Okay, I confess that I'm one of those Northern people who can only dream of packing up a snack or two and go paddling at this time of year. The temperature here is still dropping to a frigid -10 F. at night and lakes and most rivers will remain frozen until late April. But when I look at my blue sea kayak stored away on her side in my backyard I know there is light at the end of the tunnel: the snow around the bow is melted and some starving squirrels have started their annual rite of spring, which consists of chewing at my kayak toggles. It may seem a bit masochistic to write a column about paddling and snacking in these conditions. But it's not. Thanks to the voracious squirrels in my backyard, which are more accurate in their predictions than any groundhog, I know for a fact that spring is just around the corner! So let's plan some snacks…
As you may have noticed, North Americans are the most notorious snackers on the planet: the food industry has built an empire based on our ultra soft spot for munchies like cookies, candies, chocolates, potato chips, cheese sticks, buttered popcorn, and colas. No wonder America's love handles are also among the most prominent in the world, with an obesity rate that has skyrocketed in the past decade.
We might like to believe that outdoor buffs are a breed apart and avoid fast-food pre packaged products loaded with salt, trans fats, sugar and empty calories because they are more aware of health and environmental issues. Well, think again! Many of them assume that because they burn thousands of calories a day in sport activity, they don't have to worry about their diet and can eat whatever they want. They might not gain weight because they are so physically active. But their performance and well being are certainly affected by poor snack choices. It's almost like paddling on an empty stomach.
Best quality fuel
Food is more than just calories that you burn as fuel. It transforms into pure energy to feed your muscles and brain through the bloodstream. This occurs more or less efficiently depending on the quality of what you eat. It may sound cliché, but the human body functions much like a high performance vehicle: it requires premium gasoline and precision tuning to reach its optimal potential. Not providing the right fuel will not only severely limit performance in the short term, but will also clog the injection system and damage the engine in the longer run.
Optimum fuel for a paddler's optimal snack is easy to find. Unprocessed food is best (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, seafood, dairy, soy and good unsaturated fats). Unlike prepackaged, refined food, they are loaded with top quality proteins, carbohydrates and essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants). This is the stuff that feeds your cells and gives you stamina while, at the same time, helping to protect you against serious invaders like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. The right food will also make a big difference in the recovery process after a serious paddling session.
The stuff that snacks are made of
Snacks are basically small meals and should provide at least 50 % of your energy intake while on the water, the other half comes from two to three square meals. The reason for "snack grazing" is simple: when very active you need to drink a lot of water and to eat at least every two hours to ensure a constant supply of energy and prevent serious fatigue, muscle cramps, loss of energy and cravings. An ideal snack contains 50 to 60 % carbs, 25 to 30 % fat and some proteins, the optimum combination for best performances.
Keep in mind that unless you want to lose weight, the food you eat should cover your caloric expenditure. Basically, an hour of moderate paddling will burn 400-600 calories. Add to those numbers your daily caloric needs, which vary according to age, sex, weight, level of fitness and activity. The average female office worker needs approximately 2000 calories a day, as opposed to 2500 for a man. This gives you an idea of how you should plan your snacks and meals when you go for a 2 to 8 hours paddling session. You need to eat and drink a lot more than you think. But I'm not talking about a bag of double chocolate chips cookies and a six pack of beer…
The nice thing about a day-long paddling session as opposed to a multi-day expedition is that you can easily carry the food you want in a cooler filled with ice packs. Placed under and over perishable food (eggs, meat, seafood, dairy, mayonnaise) the ice packs guarantee that they will remain at a temperature of 34 to 36 degrees F, which is essential to avoid bacterial development and food poisoning. You can also place frozen individual packs of rice pudding, yogurt or juices in your cooler: they will keep the food cool for hours as they thaw slowly. If you can't carry ice packs (or don't want to), there are numerous options that don't require refrigeration: dry or fresh fruits, vegetables, juices, nuts, cheese wrapped in wax, jerky, whole grain cereals, crackers and breads, canned fish, cookies or granola bars made without hydrogenated fats. And remember that most vegetarian foods are less prone to bacterial development. They are safer and easier to carry.
My favorite snacks for paddling
- a handful of chocolate almonds, soy milk and a fresh apple
- dates filled with cream cheese and pistachios
- honey melon wedges wrapped with dry ham served with rice cakes
- plain yogurt with crumbled ginger snaps, apple sauce and sunflower seeds
- Whole wheat tortilla filled with a mix of half and half chocolate-hazelnut spread and almond butter, crumbled dry banana chips and dry cranberries
- multi grain crackers, cubes of cheddar cheese and V-8
- whole-grain bread sticks, red peppers, carrots, fennel slices served with hummus dip
- soy milk and berry smoothie made with plain silken tofu, honey, a mix of seasonal berries and toasted wheat germ (carried in a thermos bottle)
- banana smoothie made with 2 % milk, peanut butter and a banana (carried in a thermos bottle), accompanied with graham cookies
- multigrain bagel with a mix of peanut butter, chopped dry apricots and candied ginger
- fig bars with mozzarella string cheese and apple juice
- whole wheat pasta and white bean salad with bell peppers, green onions, parsley, basil, garlic and fresh tomato garnish. Dressing: olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- dried mangoes, toasted pumpkin seeds, yogurt beverage
- dried salami, celery and cucumbers, melon, oatmeal cookie
- creamy cottage cheese mixed with pineapple chunks and chocolate chips on rye crackers
- GORP made of yogurt covered cranberries, dried papayas, unsalted soy nuts and cheddar popcorn
- individual rice pudding with hazelnuts and a banana