Summer Bucket List: Early Morning Cycle Class at the SRC

I consider myself a night owl, and waking up before 8am is definitely not a regular occurrence for me, especially in the summer. However, for the sake of the bucket list, my alarm went off at 5:30am this morning and I dragged myself out of bed. My first thought of the day was “good grief, it’s still dark outside,” and my second was a moment of mad respect for my roommate, who was also up and getting ready for her 7am shift at the hospital.

I threw on some athletic clothes and a pullover since it was actually early enough to be slightly chilly outside. Having been awake for 20 minutes, I wasn’t awake enough to eat a “real breakfast,” but I knew I needed some energy if I was going to cycle! I compromised by mixing some chocolate protein powder in a big cup of milk. My whole body was thinking “why are you eating this early? Actually, why are you awake right now?” To which my brain responded: “For the sake of the bucket list and health, so calm down!”

Not only was it too early for non-morning-person human beings to be awake, it was also too early for the bus to be running. I decided that I was going to work out and get sweaty anyway, so I biked to the SRC and called it a warmup. On my way there, I saw a surprising number of people out running and walking their dogs and I was thinking “mornings would be so much more pleasant if I had a puggle to jog with me.” One older man was out walking and as I passed him on my bike he bid me a cheerful “good morning!,” which I reciprocated over my shoulder.

The nice thing about the hours between 6 and 8am is that the people who actually like mornings and get up early by choice are out and about and are already chipper and friendly. Once you pass that 8am mark you start to see a lot of people who just need to be at work or in class by a certain time, but they would really rather be sleeping. I realized that you won’t find many groggy, grumpy people out on a morning stroll at 6am, and that man’s “good morning!” cheered me up a bit and encouraged me to pretend to be a morning person for the day.

I arrived to the cycle class at 6:10am in the SRC, and the class started at 6:15am. Morgan, the instructor, was excited and ready to go! We started out slow and did some arm stretches while we warmed up our legs. There were 8 people there total, which was more than I expected honestly, and she kept the lights dim, which my eyes appreciated.

Here we go...

Here we go…

We went through a series of sprints and climbs and Morgan was encouraging without yelling at us, which I like. By then I was extremely awake and my heart was pumping! I loved that she did some really slow “climbs” with a ton of resistance because I could definitely feel that my muscles were engaged instead of just feeling my heart pounding. At some points she told us we could use our obliques, which involves kind of bobbing back and forth as you pedal to engage your abs and use your body weight to help with each pedal stroke. At other times, she told us to hold our cores still and straight and really isolate the legs, which was incredibly difficult!

She even incorporated some arm work into the workout, which was new to me in a cycle class! We did a modified tricep pushup down toward the handle bars and back up to seated position as we pedaled at a steady pace. We also moved our upper bodies as we pedaled standing up but leaning over the bike in the pattern up left, up right, back left, back right, repeat. Overall, I really enjoyed the class, and by the time it ended I was tired and sweaty—the hallmark signs of having completed an awesome workout.

I couldn’t believe that it was only 7 o’clock when I left the class! I can easily see how people can get addicted to early morning workouts because it feels really great to have finished doing something so great and empowering for your body before your day really begins! I realized that I still had two whole hours before I had to be at work, which gave me enough time to shower and eat a real breakfast.

This is tired, post-workout Emily and one of the few selfies you'll ever get from me! :p

This is tired, post-workout Emily at 7am and one of the few selfies you’ll ever get from me!

With my crazy schedule that requires me to work late and then go to bed late many nights out of the week, I don’t forsee myself getting up at 5:30am to cycle every Tuesday and Thursday, but I can see it happening every once in a while! Overall, it was a fun experience and I would definitely recommend trying it sometime!

  • Attend a 6:15am cycle class at the SRC (so early!!)

Another dollar goes into the sweat stash and another item is checked off of the bucket list, all by 7am!

Summer Bucket List: An Evening at the Quarry

After an unexpected detour to meet someone delayed my afternoon plans by three hours, I was still determined to make it to the quarry. I drove to Durham all sweaty and tired from giving a campus tour in this lovely 95º weather we’ve been dealing with every day lately. My boyfriend and I ate a quick dinner at his house before driving to the quarry, and it was 6pm by the time we arrived. It had cooled down slightly outside and the sun wasn’t beating straight down anymore, for which my fair, freckled skin was extremely grateful.

