John Bagnulo Nutritionist, Lecturer, Outdoor Enthusiast Wed, 08 Jul 2015 18:11:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 EATING TO SUPPORT OUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES – Rules of the Road: Rule #1 Tue, 30 Jun 2015 02:23:59 +0000 IMG_0123

RULE 1: Make fat, not carbohydrate, your predominant fuel source for most outdoor activities and competition

The human body is able to use several different substrates as fuel sources during prolonged exercise. These range from ketones and fats, skeletal muscle and protein, to carbohydrates found in several different forms, as well as lactic acid. 

The best analogy to the manner in which we metabolize these is the way we might burn soft wood or hardwood in our fireplace or wood stove. Carbohydrates are much like the soft woods pine, cedar, and fir.  They tend to catch easily, are quick to burn, release quite a bit of heat, but are limited in duration. Anyone living in a Northern climate realizes at a young age that it is a mistake to try and heat a home with these types of wood.  They are consumed so rapidly that, without a constant feeding, the fire will burn out leaving a house without heat or worse, with a chimney fire-heat/energy in the wrong place. 

The same can be said for an athlete on a carbohydrate-based diet.  The body prefers fat and ketones as a fuel, lactic acid is a second choice (if we train enough to be good at recycling it), and will use protein (by breaking down skeletal muscle) or carbohydrates (from glycogen) to complete our needs or if left with little else from diet. Numerous investigations with runners and cyclists, cross country skiers and rowers, among other athletes, have shown increased performance with higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets as well as with ketogenic diets that are very limited in their carbohydrate content. Most recently, the European Journal of Sports Science published a research paper that showed dramatic differences in performance with an adoption of a low carb, high fat diet in runners and cyclists(1). Athletes experienced significant decreases in their recorded times during trials and observed longer times to exhaustion or fatigue in comparison to previous diets or their peers who retained the typical high carb diet. 

I have always though it best and saw the best results personally when climbing or hiking, trail running or paddling, on avocados, almond butter, coconut, and other high fat foods. In fact, I would estimate that I got more than half of my calories on every major mountain, Everest included, from olive oil.

It makes sense, even without a PhD in Sports Science or Nutritional Biochemistry. The mitochondria generate 99.9% of energy in exercise (life for that matter). The mitochondria can burn some fats in an extremely clean fashion (little in the way of undesirable intermediates or byproducts of combustion-the creosote if we return to the firewood analogy). These fats also give us more than twice the amount of energy per gram and, maybe most importantly for overall health, the right fats will provide us with low insulin levels (critical for optimal performance) and offer protection against the free radicals generated in exercise. 

We need consistent energy available to our working muscles, it needs to be in good supply (everybody has fat to burn regardless of how lean they might be), and it has to burn cleanly so our mitochondria stay trouble-free and do not “catch on fire” with inflammation or oxidative stress-based pathologies like the wood stove or chimney that was stuffed with pine kindling and ignited on a cold winter night.

The best fats for exercise are the most stable. Saturated and monounsaturated fats are resistant to per oxidation or oxidative damage. The best sources can be found in both plants and animals depending upon availability and an athlete’s preferences. Included in the best of the best list are:

  • avocados and anything you can make with them from guacamole to smoothies (see future blog listing best recipes)
  • macadamia nuts
  • almonds and almond butter
  • grass-fed butter or ghee
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • extra virgin coconut oil or coconut butter
  • and the yolks of pasture-raised eggs (the yolks are mostly fat and cholesterol-maybe the ultimate pre event or competition food)  

Try to make your pre-training or pre-activity meal be high in one or more of these. Go slow at first, fat requires some additional digestive capacity and it may take a few weeks to get to where you can digest those 3 egg yolks in a breakfast along with a whole avocado and vegetables sautéed in coconut oil. When out in the mountains or on the water, develop trail foods around coconut and macadamia nuts which hold up really well in rough environments and pack an incredible amount of energy.


These days we make coconut macaroons with almost no sugar, bring canned sardines and goat cheese to have with carrots, and use as much grass-fed butter in almond butter bars for the trail.  We also start out the day with our own version of Sherpa tea. I was always amazed at how this incredible mountain culture relied on Yak butter in tea to fuel a full day of climbing and carrying heavy loads at altitude. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it.  We add butter or coconut oil to our coffee or black tea, use full fat or heavy whipping cream at times, but try to avoid things like fruit juice or Gatorade in the morning as they can get the blood sugar roller coaster really going early.

In summary, start to experiment with egg and butter breakfasts (some vegetables added for more potassium and other electrolytes), avocado and lemon smoothies, or coconut-macadamia nut pancakes topped with berries and heavy cream or grass-fed butter in place of that granola and dried fruit combination, energy bars or boxed cereals.  I am confident based upon both my personal experiences as well as the supporting research, that you will see great results in many areas of life, not just your success in the outdoors!

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Carageenan in Non-Dairy Milk (Recipes Included) Tue, 30 Jun 2015 02:09:51 +0000 Since Joanne Tobacman’s research was released in May of 2012, the food industry has had two choices:

  • change food formularies to eliminate carageenan


  • ignore over a decade of research  

The most recent findings at the University of Illinois College of Medicine showed that even minute amounts of this “natural” emulsifier causes intestinal inflammation, a loss of important microbes, and increases the level of intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut).  For those who have turned to non dairy milk substitutes like soy, almond, and coconut milk this is yet another example of where trying to eat or drink the right thing as turned out to be disappointing and potentially harmful. 

The good news is that while carageenan is in so many things from salad dressings to ice cream, it is really easy to make your own much healthier versions of the products that it contains at home. In addition to creating something that is remarkably better, fresher, and healthier, you will save money!

Making either almond milk or coconut milk at home:

Raw Almond Milk


  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • Vanilla Powder or Cinnamon

Soak one cup of raw almonds for 8-12 hours or overnight

In the morning, discard the water they were soaked in and add both the almonds and one quart of fresh, non-chlorinated water to a blender

Add fresh vanilla powder (should be brown, never white!) or cinnamon if you like these flavors, 1/2 tsp of each will be adequate and not overpowering

Blend on high speed for 2 minutes, less in a Vitamix

Pour this blended almond meal/almond milk through either cheese cloth (less sediment) or a steel mesh colander/screen (my favorite as it has some pulp)

Enjoy! Refrigerate and it will last 4-5 days

Coconut Milk


  • 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconuts

Bring 1 quart or liter of water to approximately 180ºF. It does not need to boil but has to be hot enough to soak the shredded coconut and to extract some of its healthy fat

Add 2 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut to this quart of hot water in a blender or Vitamix and blend for approximately 4-5 minutes.

Pour from blender through a cheesecloth or steel colander/screen.

Enjoy. Refrigerate and it will last 6-7 days.

***In both cases, save the pulp that was removed by the cheesecloth for baking or other uses. Each will still have much flavor and great fiber to add to Paleo pancakes or muffins. Recipes to follow next week!

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