I can’t eat this garbage, I thought.
I gazed down into my mug filled with a homemade concoction of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, protein powder, and powdered coconut milk. Three days into the Tahoe Rim Trail and the first 165 miles of my 529-mile Sierra journey, and already I couldn’t stomach the paleo breakfasts I had allotted myself.
I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was the way the protein powder and powdered coconut milk did’t dissolve in water but clumped at the bottom, or maybe the goji berries struck my taste buds as too exotic. I considered how I might alter my morning meal plan at my next resupply, and poured the remaining mixture into a hole in the ground.
Popularized by Loren Codain’s “The Paleo Diet,” the Paleolithic diet is a lifestyle nutrition regime that is centered around the foods humans (presumably) consumed before the dawn of agriculture. The idea is that most of the food we eat now has been introduced in the last 12,000 years, and our guts haven’t had time to adapt to it.
For a modern caveman, this means sticking to the items on the periphery of the grocery store—hitting the produce and deli sections while avoiding pretty much everything else. It means yes to meat, vegetables, roots, nuts, and fruit. No to dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, and highly processed foods.
Before leaving for my month long backpacking trip, I had mostly been maintaining a paleo diet. I say mostly, because while cavemen might not have had access to coffee, they also probably didn’t have to wake up at 6 A.M. to teach freshman Composition.
In the semester before my hike, I noticed less bloating after eating, more regular bowel movements, better focus, and higher energy levels. I liked it. So I set out in search for dehydrated meals that met the criteria.
Let’s pause for a second.
Think of the last prepackaged snack you ate while hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, or doing anything outside. There’s probably over a 95% chance it contained one of the following ingredients: wheat, oats, barley, brown rice syrup, soy, peanuts, sugar, or some chemical compound that you don’t know how to pronounce.
None of those things are paleo. So it’s not easy to find paleo food that can survive several days in a bear canister. If you’re looking to eat a more varied diet than raisin and beef jerky (and even then most brands use added sugar and chemical preservatives) you may have to do some serious internet scouting.
The good news is that convenient trail-worthy packaged paleo food exists. The bad news is that it’s not always cheap or available at a local grocery store. After completing my fair share of internet research and figuring out my approximate daily caloric need, I ordered boxes of my favorite bars and snacks from sites like Amazon, Thrive Market, and One Stop Paleo Shop.
These, along with my homemade mixture of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, protein powder, and powdered coconut milk, would keep my body fueled with whole-food ingredients, ready to tackle an average of twenty miles a day over mountainous terrain.
I ended up dumping my unpalatable breakfast mixtures after the third day into my 28-day trip. Picking up my first resupply package in Tahoe City, I promptly threw out the plastic baggies of the stuff I had mailed myself and elected to go to a grocery store to locate a substitute paleo bar.
This turned out to be my only difficulty keeping a paleo diet on the trail: finding replacements in small grocery stores for my inedible homemade breakfast.
The combination of paleo-friendly meat, cricket, and fruit-and-nut bars kept me feeling energetic through the Sierras—more energetic than traditional energy bars had kept me on the 486-mile Colorado Trail the summer before.
Some of this dynamism might have been the result of a placebo effect, but not all of it. It’s well-known that foods rich in protein and fat keep blood sugar levels more stable as opposed to the quick energy and crash of sugar and carbs.
Perhaps most surprisingly, maintaining a paleo diet around the Tahoe Rim Trail and through the Sierras, I found myself not craving the huge hamburgers, pizzas, and college staples like pop tarts and ramen that I had dreamed of while hiking through Colorado.
Now off the trail, I think perhaps this lack of food cravings that is typical of long distance hikers is possibly due to having removed most junk food from my diet for several months prior to beginning my hike, as well as having high-quality protein-rich food in a variety of flavors and combinations while on the trail.
Relatively convinced of most aspects of the paleo diet, though still a coffee connoisseur and occasional ice cream aficionado, I keep a small stash of paleo bars at home for day-trip refueling and to bring back memories of the trail.