We drove down the dusty road to park in the small graveled lot. After claiming the last available spot, I followed him down the curvy trail through the woods, knowing that I always forget where to turn left and hoping he would remember. He did remember, of course, and after 20 minutes of stepping over rocks and roots, we emerged to the open expanse of the beautiful, clear quarry on a stunning summer evening.

IMG_2260It had been a while since I had been here, and I was happily surprised by the clarity of the water and the relatively small number of other people around to crowd the waters. I was already hot, sweaty, and sticky and the water looked so inviting, but the quarry gets very deep, very quickly, and it is DEFINITELY advisable to bring any sort of flotation device to the waters. (Not doing so could lead to exhaustion out in the deep water in the middle of the quarry, where it will take a lot longer to get back to shore than you expect.) After ten minutes of sitting on the bank, blowing my precious, panting breath into an inflatable pink pool lounger, I was finally ready to swim.

As I stepped into the water, it was much warmer than I expected! It felt nice but I almost wished it was cooler to counteract the hot weather. After trying twenty different ways to sit on the float and still paddle, I ended up laying on my stomach on the part made for sitting so I could do a pseudo-breaststroke swim to the middle of the quarry. We always paddle to the middle to get a good view of the people jumping off of a high point in the bank. As always, there were people lined up to contemplate the 30-ft jump and then plenty of shrieks as they went for it, one by one, and came up laughing from the adrenaline. I’ve jumped a few times in the past, but this time I didn’t feel like climbing up there and mustering the energy and courage to convince myself to jump, so I watched instead as I chilled in my float and chatted with Nathan. Throughout the quarry, other clusters of people laid on pool floats, giant floating logs, and even an inflatable pretzel and random words and laughter floated across the water.

IMG_2264Two hours passed by in what felt like no time at all, and soon a park ranger was walking the path that circles the quarry announcing, “Gate closes at 8:30pm! It’s almost eight o’clock now!” We made our slow progress back to the bank and then had to go about the time-consuming process of getting all of the air out of our floats so we could carry them back in a bag. By the time the floats were in the bag and I checked the time on my phone, it was already 8:15pm!! While I think that Chacos are amazing shoes and excellent for most outdoor activities, I still can’t run as fast in them as I can in tennis shoes. Nevertheless, we turned and started running up the trail, Nathan in his tennis shoes and backpack and me in my Chacos with a giant flailing beach bag full of floats on my shoulder.

I ran up the trail panting and staring at the ground to avoid the hundreds of roots and rocks just trying to slow me down. The trail magically felt twice as long as when we were coming down the first time. I found myself looking ahead at Nathan’s back and wondering “How on earth is he so much faster than me? I know he has tennis shoes but I go running regularly by choice! He hates running! Good gravy.”

As we got close to the parking lot and he got farther ahead of me, I called out that it was 8:28pm and he needed to run ahead and move the car outside of the gate!” We were serious and laughing at the same time at the hilarity of our flailing to get to the car on time at the end of what was supposed to be such a relaxing evening.

I emerged from the woods into the parking lot at exactly 8:30pm to find Nathan sitting in the car chugging a water bottle just outside of the gate and the park ranger about to lock the gate with the last remaining car of the evening still sitting empty in the lot. The small group of people who were still swimming when we left was in for a lovely surprise.

So that was it: the tale of my evening at the quarry and first item checked off of my summer bucket list. Who knew I was in for such as adventure? Even though we were exhausted by the time we got back to the car, it didn’t change what a fun and beautiful evening it had been and we laughed about it on the drive back to his house.

  • Swim at the rock quarry in Durham. Check!

I’m looking forward to what happens next as I continue with my bucket list next week! I have a feeling that this is going to be more fun and interesting to write about than I anticipated!

Introducing My Summer Bucket List!

Although we’ve already had plenty of days above 90 °F, Sunday was officially the first day of summer! Even with my busy schedule, I want to make sure that I’m still making time to accomplish some short-term summer fitness goals and of course, have some summer fun!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s great to be busy if it means that you’re accomplishing a lot of swell things, but it’s also important to make time for yourself to stay healthy and have fun. And most importantly, you should always prioritize the things that make you happy; too often we make time for the million things we want to accomplish but we forget to make time for happiness.

During the first part of the summer, I was studying a lot for a big test and I started neglecting my healthy habits, saying that “the test is more important! I’ll get back to it when I finish! Instead of spending any time outside today, I should just sit here and study!” Well, now that the test is over, I realize that I should have been making more time to be healthy all along. I’ve always liked this quote that I heard once that said “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.”

