Podcast: Mighty Blue on the AT
Our founder Jessie frequently sits down with keto-focused podcasts to discuss how she was able to take her ketogenic diet on the road, err, trail and complete all 2650+ miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017. This week she sat down with Steve from the podcast Mighty Blue on the AT to discuss the inverse: a trail-focused podcast who could learn a bit about ketosis-fueled hiking. Take a listen!
Steve: You are listening to the hiking radio network where we talk the walk with shows by hikers, about hikers, for everybody.
Intro: Mighty Blue on the Appalachian trail, the ultimate midlife crisis join Steven, his guests every week as he staggers from Georgia to Maine.
Steve: Hi guys, thanks for coming back again for episode #123 of mighty blue on the Appalachian trail, the ultimate midlife crisis. I actually been thinking of changing that tagline, by the way, I'm 66 and midlife crises are somewhere in my rear view mirror. Maybe a better tagline would be a silly old fools reflections anyway, after we had a show last week with two young men this week, we're moving to the ladies, once again, both young and independent. The main guest is Jessie Greger; Jessie was brought to my attention by a listener, and I'm so glad that he gave me her contact details. This show is all about inspiring you, empowering you, and hopefully informing you a little on your hiking journeys. From my emails, I can tell that we're doing a pretty good job in this regard. Jessie hiked the PCT in 2017. She did it in such a specific way that I thought she'd make a great guest on the show. I won't spoil it for you, but I can tell you that she will certainly make you think the next time you pack your food bag. Now this is going to be a bit of a departure of the show. Yes. It's about a hiker, but no, she hasn't done the Appalachian Trail thru-hike, though she has done parts of it. This is Jessie Greger and Jessie has through hiked the PCT. Hi Jessie, how are you doing?
Jessie: Doing well Steve, how are you doing?
Steve: All right. We're nine hours ahead of you and I've just said I'm about to have a glass of wine and she at 9:00 in the morning on the Pacific coast is looking forward to a glass of wine as well. I'm not terribly sure when though.
Jessie: To be clear, I'm drinking some coffee. So I've got some time.
Steve: Fair enough. Now there's a specific reason to have you on the show quite apart from fact that you're a hiker, because you did the PCT in 2017, but you did it in a very specific way. Tell us what you did.
Jessie: Sure. So at home, I keep what's called a ketogenic diet, meaning that I generally eat low carb, no bread, no rice, which at home is a generally fun challenge; a lot of people do it for health reasons, for weight reasons, or overall well-being. But to do it on trail is a bit of a difficult process. If your listeners are familiar with thru hiking, or just hiking culture in general, then they'll be surprised that with keto there's no snickers, there's no Ramen noodles, there's none of the typical hiker fare that's available to you to make your food options on a trail inexpensive. They were off limits to me and so I had to find a way to eat on trail that was mostly proteins and fats and vegetables.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
Steve: So let's step back here then because this isn't something that I know anything about other than the fact that I've googled it, which makes me, of course, a worldwide expert right now. And then I went down this rabbit hole as you do in google and finding out various other things of how people say that they believe it could be a really, really healthy way to not only protect your body, but also protect you against cancer. While I know you're not making those claims, it's clear there's something that's particularly interesting about a ketogenic diet. So firstly, how did you get onto it?
Jessie: Yeah. So to be clear I'm definitely on the "not a doctor" spectrum; I worked in tech for many years and so definitely not a part of the medical community, but I started doing keto for health reasons. I was feeling absolutely atrocious after a group trip to India and I was gaining weight when everyone else in my group was losing weight. And we were eating the same things and my mood was fluctuating between these incredible not-quite manic episodes, but just a lot of energy. And then suddenly just no energy. Not sadness, just no energy. I went to the doctor and she said, "It's not depression or bipolar issues, your metabolism is just kind of off kilter, which is why your energy is the only thing that's fluctuating. Try this diet, try cutting out carbs." and she said it sort of casually, it wasn't like a directive of "this will change your life" but I figured, why not? My dad had done similar diets growing up; he had done Atkins and south beach and I was familiar with the concept of a low carb diet, but hadn't really ever taken it on myself because I didn't have hundreds of pounds to lose. I wasn't obese or needed to make a new year's resolution to drop some weight. So I took it on very shruggy about it and within two weeks I felt awesome. I felt like a super human; I was waking up with the sun every morning, I had boundless energy, but found it easier to fall asleep at night. My insomnia disappeared, my mood leveled out and I thought, "oh, I've unlocked something here. This is great."
Steve: Let me ask you then about that. So if that affected you and yet you got on this group trip to India, is it a specific body type or how does it affect different people? Do you know?
