Life-Saving Supplements to Take on the Trail
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Whether it’s in a day hike or an ultra-marathon, nature will eventually want to know what you’re made of...
Trust us. We know. Both Dexter and I have lived through the agonizing realization that what we set out to do was way more than we could chew. Dexter learned the importance of salt tablets in his first ultra-marathon. As for me, well... I’ve had many of those moments.
Just as the 10 essentials and a first aid kit are items that you cannot, must not, forget, the following supplements are the wondrous children of science and modernity. These ingredients give your body the key elements it needs to function correctly when its energy sources are quickly depleted. We never head out on an adventure without them.
Energy Gels, Drinks, Gummies and Beans
In Mexico, the most popular brand is “GU”. These gels are super practical because they are light, pack well and are easy to gulp down while moving. They are particularly popular among runners and cyclists. This is our first option and some flavors are actually tolerable.
Another option is energy gummies or beans but we don’t like them because they can stick to each other, we end up with sticky fingers and are sometimes are hard to chew, especially if they are old.
Envelopes or sachets of powder drinks are common and useful if you have containers and bottles, but we never add them to our hydration systems because they are very difficult to clean.
These are not just for people wanting to bulk up. We have depended on protein bars many times because they can replace a meal. There have been times when we didn’t have time to eat or we had little food... And protein bars saved us!
The brand that we have used to most is Quest, sold at GNC. Even if the flavor is artificial they have tasted glorious when we’ve been starving. However, there are more options now for healthier and even vegan protein bars.
Salt Tablets and Electrolytes
When we exercise we sweat and it tastes salty, right? That’s because we are losing sodium, a key mineral. However, other minerals are just as important: potassium, calcium and magnesium. When we don’t have enough of these, our hands can get puffy, muscles cramp and we feel depleted of energy. And it can get worse than that.
Let’s avoid this by staying buying capsules or chewable tablets that contain these ingredients and use them as an emergency. Another alternative are fizzy tablets that dissolve in water, similar to powder energy drinks.
Of course, the whole idea is to avoid reaching that level of dehydration, but when you’re on the trail with limited water sources, it may not always be possible.
Are There Natural Alternatives to Industrialized Supplements?
Yes... Sort of. We know that all these products come in single-use wrappings and we know they have hidden ingredients or too much of something that isn’t particularly healthy. However, we still haven’t found many alternatives that work as well. These are the only options we know about:
A staff member at MEC Toronto told us that we could use Himalayan salt in our water instead of electrolyte drinks. I imagine this wouldn’t work in dire situations, though.
In his book “Eat and Run” Scott Jurek, a hardcore vegan, gives a lot of recipes for homemade and healthier alternatives. The one that caught my attention was “pinole.” In Mexico, pinole is corn flour, usually sweetened with piloncillo (raw cane sugar) and cinnamon, traditionally drunk by the Aztecs that can be dissolved in water. Jurek said that the Tarahumara runners still use that as their go-to energy drink. We bought some but haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.
Rich Rolls also gives recipes in his book “Finding Ultra.” I also know that he started developing his own brand of supplements for athletic performance but I have never tried them.
The book “Superlife” by Darin Olien (co-host of the show Down to Earth) has plenty of ideas for superfood-based and highly nutritious recipes. Sometimes the ingredients are very exotic or expensive, so it’s not our go-to option.
Whether you turn to healthy or store-bought options, it’s important to remember what our bodies need to function properly. We have finished races, day treks, bike rides and many other adventures thanks, partly, to these supplements. Check them out and see the difference that they make.