Even though I’m realizing that I should have taken better care of myself when I was so stressed, now is the time to hop back into my fitness goals and have some fun with friends, so I’ve created a short summer bucket list that I’m going to try to complete before school starts again in the fall! My bucket list is full of simple, short-term goals that can be accomplished in just a few hours (for the most part). The fact that I’m busy this summer isn’t going to change, so I needed a short-term, simple, manageable bucket list in order for it to feel like fun instead of a burden! I was talking to Chelsea, one of the many awesome employees at the SRC, and she said “An over the top list could be a recipe for disappointment over the summer.” I think she’s exactly right; whether it’s a summer bucket list or any of your short or long-term goals, the key to avoiding disappointment and unnecessary stress is to keep your goals reasonable and within your ability to accomplish!

  • Swim at the rock quarry in Durham
  • Attend a 6:15am cycle class at the SRC (so early!!)
  • Attend the new barre class in Woolen gym (Tuesday and Wednesday nights, 6:30 – 7:30pm)
  • Try out my new bike on the American Tobacco trail
  • Try 2 new flavor combinations at the Yogurt Pump… so scary for a creature of habit
  • Get to the point where I can run all the way up Hillsborough Street (super steep hill) without stopping to catch my breath (this has been a personal goal all summer… slowly getting there)
  • Try at least 3 of the workouts pinned by UNC Campus Rec on Pinterest
  • Cook a 3 course dinner for friends
  • Go to Scott Campbell’s yoga class at Ram’s Head Rec (because I’ve never been to a yoga class taught by a guy and it sounds fun)
  • Go on at least a day trip to the beach with my sister!
  • Use the idea from UNC Campus Rec Pinterest and make a “sweat stash.” I’ll put a dollar in a jar every time I work out, and at the end of the summer I’ll use that money to do something fun!
  • Tell my tour groups about their gym membership and the recreational facilities that are available to all students here!
  • Go to a bonfire… because summer just needs a good bonfire. With s’mores. And friends.
  • Go to the beach with family
  • Do not get eaten by a shark
  • Go on some beach adventure while I’m there (new mini-golf course/ride the banana boats they pull behind jet skis in the ocean/parasail)
  • Go on this awesome zip-line in Ashville
  • Go on a day-hike in a place (in NC) I’ve never been before

These goals are in no particular order, and I’ll be writing about them and taking pictures as I check them off my list one at a time! I never take enough pictures so it’ll be a good chance for me to capture some of my fun summer moments!

Be on the lookout for UNC Campus Rec updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I work my way through my bucket list and feel free to tell us about anything fun you’ve done on your own summer bucket list on any of our social media sites!

Healthy Traditional Dietary Habits of Asia

The word “Asia” refers to an enormous geographic area that includes many vastly different countries including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North and South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and many more (Asian Diet Pyramid).

Such an immense geographic area captures a huge variety of dietary practices and traditional foods, but a few broad dietary patterns are commonly found throughout the majority of these Asian countries. A few of these practices discussed below have been cited as reasons why many nutrition-related diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers, have a significantly lower incidence in Asian countries than in the United States.

Rice is a notable staple food in most Asian countries and forms the base of the traditional Asian food pyramid. Although it is prepared differently in different countries, rice is important to many Asian diets and dishes and, whether it is white or brown rice, it is a whole food that provides a healthy source of grains on a daily basis. Rice is even used in many traditional Asian sweets, such as candy and cakes, and is also fermented to make alcoholic drinks such as beer or sake, a Japanese wine. (Asian Diet Pyramid)

Another prominent factor in the majority of Asian diets is high consumption of plant foods instead of the processed foods that make up the bulk of the American diet today. These plant foods include vegetables and fruits (which are extremely unappreciated in the American diet) as well as beans, nuts, vegetable oils, teas, and soy products. Green and black tea are often consumed multiple times per day in many Asian countries, and soy is eaten in whole-bean or freshly prepared forms instead of the processed soy products that are used to provide bulk to many American foods. Soy has been praised for containing phytoestrogens, which can have positive hormone-balancing and antioxidant effects (Roizman). Greater fish consumption also provides omega-3 fatty acids, and the higher vegetable consumption in general means that most Asian diets are higher in beneficial vitamins and minerals and lower in processed sugar and calories than many Western diets.

