouldn't dream of leaving your home without the requisite Cheerios 'n' raisins power-and-happiness pack.

So bring food and water, and snack when you feel yourself lagging. It's incredible what a few comestible units of energy and a swig of H20 will do.

Substantially

Please don't be that person who brings carrots and celery on a snowshoe trip. That person always ends up realizing that the vegetables have turned into inedible Popsicles, and the chocolate I hauled up tastes way better.

Don't get me wrong -- I don't mind sharing. That's actually part of the joy of outdoor excursions with other people. Swapping ideas for trail food and snacks is half the fun.

However, getting outside in winter is just not the time for dieting. The many lettuces and calorically modest roasted chicken breasts will be delightful for dinner, but when you're outside please think about peanut butter, chocolate covered espresso beans, nuts, dried fruit and the like. You need little, compact units of energy that pack a punch, not calorically scant bundles of water that take up a bunch of space in your pack and taste profoundly disappointing when you finally bust them out for the mid-trail snack.

Creatively

I used to think going outside meant I needed to eat Clif Bars. Actually, scratch that -- I was such a sucker for marketing that I thought I needed to eat Luna Bars, which are Clif Bars' sister product marketed to the gals.

Having not eaten a Luna Bar for years, I picked one up at a drug store not long ago to take on a run and was astounded that it tasted like chalky lemon Pine-Sol.

With so many other options out there -- options that are not, frankly, infused with flavors concocted in a perfume lab somewhere in New Jersey, as many items listing "natural" flavor as an ingredient are -- why would we waste our precious taste buds on things that don't taste good?

After you've been outside for a bit, good things taste better and bad things taste worse.

Spiced nuts, figs, dates, fruit leather, peanut M&Ms and any kind of dark chocolate bar involving salt are a few of the greatest things on Earth when I've been out there for a while.

Overall, finding the right balance of eating well and getting outside is a humbling process of trial and error, much like our evolving relationship with food over the course of our lives. Usually people don't need someone like me stepping in to say how it should be done but picking up a few "ah-ha" moments from others can help speed up progress. And I'm telling you, chocolate covered espresso beans are an epiphany, especially at the summit.

Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage

 


BY ALLI HARVEY
DAILY NEWS CORRESPONDENT