Here I am: on Cape Cod with some friends who have joined my husband and me for our annual kayak trip on the Cape. They are new to the sport, equipped with the finest gear and they want to learn the basics; all the basics: about strokes, self-rescue, loading a boat on your vehicle, and so on. They have also asked me to explain what a paddler should eat through the day. "What should I bring along for my first serious outing to Pleasant Bay?" asks my friend Jacques, who is a bit anxious about confronting the 2 foot waves and confused seas that are to be dealt with at Allen Point, in Chatham, before our long and easy crossing to Sampson Island, protected by a barrier beach.
What are paddler's food needs?
After dinner, Jacques has many questions about what to eat while kayaking. "How can I know if what I bring along for the day's paddle is enough for such a demanding sport? How can I guess if I'm eating the right amount of proteins, fat and sugar to ensure the best performance and to avoid fatigue or cramps?" The questions keep coming all evening. I'm glad that my friend isn't considering kayak expeditions or multi-day kayak-camping trips yet… Of course, Jacques is a perfectionist, who wants to be well prepared in every sector of his life, kayaking included. But by talking with him over a cup of tea, I realize many people might be just as puzzled trying to find the balance between calories spent and calories consumed, and the right type of fuel to use at the right moment. But for Jacques, there must also be more to it: flavor and fun…
Becoming a gourmet-picky eater
Eventually, I find an easy way for him to understand his basic needs while paddling: "The simplest way to eat yourself through the day and to stay on top would be by becoming a grazer, having 5 small meals instead of three big ones", I explain. But that's not good enough for Jacques. "That's a nutritionist's answer," he replied. "It's not sexy. I want to know how to eat well, but I also want tips on how to make my snacks or meals delicious, special, different; because my picnic has to be part of a memorable experience on the water," he insisted. And something tells me that he doesn't want to have to go back and read all the food columns I've written for Paddling.net in the past five years for the quick answers he's looking for… Jacques wants his meal to be part of his love affair with his wife too; he also wants to seduce her on their kayak outings, not only over a candlelight dinner at a fine restaurant. He wants something that will allow him to build lasting memories that will still be recalled years from now at one of our many get-togethers. He might not admit it, but Jacques is an incredible romantic.
A quick toolbox
Jacques' is a tall order: he wants a gourmand toolbox that would please a chef but that would also satisfy a nutritionist and be of interest for any paddler who likes to eat well…
1- The ever crucial breakfast "What's in a good breakfast?" is probably the question that I've been asked the most often over the years. One third of your daily ration of roughly 1800-2400 calories would be the classic answer to fuel you up correctly, which translates into 600-800 calories. But if you plan to start your paddling day early, it's better to split this into two small meals, one of 400-500 calories to eat right before you leave home and a smaller one of 200-300 calories two hours after you have launched. For proper performance and to avoid fatigue, forget the strawberry jam and white bread and opt for a mix of whole grain cereal, lean proteins, a bit of heart-healthy fat and a piece of fruit.
2- Gourmet lunch for the picky paddler
Until recently I used to prepare big healthy lunches for my fellow paddlers and myself: a large tuna salad sandwich with raw veggies and a light dessert that we would eat entirely during lunch break; or a minestrone soup with a roasted turkey bun and some ginger snaps in apple sauce. But recently, I have found that it's becoming difficult to jump back in our boats to resume paddling after such a generous meal. So, even if we are very hungry at lunch time and anxious to grab the cooler from the rear hatch of my expedition kayak, I've chosen to split the meal instead, either by keeping dessert for snack time with a piece of fruit, or by simply cutting portions and planning a second "lunch stop" later in the afternoon. Chose the option that best suits the paddling trip you are planning: sometimes, it's not convenient to stop for that second small picnic on the beach two hours after the first one; so bring a fruit and your brownies or cookies on board to be eaten in your kayaks while you raft together two or three hours after your lunch stop. This option will keep you going easily for the entire afternoon and it will bring some fun anticipation if you tell your friends what a nice dessert will be waiting for them after they have practiced their wet exits or crossed that part of the bay with an outgoing tide against them.
"Second lunch": mini brownies with pecans and a yogurt or some soy milk.
"Second lunch": the other half sandwich with an apple and some chocolate covered raisins.
"Second lunch": mini carrots, celery and anise with hummus tahini (chick pea) purée, bread sticks and slices of honeydew melon.
"Second lunch": carrot cake or carrot muffin with cranberry juice
"Second lunch": chocolate pudding with chopped pistacchios, an oatmeal cookie and milk.
A refreshing finishing touch
This division into four grazing meals to be eaten every two to three hours throughout the day should allow my friend Jacques to feel satisfied and well energized. But I like to complete my tours with a nice refreshing beverage kept in a cooler in the car at the launch site to be enjoyed once the kayaks have been loaded on the rooftop racks, along with a handful of nuts. Combinations such as iced tea with orange juice, non-alcoholic sangria made with grape juice, lemon juice, orange juice and ginger ale, or a mix of cranberry and apple juice with mineral water are sure to rejuvenate the thirsty and tired paddler. A typical dinner that night would be a combination of whole grains (rice, pasta) with loads of vegetables and a lean protein like fish or chicken, with not much fat. That's a perfect combination to refuel the muscles and the brain and to be ready for another paddling tour the very next day!
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