Dairy is consumed much more sparingly in most Asian countries when compared to most Western countries, but dairy products are still definitely present in the diets of Asian countries. For example, in India, common dairy products include paneer (a type of fresh cheese), ghee (a type of clarified butter), and lassi (a yogurt-based drink)(Asian Diet Pyramid).

The journal “Hypertension Research” published a study showing that natto, a sticky Japanese fermented soy product, may help lower blood pressure. Natto is commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan and is high in protein. The journal “Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition” published a study showing that seaweed, common in some Asian countries, may decrease risk of heart disease, stroke, and Type II Diabetes (Roizman).

Another difference in many Asian diets is the frequency with which many people consume certain food groups. Vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains are eaten on a daily basis and fish, shellfish, and dairy products are considered “optional daily” foods. Eggs, poultry, and sweets are eaten on an approximately weekly basis, and red meat is usually not eaten more than once a month in many Asian countries, though not all (Asian Diet Pyramid).

Overall, many Asian countries continue to rely on diets that are more nutrient dense and composed of more whole foods than many Western countries today, including the United States. Asian diets also tend to contain less sugar overall due to less frequent consumption of “sweets,” and even their sweets typically contain less sugar than the sodas so many Americans consume on a daily basis. These healthy patterns are part of the reason that many studies have noted the lower rates of nutrition-related diseases in many Asian countries and provide a model for healthy eating and an appreciation for whole foods!

Today marks the end of my mini-series on unique and notable healthy dietary patterns around the world! I’ve enjoyed learning more about each of the nutritional niches I’ve studied as I wrote about the diets of astronauts, extreme sport participants, long time/long distance hikers, the Maasai tribe of Africa, Latin American countries, and traditional Asian dietary patterns.

Check back in next week as I introduce a new mini series: my summer bucket list! I can’t believe how quickly June flying by and Sunday marks the official start of the summer season. I’ll be checking various fun adventures off of my bucket list next month, and I look forward to writing about my adventures and hearing about yours too! Until then, happy Summer and happy Father’s Day!


Asian Diet Pyramid. Oldways: Health Through Heritage.

Roizman, Tracey. Dietary Habits of the Asian Population. SFGATE: Healthy Living.

Rice and Beans (Again): Super Food Combo or Sheer Necessity?

If you travel to any of the many countries in Central and Latin America, chances are you’ll be eating plenty of rice and beans during your stay there. In Brazil, rice and beans is such an important dietary staple that most Brazilian people eat rice and beans for one or more meals every single day! Is this habitual meal a healthy dietary phenomenon or is this meal simply a cheap and filling necessity?

"my daily lunch project-- day 7" by Rodrigo Paoletti of Flickr Creative Commons

“my daily lunch project– day 7″ by Rodrigo Paoletti of Flickr Creative Commons

The answer is actually both! Rice and beans, especially brown rice, are great affordable sources of vegetarian protein! Rice and beans individually are good protein sources, but they are “incomplete proteins,” meaning that rice alone, or beans alone, does not supply all of the essential amino acids. However, rice and beans do make a complete protein when eaten together! One cup of brown rice has about 5 grams of protein, and the amount of protein in one cup of beans varies depending on the type of bean. A single cup of chickpeas contains about 15 grams of protein, and kidney beans have even more protein per cup (Dannie)!

Another benefit to eating rice and beans is that both are high in dietary fiber, which helps you feel full and improves digestive regularity. One cup of brown rice has about 4 grams of fiber, and one cup of chickpeas has about 13 grams of fiber—much more than you’ll find in a typical fiber supplement! A single serving of rice and beans can provide up to half of your recommended daily intake, keeping your digestive system happy (Dannie). Rice and beans also fall into several of the “food group” categories: brown rice is considered a whole grain and beans are considered a protein as well as part of the vegetable/legume group!

While rice and beans are a tasty and low-cost staple, there are also a few downsides to eating the same thing every day. Often, rice and beans are cooked with added fat (such as pork fat or oil) and salt to improve flavor. Adding animal fat and sodium on a daily basis can be a serious nutritional detriment! Also, while rice and beans do fall into the grain, protein, and vegetable categories, they lack some of the essential fatty acids and vitamins that can be found in other proteins and vegetables. Eating fish and various colors of vegetables such as leafy greens, bell peppers, and carrots can help provide these missing fatty acids and vitamins to the diet.

