Food for Fitness in the Field
By Drew YoungeDyke
This Michigan Outside column was originally published in the October 2019 issue of Woods'N'Water News.
As hunters and anglers, we have it good. We have direct access to some of the best food in the world for the price of a hunting or fishing license. Wild game provides more protein and less fat than most store-bought meat. When it’s combined with some organic vegetables and little else there’s hardly a more healthy meal out there. With such direct access to organic, hormone-free, high-protein wild game meat, why is it so hard for so many of us to stay fit, then?
Food is the foundation of fitness. The hardest workout you can muster can be sabotaged if you follow it up with an unhealthy meal. When I first started trail-running a few years ago, I found it easier to eat clean by keeping that in mind, until I made it as much a habit as trail-running. I tried to follow the paleo diet as closely as I could. This helped me lose 60 pounds in two years, but after a few years that became more “paleo-ish” – especially when chocolate donuts appeared at staff meetings - and I added back some of the pounds I lost.
In July I rededicated myself to working out. I exercised in all but four days of the month but I still felt sluggish. With the workout habit restored, I got back to following CrossFit in earnest in August, doing workouts of the day in my garage gym. But it wasn’t just the constantly varied high intensity workouts that brought me back to CrossFit: it was the total fitness model, which lists nutrition as the foundation of the development of an athlete in the CrossFit training manual (available to download for free on its website). In that training manual, CrossFit recommends a fairly simple – but not easy – way to eat: “Eat a diet of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.”
Even without working out, nutrition alone can help you lose weight if that is your goal. Dave Rose is a fishing guide, outdoor writer, hunter, angler, and a friend of mine. In the last year, he’s lost almost 140 pounds almost exclusively by changing how he ate, dropping from almost 350 pounds to 208 at last count.
“I eat six times a day,” he told me. “If you normally eat three meals a day, cut each in half and spread it out over six meals. I also try to eat my first meal within a half hour of waking. For me, that’s what worked. What you don’t want to do is starve yourself and make your body want to store calories.”
It’s not solely about how often he eats, though. He also pays more attention to how much and what he eats.
“It’s just about eating correctly, eating fewer calories than I burn just sitting still throughout the day, if that’s what I’m doing. If you eat 2,000 calories in one fast food meal, you probably can’t burn that off in a day.”
He doesn’t eliminate carbs, either, but just lowers them to about 100 grams each day. And while he doesn’t attribute his weight loss directly to catching more fish or shooting more deer, he says it does impact how much fun he has hunting and fishing.
“I started last September, and even by deer season last year I’d lost about 40 pounds. I couldn’t believe how much easier hunting was, more enjoyable. I look so forward to this hunting season because I’ll be down almost 140 pounds!”
Fishing is more fun for him, too, which is critical as a fishing guide.
“Getting into and out of the boat is easier. I feel better than when I was 25, and I’m 52. What was once a long day on the water is now a short day. I don’t ache, and my joint inflammation has been reduced.
Now that Dave has lost the weight, he’s adding exercise back into the mix, too, working out a couple days a week at Planet Fitness.
“I felt so good that I wanted to tone and strengthen muscle, to be able to walk up that next hill to hunt.”
“The most important thing,” he said,” is just realizing that life can be easier. Just by making small tweaks, hunting and fishing can be easier. I literally want to spend more time outdoors now, just having a good time.”
There are a lot of nutrition plans and diets out there: keto, paleo, gluten-free, the Zone, Atkins, high-carb, low-carb, even vegetarian and vegan, if you have the hunting success I’ve had the last couple years since switching to a traditional bow. Before starting any radical changes in your diet, it’s probably not a bad idea to talk to your doctor. But for many of us, anything more discerning than “it tastes good” will probably be an improvement; I know it was for me.
As we get into the heart of hunting season here in Michigan, we have an opportunity to reset how we eat. Maybe it means not deep-frying what we shoot before eating it, or washing it down with water instead of a pop or a beer. Maybe it means shooting steel shot or copper bullets so that high-quality wild game meat doesn’t come with a side of lead poisoning.
Food is the end we seek through our outdoor experiences, whether it’s pheasant, grouse, duck, deer, or black bear. If we put half as much thought into what we put into our bodies as we put into the hunt, we’ll have more enjoyable hunts and more of them in our lives.
If you want to learn more about how Dave lost his weight, you can contact him at www.wildfishing.com.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and a Director of Conservation Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.
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