The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt



May 27, 2019

Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesbury

In the era of fad diets, we caught up with expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, to hear his experience balancing diet and expeditions.


Brooke Hess

This is the era of fad diets. Paleo, Raw Foods, Alkaline, Macrobiotic, Ketogenic… they all come with the promise of being a faster, stronger, fitter, and all-around healthier athlete. Endurance athletes are using them to stay lean for long days of cardio. Crossfit athletes are using them to bulk up muscle mass before a big event. Mountain athletes are using them to maintain a perfect strength-to-weight ratio.

But do they work? Is it worth it? To give up sugar, carbs, fat, meat and alcohol in return for this unicorn-type promise of superhuman strength?

Expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, recently adopted a vegan diet with the hope that it would allow him to keep pushing boundaries in the sport as his age pushes into his forties. We caught up with him to ask some questions about how his diet has affected his body, his athletic endeavors, and his expeditions.

TOJ: Can you give us a bit of a background on your athletic career?

“This pursuit has led to over 130 first descents in 36 countries, leading to 2 different nominations for National Geographic Adventurer of The Year and being named in 2016 as Men’s Journals Third Most Adventurous Man Alive

Stookesbury: I have always been an athlete, but at first it was just traditional sports like football, baseball and basketball. I first really started to notice how my diet affected my athletic performance in high school, when I competed as a distance runner and was a part of a Colorado State championship 4 x 800 meter relay team. I took up kayaking when I was a Freshman in College as a part of training to be a raft guide for a summer job in Moab, Utah on the Colorado River. Pretty quickly exploratory kayaking became my life’s passion. Once I had worked through all of the most challenging runs in the guide books, I began going after rivers that had not yet been explored, and quickly realized the endurance component of carrying a heavy kayak – sometimes days into a wild river or around unrunnable stretches of river – was the key to the mission. Since then, I have trained not only my kayaking ability on the river but also my endurance hiking ability off the river. Over the years, this pursuit has led to over 130 first descents in 36 countries, leading to 2 different nominations for National Geographic Adventurer of The Year and being named in 2016 as Men’s Journals Third Most Adventurous Man Alive. Not sure I deserved all that, but it’s this exploratory/expedition kayaking that has kept me motivated and healthy all these years.

TOJ: What were your main reasons for adopting a vegan diet?

Stookesbury: I saw a film called “The Game Changers”, about a wide variety of vegan professional athletes – from a world record powerlifter to a world record long-distance runner, to MMA athletes, to the oldest Olympic gold medalist – all benefiting anecdotally and biologically from a vegan diet. I decided to give it a try to get in the best possible condition for the pursuit of expedition kayaking into my 40’s and beyond. I was sceptical that a purely vegan diet would satiate my appetite, and I initially fought off some serious cravings. I was amazed that within a few weeks I no longer craved meat, cheese, or eggs, and began enjoying a much more diverse diet that seemed to come with a lot less packaging. These days I hardly stray far from the produce section of the grocery store where fresh veggies are unpackaged and mostly ready to eat. That being said, my old favorites of hot-comfort food from burritos to pizza are still on the menu and seem to be so much tastier and healthier than the non-vegan versions I used to eat.

TOJ: How long have you been vegan?

Stookesbury: 13 months and counting. That being said, on a few occasions over that time I have eaten non-vegan meals with some amazing folks that have been kind enough to offer me their food. In that way, I feel like it is more important to graciously share their food than to refuse hospitality. And so my ethos is to choose vegan when I have the choice, which seems to be 99% of the time.

TOJ: How does your diet affect your body athletically? Do you think it has had a positive effect on your overall health?

Stookesbury: 6 months into my veganism, I ran the fastest 5k that I had run since the age of 18 at the age of 40. I am 10 pounds lighter, and endurance-wise, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life.

TOJ: Can you tell me a little about your process of packing food for a multi-day kayak trip? Any foods you always bring on expeditions?

Stookesbury: It really depends on the length of the trip. One constant is a breakfast featuring oats, chia, flax, dried fruit and nuts for its durability and weight-to-energy ratio. If it’s just a few nights on the river, I like to go all in on fresh produce. A root veggie base with broccoli, onion, garlic, and pine nuts is a personal favorite. Also preparing a few days in advance by soaking and cooking beans for hummus and bean dip is a wonderful lunch option. It amazes me that with just a good selection of veggies, all I need to bring is salt and oil and I am good to go and I don’t have to worry about animal protein going bad in summer conditions. For longer trips, I have gone for dehydrated meals, and these days there are plenty of vegan options. But I still bring the most durable fresh produce like garlic, onions, some roots, and greens like arugula to add more flavor and nutrients. Nuts, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate is my personal substitute for an energy bar, and I call it a homemade energy bag!

TOJ: Has it been difficult to maintain a vegan diet while you are on expeditions?

Stookesbury: It takes some focus and forethought, but I think that is mostly because I was in a completely different habit plan for my 39 years leading up to this one. It feels quite empowering to be so much more cognizant of what I am putting in my body, and obviously, there is simply no longer the need to eat much of anything that has all those nasty preservatives.

TOJ: Personally, I have always had a difficult time getting enough calories in my body to sustain energy on a long kayaking trip. Do you have any tricks you use for getting enough calories on expeditions?

Stookesbury: Keeping that “Power Bag” of nuts, dried fruit, and some quality chocolate is a good way to keep your energy up and make snacking easy. But really I like to make sure to plan the time to eat three tasty meals a day. Since the majority of the time I am kayaking with a group, it becomes important to coordinate with my teammates and plan meals so as to share as much food as possible. One thing that also works for me is keeping my caffeine and alcohol consumption low, as those both tend to inhibit my appetite.

TOJ: What does a typical day-long meal plan look like on a multi-day kayak trip?


Breakfast – 150g oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, raisins and walnuts (add a little salt).
Snack – Powerbag
Lunch – Hummus, veg (arugula, beet, carrot, avocado) sandwich
Dinner – 150g Rice, lentils, broccoli, onion, garlic, with or without nuts, salt, and olive oil.

TOJ: Anything else our readers might find interesting about nutrition on expeditions, or keeping up a good amount of calories as a vegan athlete while in the backcountry?

Stookesbury: Many times there is good foraging in the backcountry, like wild greens, berries, and mushrooms. It is a lovely way to spend time off the river and enrich the experience and the meals!

You can follow Ben on Instagram here.


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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.



Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.


TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.


TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD


There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.


TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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