Beans are also becoming more expensive in some parts of the world, and many people rely on white rice instead of brown rice. If bean prices make people eat less beans and more white rice, the pairing starts to lack balance and nutritional value. White rice lacks most of the fiber and vitamins found in brown rice because the bran and germ layers of the rice and stripped away! White rice is therefore digested faster than brown rice and lacks the benefit of keeping you feeling fuller, longer (Zielinski). The combo also lacks vitamins A and C, so you’ll want to rely on other vegetables and fruits to fill in these specific gaps (Busch).

In Brazil, rice is eaten with pinto or black beans at the lunchtime meal every day in many areas! Brazilian rice and beans are also cooked in specific ways, and rice is typically seasoned with garlic and onion. Basmati or jasmine rice are popular choices and the rice must be washed and dried before it is cooked to remove any leftover sticky starch powder that may be coating the individual grains.

If you want to try seasoning your rice the Brazilian way, one recipe suggests sautéing one small onion and two finely chopped garlic cloves in olive oil just until it starts to smell good but not turn brown. Add one cup of the rice and stir it around with the oil, garlic, and onion before adding two cups of water. Put a lid on the pot/pan and cook for 8 minutes on medium; then decrease the heat to low and cook for 10-15 more minutes until the rice is fluffy and the water is absorbed (Ghirotti)!

Brazilian beans are usually cooked in a pressure cooker, although I found another recipe for cooking them in a pot. No matter what kind of beans you use, you’ll want to wash a pound of dry beans (they can be dusty straight out of the bag) and soak them in water overnight before cooking them. This recipe said to use the amount of water suggested on the bag of beans, depending on what kind you are using, and to season the beans with two bay leaves, five finely chopped garlic cloves, a cube of chicken or vegetable bullion, one chopped onion, three scallions, a pinch of pepper, and two tablespoons of olive oil for yummy Brazilian flavor. A pressure cooker cuts the cook time down to less than an hour, but if you’re using a regular pot or crock pot you’ll want to save time to simmer the beans all day (Authentic Brazilian Beans)!

Rice and beans form a powerful nutritional combo that has originated in several different parts of the world, but likely spread from Africa to Brazil and then throughout South America. Together, they make an affordable and filling combination high in fiber, protein, and other vitamins and minerals, making them invaluable foods to huge numbers of people around the world every single day!


Authentic Brazilian Beans by nadialtbr.

Busch, Sandi. Are Rice & Black Beans Healthy? SFGATE Healthy Living.

Dannie, Marie. Is Eating Beans & Brown Rice Everyday Bad for You? Livestrong. July 15, 2014.

Ghirotti, Saskia. How to make true Brazilian Rice. A Taste of Brazil: Learning to Cook Brazilian Food. July 30, 2013.

Zielinski, Sarah. Men Cannot Live On Rice and Beans Alone (But Many Do). NPR. May 3, 2012.

Maasai Nutrition

Today, in my mini-series of articles on unique dietary niches around the world, I’m featuring the Maasai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania. In a world where we, in the United States, are used to seeing Coke and vending machine Cheetos galore, it’s easy to forget that in other parts of the world, there are still people who subsist off of a traditional semi-nomadic and agricultural lifestyle with no knowledge of first world “convenience food.

Maasai tribe welcoming the tourists to their village in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Maasai tribe welcoming the tourists to their village in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania by William Warby of Flickr Creative Commons

The Maasai tribe is the perfect example of a unique and relatively isolated nutritional niche in the world today, and the members of this tribe still live and eat by farming, as well as some modern trading today. The Maasai diet consists of primarily fermented cow’s milk, meat, and blood and the diet rarely includes fresh vegetables or fruits (1)!

This special diet is strictly followed by the men of the tribe, after they are “inducted into the warrior class” at approximately age 14. For 15-20 years after their induction, the men must eat only cow’s milk, meat, and blood! The milk of the Maasai cows has also been found to contain a much higher percentage of fat, protein, and cholesterol when compared to the milk from American cows (1).

With this high-fat, low variety diet, many expected the Maasai tribe members to have extreme metabolic symptoms, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood cholesterol levels. The interesting diet made them the topic of some nutritional research studies that found surprising results: the Maasai cholesterol levels were surprisingly low overall (less than the average American’s), and there was little incidence of overweight, obesity, and high blood pressure, which have often been associated with talk of a high-fat diet in the United States! One particular study showed that younger Maasai men have healthy arteries, but Maasai men over 40 had much higher incidence of unhealthy, plaque-filled arteries typical of atherosclerosis or heart disease. One explanation for this phenomenon is that the Maasai diet changes rapidly after their period of dietary restriction as part of the warrior class. After years of subsisting on milk, meat, and blood, suddenly the men were allowed to eat other, traded, more-processed goods, which may contribute to a decrease in arterial health (2)!

