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How-To

May 27, 2019

Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesberry

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

WRITTEN BY

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 Stookesberry, 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

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry: 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?

Stookesberry:

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?

Stookesberry: 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.

 

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

A booking platform and an online marketplace which 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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How-To

Jun 24, 2019

Dealing With Dietary Restrictions In The Backcountry.

Gluten intolerance, vegan, Halal, nut allergy, dairy-free, Kosher… whatever your dietary restrictions may be, you don’t have to let it hinder your ability to get out and enjoy the backcountry!

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

We spoke with expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, about his experience of maintaining a vegan diet on long kayaking expeditions. As a guy that needs to hike to remote rivers, nutrition, to maintain endurance is key. As Ben’s puts it “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”.

Read Next: Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesbury

We took Ben’s advice and put together some tips for dealing with your dietary restrictions in the backcountry.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Preparation is Key

It’s easy to head to REI and buy the pre-made freeze-dried backpacker meals. They are easy to prepare, lightweight, and a quick cleanup. The cons? They are expensive, kinda gross, and most likely don’t comply with your food intolerances or restrictions! So, instead of doing that, just prepare your own meals!

Plan your meals ahead of time, so you know exactly what ingredients to shop for before you go on your trip. Crack a bunch of eggs into a nalgene for scrambled egg dinners. Portion out oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips into a ziplock for breakfasts. Make your own granola bars, jerkey, and bread for sandwiches. Know exactly what food you will eat for each meal while you are in the backcountry, and prep it accordingly.

For Stookesbury, planning and preparing his meals before a long trip “takes some focus and forethought… but 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.”

Go With Good People

Unfortunately, some people are not as accommodating of food restrictions of others. I can’t say why, but some people think of food restrictions as “picky eating” and “high maintenance”, rather than a serious medical need or a spiritual belief. The fact that you may get seriously sick from eating gluten, or go into anaphylactic shock from your food being near peanut butter might not quite register on their radar. It doesn’t mean they are a bad people, but it might mean you avoid going on long backcountry trips with them in the future.

Alternatively, there are many people out there who are WONDERFUL to plan trips with. They will go out of their way to make sure you have the food you need, and will often sacrifice their own meal plan in order to include you in the group cooking. These people are the best, and you should keep them in your contacts for future backcountry trips. Sharing food and coordinating meals with the group will save both time and weight while carrying food into the backcountry, so going with good people who don’t mind accommodating your dietary needs is key!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Make Time For Three Full Meals A Day

No NOLS-style meal plans here. Stookesbury says one of the most important parts of expeditioning is “planning the time to eat three tasty meals a day.”

Give yourself enough time in the morning to cook up a hot breakfast. Plan a one hour stop mid-day to prepare a sandwich or wrap for lunch. Give yourself enough time in the evening at camp to cook a meal of veggies, protein, and carbs. Without the ease of the freeze-dried backpacker meals, you will have to put more time into your meal prep. But don’t worry, you’ll be happy you did when you are eating a freshly-prepared meal of roasted veggies and quinoa!

SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS!

Find a bar that works for you. And if you can’t – make your own!

I have spent the past year searching for the best gluten free and dairy free bars. I want the maximum amount of calories and protein, in the smallest possible package. As soon as I found one I liked, I ordered it in bulk on Amazon. I now have a stash of 50+ energy bars in my truck ready to be packed into a drybag, backpack, or ski jacket as soon as the need arises.

If you can’t find one that works with your diet, or can’t find one that you like – make your own! Any combination of dried fruits, nuts, oats, honey, and dark chocolate can make a damn good energy bar. You can find recipes online for homemade bars, then substitute various ingredients to make it work with your diet.

Stookesbury prefers the trail mix method to energy bars. “Nuts, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate is my personal substitute for an energy bar, and I call it a homemade energy bag! 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.”

Other popular snacking favorites include jerky, chocolate-covered almonds, cheese sticks (if you can eat dairy), and nut butters.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Be Prepared To Carry More Weight If Needed

I recently met a woman who has developed a severe allergy to all red meat, due to a bite from a Lone Star Tick. If she eats beef, pork, lamb, or any other red meat, she goes into anaphylactic shock. Even if her food is cooked in the same cast iron pan that has recently been in contact with red meat, she could go into anaphylactic shock. For these reasons, whenever she embarks on a backcountry expedition, she brings all her own cookware (and an EpiPen, just in case). She has learned to be adamant about her dietary needs on trips, and often prepares her food separate from the group. She is well aware that her food restrictions might force her to carry more weight than other members in her group, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her pursuit of overnight expeditions!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Examples of Day-Long Meal Plans for Various Diets:

Stookesbury’s Favorite Backcountry Vegan Meal Plan

Breakfast -150g oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemphearts, raisins and walnuts (add a little salt).

Snack – Powerbag (nuts, dried fruit, vegan chocolate)

Lunch – Hummus, veg (arugula, beet, carrot, avo) sandwich

Dinner – 150g Rice, lentils, broccoli, onion, garlic, with or without nuts, salt, and olive oil.

 

TOJ’s Favorite Backcountry Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Meal Plan

Breakfast – Pre-cut kale scrambled with eggs, avocado, and vegan “cheese”

Snack – Bobo’s gluten free oat bars, apple, and dairy-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Lunch – Gluten free tortillas with peanut butter and jelly

Dinner – Roasted root veggies (sweet potato, beets, carrots, potato), kale, and quinoa, topped with avocado and vegan “cheese” if preferred.

Photo: Brooke Hess

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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