Have you ever wondered why beef jerky from places like Gio's Jerky, trail mix, and dried fruits seem to be the staple for those who are roughing in in the wilderness? There's actually more reasons than you think why these foods are ideal for high-exertion adventuring. Science and a little common sense can show why certain foods are best for the experiencing the wild in a healthy and energetic way.
Most Americans are familiar with some type of beef jerky-- even if it's the kind you pick up in the convenience store on a road trip. However, beef jerky is a great survival food because:
- it doesn't need to be cooked. Protein on the trail can be more difficult to cook and preserve. Because beef jerky (or other types of meat jerky) is trimmed of fat, cured and dried, it has little chance of spoiling, even in intense heat.
- it has a high salt content. Salt is essential for most body functions. Normally, Americans get plenty of salt from additives and fast food, but the story is different on the trail. You lose salt daily as you sweat, and your electrolytes can quickly become unbalanced. This is dangerous, as it could lead to nerve damage, fainting, and even heart problems. Salty foods like chips are not as easily transported as jerky, nor are they as nutritious.
- it is a good source of iron and protein. Most iron in the diet comes from fruits, vegetables, and meats. Because all of these are perishable, it is difficult to meet iron needs after a few days on the trail. Protein is also a problem. Protein is what helps your body to repair itself after a day of strenuous hiking. Because normal protein sources are so hard to transport, jerky ends up being the ideal solution, as a the dried meat provides enough daily protein in just a small portion.
Trail mix recipes vary, and can contain anything from sunflower seeds to chocolate candies. However, trail mix has some awesome components that are really ideal for wilderness living, including:
- a high fat content. Fat provides more energy per gram than carbohydrates or protein. In fact, fat has over double the calories per gram than these other macronutrients. Normally, too much fat can lead to weight gain, but in a wilderness setting, you need the extra energy. Your body will be burning more calories to survive and move. Nuts and seeds are the primary sources of fat in trail mix.
- a high fiber content. No trail mix is complete without some dried fruit component. Dried fruit provides needed carbohydrates, which are the body's preferred energy source, and they also have a high iron and fiber content. Because trail food is devoid of fresh vegetables and fruit-- the best sources of fiber-- the dried fruit helps your digestive system to stay regular while still provided needed nutrients.
- sugars. Your body needs to process and store sugar in the body to maintain correct blood sugar levels. As you go through a strenuous day on the trail, you deplete your body's store of glycogen-- the stored sugar that acts your back-up energy source. If you use up glycogen stores, you'll find it difficult to complete tasks and hit a level of bodily exhaustion. Eating the sugary components (chocolate pieces or fruit) of trail mix helps to replenish this store and keep you from "hitting the wall".
Trail mix is also calorically dense, which means a small amount can satisfy your calorie needs. You can carry less in your pack to sustain you longer, because you will only need a few handfuls to get the calories you would normally have from a turkey sandwich or a bowl of stew.