Perhaps this difference in cardiovascular health arises from a difference in physical activity between the average American and the average Maasai tribe member? Danish researchers managed to conduct a study in which Maasai members consented to participate and wear physical activity trackers. Results showed that Maasai participate in much less intense physical activity than expected considering the drastic difference in health results! Instead of frequent intense physical activity, the Maasai simply walk quite a lot and are constantly getting mild physical activity throughout the day instead of sitting at a desk in school or work. In fact, the data showed that both Maasai men and women get nearly 75% more physical activity than the average American every day (2)!

While a strong reliance on milk, blood, and meat as dietary staples is an unusual pattern, these foods do provide large amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin A, and protein to the Maasai diet. Today, however, the Maasai population has grown and has become too large for the entire group to rely heavily on these animal products for food. Although they are a seminomadic people, the Maasai have started relying more on agricultural products including cabbage, potatoes, maize, and rice, which add more balance to their high-fat diet (3). They also use herbs and tree bark extensively to make teas and when cooking meat. One commonly used type of tree bark has the ability to kill parasites, making the meat safer to eat in an undercooked or raw state (4).

In the Maasai diet that still includes many animal products, it is important for the tribe to rely on the milk, meat, and blood from their own livestock. They rarely hunt, kill, or consume wild animals and find the idea of doing so distasteful. On the other hand, the women of the tribe were largely responsible for trading with village caravans that would come to the tribe on a regular basis selling bananas, corn, sweet potatoes, and other foods (4).

Another interesting observation is that while the majority of Africans are lactose intolerant, the Maasai typically have no trouble digesting the large amounts of lactose they consume from milk. Other African people do not consume much milk, and over time, these people have stopped producing enough lactase enzyme to properly digest milk, making them lactose intolerant. However, the Maasai have historically relied heavily on milk as dietary staple, and continue to do so, encouraging the continued favorability of genes for lactose production. This is an interesting example of how diet encourages human evolution in small but notable ways!

The Maasai are an excellent example of a people well adapted to a unique dietary niche in the world. Despite increased Western contact, they have maintained a unique and traditional diet and show less evidence of diet-related metabolic syndromes than Western cultures. As a tribe, they offer a rare glimpse into the lives of a people still united with their traditional nomadic and agricultural roots and show us what human nutrition may have looked like long before Cheetos came along.



Nutrition for Hiking

Happy Tuesday everyone! After taking a brief hiatus last week for study purposes, I’m back to writing about unique dietary niches in the world. Having grown up in Western North Carolina, I love hiking and outdoor adventures, but I’ve always done day hikes where a backpack and a couple of sandwiches, apples, and water bottles are all you need for a single day of mountain adventures.

However, many people are hiking junkies and prefer to go on extended backpacking trips out on their favorite trails. In these cases, backpackers are carrying up to 35 pounds or more on their backs for days on end and attention to lightweight supplies is key!

So what do you eat when you’re planning to be out on the trail for weeks on end and you have to carry all of your food on your back from the start? This question takes planning and preparation from hikers to make sure they won’t be hiking hungry.

Although it sounds like a lot, hikers need to plan to pack about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food per day to achieve their caloric needs. As you may already imagine, this can get really heavy, really quickly! One way hikers save weight is by packing freeze dried and dehydrated foods and then refilling their water supply at different checkpoints along the trail so that they’re not always carrying heavy hydrated food or massive supplies of water.

When planning meals, hikers want to take taste, calories, weight, ease of preparation, cost, and required cooking fuel into consideration (1). One of the most popular hiking food brands, Mountain House, is known for making super light weight, freeze dried meals from ice cream to scrambled eggs to fiesta steak fajitas that can be rehydrated with boiling water in minutes! (Sounds similar to astronaut food, actually!) Freeze-dried food is also much faster to prepare than simply dehydrated food.

However, these freeze dried meals often cost $6 to $10 each, and when you’re in need of three meals a day, it can cost more than $200 a week to eat only pre-packaged freeze dried meals! For this reason, some hikers buy freeze dried ingredients and other foods to assemble their own meals at a lower cost. While fresh foods aren’t usually a great option while hiking, some non-perishable items are great sources of fat and carbohydrates to eat in addition to freeze dried meals.

