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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Alimentary, My Dear

No Sweat! Power Drinking and Eating Made Easy

By Tamia Nelson

January 20, 2004

Paddling is fun, but that doesn't mean it isn't also hard work. You don't imagine that tackling a Class IV whitewater run or spending the day surfing the big waves along the coast of a Hawaiian island is something you can do from the comfort of a La-Z-Boy®, do you? Or that paddling through the chilly "shoulder seasons" won't force you to keep your internal fires burning bright? Of course not. You say you're strictly a fair-weather paddler? Don't think that you're exempt. Summer expeditions demand that your body put out, too. After all, you'll need every bit of energy you can muster to repel the airborne assaults of biting flies, survive killer portages, and endure marathon open-water crossings. Even a short tour of Golden Pond can make you hungry enough to clean out an all-you-can eat buffet.

Swinging a paddle burns a lot of calories. If you don't refuel your engine early and often, it'll start consuming bits of your body, instead. That's great news if you're trying to lose weight, but it's not too good if you're already lean and mean. And even dieters have to eat something. Trying to do too much on too little will leave anyone tired and accident-prone. So when you're really stroking, make sure you stoke your boiler often. If you don't, you'll find that all your get-up-and-go has got up and went, just when you need it most.

The writing's on the wall for all to see:

Food = Fuel = Energy

Hundreds of books elaborating on this simple equation have been published over the years, and today every HyperMart has an aisle or three devoted to "energy foods" and "sports drinks." I've got my own favorite snacks…er, sorry, energy foods…but when my strength flags underway, I usually reach for a drink first. The reason? Water. Whether it's ninety in the shade or hovering down around the freezing point, your body needs water. In fact, winter campers fight a constant battle against dehydration. You throw water away every time you "pump ship," after all, and that's only the beginning. You also lose water with every breath you take, and you sweat even in the coldest weather. Lose too much fluid by any route, and you're in trouble.

Water — clean water — is the original fluid replacement drink, but it's often not enough. You can't run your engine on it, for one thing. And you're losing more than just water when you sweat or pump ship. You lose electrolytes, too: tiny quantities of salts that your muscles and nerves need to function. These salts have to be replaced. But that's not as simple as it sounds. Electrolyte physiology is a delicate balancing act. If you lose too much of any of the critical salts, your strength is sure to wane. In extreme cases, your muscles can stop working. (And don't forget that your heart is a muscle.) But too much of most salts is as bad as too little. There's a growing consensus among epidemiologists that the salt shaker is Public Health Enemy Number One, or at least a strong contender for the title.

I don't pretend to have any special insight here. Still, it seems likely that most folks — at least most Americans — consume more than enough salt in their day-to-day diets to meet their physiological needs. But paddlers aren't necessarily "most folks." Prolonged strenuous exertion makes unusual demands on the body, demands that the normal diet may not meet.

Enter "sports drinks." You know the stuff I'm talking about. HyperMarket shelves groan under the weight of thousands of bottles in dozens of shapes. And the contents come in every flavor of the rainbow, from berry red to very violet. Basically, though, each and every one does the same two jobs: they replace salts and replenish calories. What they don't always do is taste good. OK. Maybe that's too harsh. Let's just say that they're an acquired taste.

Well, I've acquired it. And now that I make my own, I find I like it even more. I call my home-brew sports drink Newt Nectar. (The spring-fed cistern from which we used to haul our water boasted a thriving population of newts. They always had plenty of energy, and my Newt Nectar makes me feel almost as lively, in hot weather and cold alike.) Only the name's original, however. The Nectar itself is just a variation on the "oral rehydration drink" described in Where There Is No Doctor.

Why would you want to make your own? Two reasons — cost and flavor. A twenty-ounce (600-mL) bottle of Very Violet (or Berry Red) can set you back nearly a buck at the local HyperMart. On the other hand, twenty ounces of my homemade Nectar costs only pennies. And my Nectar gets its flavor from real fruit juice.