In fact, many hikers plan meals high in fat and carbohydrates with less emphasis on protein because carbs are more easily digestible, and fat is the most energy dense macronutrient. When you’re hiking all day and constantly expending energy, protein in the diet is simply converted to products that undergo the same cycle as carbohydrates to produce energy and is not stored in the muscles.

Here are some of the snack and meal choices that other nutrition-conscious hikers have shared online that might be typical of a long backpacking trip!


-Instant oatmeal with dried fruit (2)

-Granola/nut bars

-Some people don’t even bother with breakfast food and just stick with quick energy from regular freeze dried lunch and dinner meals

Mountain House has several breakfast options!


Since lunch is in the middle of the day, many hikers don’t want to stop to prepare a meal, even if it just requires boiling water. Here are several energy-dense snack options that are good on the go throughout the day (3):

-Trail mix or granola bars with nuts, raisins, and seeds

-Peanut butter (which you can buy in single-serving squeezable pouches because you are not going to want to carry a bulky jar)

-Snickers bars (apparently some hikers in cooler weather like them for a yummy treat and quick energy)

-StarKist tuna pouches

-Tortillas (good vehicle for your peanut butter)

-Instant drink mix pouches (like Gatorade and Propel)

-Summer sausage (a preserved sausage that doesn’t require refrigeration)

-Whole grain crackers

-Some wax-wrapped cheese wedges also don’t require refrigeration as long as they are eaten quickly after they are opened


Finally some time to set up camp, make some food, and replenish all of that expended energy from the day! Here are some easy dehydrated and freeze-dried options:

-Lipton (Knoor) instant pasta and rice sides

-Instant mashed potatoes


-Mountain House Meals

-Homemade freeze dried meals

-One lady even shared several recipes she developed for her husband to take when he goes on long hikes. She assembles them herself in separate plastic bags for each day and all they require is boiling water! Her recipes include chicken veggie couscous, creamy alfredo noodles, curry chicken rice, chicken corn fiesta rice, apricot macadamia coucous, and Thai peanut noodles. You can check out her recipes here!

While snacks are important to a successful hike, it’s also important to eat real, balanced meals (even if they are freeze-dried) while on a long hike to make sure you’re still getting essential vitamins and minerals in addition to your major macronutrients.

With careful attention to detail and meal planning, you can pack weeks worth of lightweight meals to stay nourished and energized out on the trial and fuel your most exciting adventures!

Looking At The Ballet Barre In A Whole New Way

Emily Wheeler:

Another throw back post to last summer when I wrote about barre classes! Lucky for us, UNC Campus Recreation has started offering a new barre group fitness class every Wednesday evening at 7pm in Woolen gym dance studio. I recently had the chance to go to this class and it was great! Be on the lookout for a review of the actual class I took here at UNC!

Originally posted on Tar Heel Tone Up:

There is a new type of exercise class increasing in popularity that you may have already heard of, known as “Barre” or “Pure Barre.” Dancers know that the horizontal bar at waist level that dancers, especially ballerinas, use to maintain balance during some exercises is more formally known as the “barre.” However, barre studios are popping up all over the place and they’re not targeting dancers—they’re inviting anyone who is looking for a new, fun workout style to enter their doors and start working toward those strong, lean muscles of a dancer.

What can you expect from a barre class?
Most barre classes are not designed to burn a lot of calories or to be a cardio workout. They are designed to increase muscle tone through small, focused movements. Many people say that they don’t feel strained or extremely tired during and directly following the class, but the next-day soreness…

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Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Emily Wheeler:

Throw back (Tuesday… not Thursday, sorry) to last summer as a reminder to be responsible in the summer sun and to also use that sunlight to get your vitamin D!

Originally posted on Tar Heel Tone Up:

So here is my dilemma: on one hand, we’re told that unprotected sun exposure can cause damage to DNA and increase risk of skin cancer. Some dermatologists are extreme enough to suggest that wearing sunscreen is essential before any amount of sun exposure and that you should avoid exposing your skin to the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm at all costs. I’m not kidding; I’ve known a dermatologist who adopted this as his philosophy for preventing melanoma. On the other hand, we are told that a certain amount of unprotected sun exposure is extremely beneficial, if not essential, for producing adequate amounts of vitamin D, one of the most important vitamins for the body. What is a person to do in this sticky situation? Become a shadow hermit? Take some extra supplements? I’m not a fan of either idea.


Let’s take a quick detour. So, I think…

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Astronaut Nutrition 101

We all know that what we eat matters, but have you ever thought about how difficult it can be to maintain good nutrition in space? One key member of the mission preparation team for space travel is a nutritionist who helps to plan and execute a meal plan for the astronauts that will keep them healthy in space.

Short flights to space lasting only a week or two are frequently compared to “camping trips,” where it’s still important to have plenty of food but having a well thought-out, balanced nutrient plan isn’t as essential. Longer trips, lasting several months, are when it becomes extremely important to pay careful attention to nutrient balance to prevent nutrient deficiencies and health problems.

When I initially thought about astronaut nutrition, the mental images were anything but appetizing, but unfortunately those unappetizing ideas used to be a reality! The earliest space programs in the 1960s fed astronauts a diet of bite-sized food cubes, freeze dried powder to be mixed with cold water, and semi-liquefied foods squeezed directly out of aluminum tubes and into the astronaut’s cringing mouths.

The Gemini program (1965-66) made the enormous improvement of covering the food-cubes in plain gelatin to prevent crumbs from floating around and clogging the air-handling system. Yum. The Apollo program (1968-72) finally had hot water with which the astronauts could rehydrate their food, and the Skylab program (1973-74) was the first to have refrigerators and freezers on board so that fresh foods could be incorporated into the astronaut diet.

The Shuttle program of 1981 employed the aid of a dietitian to help the crew members plan 3 meals per day that they would actually want to eat, even if the majority of the food was still dehydrated. Space Shuttle meal trays eliminated the need to squeeze dinner out of a tube; the trays could be secured to the astronaut’s lap with Velcro, and then scissors, utensils, and the various food pouches were adhered to the tray with Velcro as well. Physically getting the food from the pouch to the mouth might be a challenge in zero-gravity, but luckily our genius bodies use rhythmic muscle contractions of the digestive system known as peristalsis to move the food down the esophagus and through the intestines, so the food isn’t at much risk of floating back up after it is swallowed (thank goodness!)

Space Ice cream by e-diot of Flickr Creative Commons

Space Ice cream by e-diot of Flickr Creative Commons

Two nutrition-related health problems common to astronauts also have to be specifically addressed in the meal planning process: bone and muscle loss and increased levels of iron in the blood while in space. Although the reason is not immediately clear, astronauts lose red blood cell volume while on extended space programs to the point that the overall blood volume can decrease by 10%! To achieve this reduced blood volume, the body destroys new red blood cells as soon as they are formed until the body reaches the new equilibrium volume. This lysis of red blood cells releases iron, which is stored in the body and can approach toxic levels in astronauts if the food is also supplemented with iron.

Bone mass and density are also highly regulated by calcium and vitamin D in the body. Because the shuttles are protective against UV light, there is no sunlight to be had in space and the body cannot produce vitamin D, making absorption from the diet necessary. Zero-gravity also causes more calcium to be excreted in the urine, which is related to both bone loss and formation of kidney stones. Bone strength and density is also maintained by daily activities on earth and weight-bearing exercise (including walking), so the weightless conditions of space make bone loss especially pronounced and rapid. Even with supplements and daily exercise programs on the shuttle, astronauts still lose significant bone mass during an extended flight, but proper nutrition can help to minimize the damage. Muscle mass is also lost in space—another side effect of weightlessness. Many astronauts also experience a suppression in their appetite while in space, so it is important for astronauts to take in a sufficient number of calories every day to minimize muscle and fat loss that they will have to regain when back on earth.

The astronauts are often required to report a log of their food intake back to the space station every day or week for analysis of their nutrient intake, and some even have to test blood calcium levels with finger sticks on a regular basis.

Overall, the first “astronaut foods” were proof enough that early astronauts weren’t interested in space travel because it was fun or easy. Thankfully, astronauts today are able to taste-test and rate foods as part of the menu-planning process before the flight begins. Rehyrdratable options now include everything from shrimp cocktail to baked eggplant and tortillas, fruits, and vegetables frequently make it onto the flight menu (although the fresh items must be eaten during the first part of the flight.)

The research that created the lightweight, preservable food for astronauts has also contributed to improved nutrition for other specific niches of people here on earth, such as hikers, campers, and backpackers. Being a NASA dietician not only has the perk of being an awesome job title, it’s also an essential part of keeping the crew safe and healthy during their flights and has contributed to our day-to-day lives on earth, much like other NASA research!


NASA Facts. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. October 2002.

Space Travel and Nutrition.


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