Want to imbibe the Nectar of the Newt yourself? It's easy. Here's how…

Newt Nectar
(NB Makes 1 US quart, but you can scale it up if you want)

1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ordinary table salt
8 teaspoons sugar
1 cup fruit juice (or the equivalent in juice powder)
Enough clean water to make up a quart

You also need a bottle that will hold one quart (or one liter — the difference between them is negligible). Put the salt and the sugar in the bottom of the empty bottle (but see WARNING below first). Then pour in the fruit juice. I prefer orange juice, but you can use whatever you like: grape, apple, mango, apricot, or.… Anything that takes your fancy, in other words. Now fill the bottle with clean water, stopper tightly, and shake. That's it! You're done. At home, I mix up Newt Nectar in advance and store it in the fridge till I'm ready to go. It keeps about as long as any other refrigerated juice. Be sure to shake it up again before you pour it out into your trail bottle, though. Sugar and salt dissolve, but real fruit juice has solids that settle out over time.

Want to ring the changes? Feel free. Experiment. Adjust Newt Nectar to your own taste, altering the amounts of salt, sugar, and juice as needed. Going out for more than a day? No problem. While you probably won't have too many oranges in your pack, you can use an equivalent amount of powdered drink mix, instead. (But watch out for added sugar and salt.) The taste won't always be great, but it's at least as good as Berry Red or Very Violet.

WARNING! Salt (sodium chloride) is essential for life, but too much can kill you. And just how much is too much? That depends. The 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon in my Newt Nectar works for me, but it may not work for you. If you have any doubts — and maybe even if you don't — ask your doctor. This is especially important if you have, or think you might have, hypertension or heart disease. Diabetics also need to watch their sugar intake carefully. Sport drinks like Newt Nectar probably aren't a good bet for them. Questions? Once again, ask your doctor.

Is Nectar by itself all that a healthy, active paddler needs to keep up her energy when she's on the move? No. Not even the gods on Mount Olympus were satisfied with Nectar alone. They dined on Ambrosia, as well. Of course Ambrosia is hard to find these days, even in the best-stocked HyperMart. So I make do with less ethereal fare. My own Magnum Oatmeal Bars, for example. Or dried fruit. Or nuts. Or even — my not-so-secret vice — the little fig-filled pastries that made the phrase "Fig Newtons®" a household name in America. In the final analysis, what you snack on is probably less important than how often. You can be very scientific about this if you want to, logging the intensity of exertion, the air temperature and humidity, and the time of day, along with your calorie intake over the last thirty-six hours. Then, with the help of a book or a personal trainer, you can calculate the ideal refueling interval, not to mention the perfect mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to meet your exact nutritional needs at each and every moment of your trip.

Or you can do what I do, and stop for a short break every hour or so, when an inviting eddy appears in the middle of a long rapids, say, or when you see an osprey "on the fish," or when the clouds part just enough to let a fan of sunlight play over the brooding hills. Then reach for whatever pack is nearest to you and have a snack, washing it down with water or Nectar, as suits your mood.

Athletes and students of nutrition will find this haphazard approach to eating and drinking underway hopelessly old-fashioned. They'll opt for a selection of scientifically formulated energy bars, gels, and performance drinks, instead. Include me out. I like my food to taste (and look) like food. Energy gels, in particular, never fail to remind me of L. Francis Herreshoff's famous reply to a question about the utility of fiberglass as a boat-building material. "Frozen snot!" he bristled. "It'll never catch on." And then he went back to his drawing table, to design yet another lovely wooden yacht that almost no one could afford. Well, LFH was wrong about fiberglass, wasn't he? And I could be wrong about energy gels, too. But at least it'll be easier for me to eat my words if I am. In the meantime, I'll stick to oatmeal bars, fruit, and nuts — and Newt Nectar, of course.

Food = Fuel = Energy. Paddlers who are always on the go need more than three squares a day if they want to keep their internal fires burning bright. Does this describe you? Do you sometimes find yourself stroking from dawn to dusk while your energy ebbs and your spirit sags? No sweat. Just drink — and eat — early and often. And keep on stroking. The newts knew it all along. Bon appétit!

Copyright 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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