Jessie: I think it's very much "your miles may vary". I think that the same sort of people that are prone to diabetes or prone to overeating or thyroid conditions, I think there's all these different things that our body does that impacts your metabolism. As a hiker, the moment you watch your hiker hunger take over, you know that your metabolism has such a huge part to play in both your daily moods and your daily energy. And I think that it's just one of those underlying things that not a lot of people look at as a primary driver of how we're feeling and how we're acting. And so yes, I think that every person's body is entirely different. I think it's worth trying. And I'm definitely not evangelical about it. I don't preach from the rooftops about how everyone should cut out the rice and the beans and the bread. But for me it works really well and it works really well for a lot of people.
Steve: Do you miss them? Like bread, I mean some of the great things of the world are bread, potatoes, pasta, rice.
Jessie: My two favorite foods are bread pudding (it literally has "bread" in the name) and pancakes. So there's definitely a bit of a miss there, but it's the same thing when people have to cut out dairy because maybe it breaks out their skin, whatever it is that you have to walk away from because you feel better on the other side. It makes it a little bit easier to just process and go forward; if you were trying to lose weight and you said, well, do you miss donuts? Well yeah, of course you miss donuts, but you recognize that they're not good for you and they make you feel terrible. So, it makes walking away a bit easier.
Steve: Well, when I was doing this deep dive into Wikipedia, as you do, I came across with a quite a good definition. It says the ketogenic diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet in medicine it's used primarily to treat difficult-to-control epilepsy in children, and the diet forces the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates. So what is the theory? Do you basically starve yourself of carbs and provide the fat that the body still needs to burn? Is that basically it?
Jessie: Yeah, close to it. Let's say I consume 2000 calories a day: the old way, I could just eat a plate of pasta and some Alfredo sauce and some chicken. But if I eat the same amount of calories -- but now I'm just eating maybe the chicken and a salad and that fatty Alfredo sauce -- your body is getting the exact same nutrients, it's still getting the same 2000 calories. But it goes, "carbs are really easy to burn". Our bodies are lazy. They don't want to have to struggle to burn calories and get energy. So it looks at the sugar first and carbs are sugar. And so it goes, "oh cool. I can easily make those into glucose. I'm just going to ignore the fat. I'm going to store it for later. And like maybe get to it eventually. " And for most Americans we never get to it eventually. That's perhaps why our entire culture is a little bit overweight. But if you swap over the calorie source from carbs to fat, getting the same 2000 calories a day, then your body goes, "oh no, the easy way is not available to me anymore. I can't take a shortcut. Okay. I guess I have to switch into, essentially, a new gear and learn how to burn this fat source instead for fuel." It's like going from like an automatic car to like a manual transmission: it's a different way to do it, but the end result for your body is the same thing. One does requires a little bit more effort. Once you're in what's called ketosis -- the metabolic state when you start burning fat and the body produces ketones as fuel -- that's where you go through a bit of an adjustment when your body breaks its addiction to sugar and you come out the other side feeling like I did: a little bit superhero and lots energy.
Steve: Is that, what it is: literally breaking an addiction (what most of the Western world has, I suspect)?
Jessie: Absolutely. It's the same thing if you are a coffee addict, (and I'm sitting here with my second cup of coffee so I'm guilty of this), and you decide to go without without coffee for a little while, you have headaches, you feel sick, you feel cranky. That's your body breaking an addiction. It's found them really easy source of, in coffee's, case, energy and the ability to wake up in the morning, and your body is unhappy you've changed that pattern. Same thing is true of sugar and carbs and they're definitely the same thing. So to say, "yeah, I cut back on sugar, but I keep eating bread and you know, sugary fruits like apples and melons", it's not exactly like the whole split there; your body still has to be cut off from its source of what it's addicted to. And the addiction is easily converted energy fuel.
Why Hike Ketogenically?
Steve: So when you thought about doing the PCT, you were on this ketogenic diet already. So give us an idea of how your diet changed then because if you're already on it, say, in the months leading up to it, what were you eating in a day and then once you got on the trail, what were you eating in a day?
Jessie: So before the trail, I think my typical day was wake up, have some eggs and bacon and avocado for breakfast, and lunch might be some fatty protein, like chicken thighs with some sauce and some sautéed zucchini. Dinner could be a steak and broccoli. The choices are really pretty wide open and are absolutely amazing. I thought keto would be a super restrictive, but I'm not eating rice cakes all day. It's really hearty diet. It's not restrictive at all other than you can't have bread. My days before the trail were lots of good fats and avocados and oils and all the calorie dense foods.
Steve: Before we go into the trail:good fats and bad fats. What are good or bad then?
Jessie: So a good fat, meaning olive oil and avocado oil and the fats you find in like animal meats; bad fats are things like vegetable oil, canola oil: if it was made in a factory, it's not a good fat, it's not a good oil. And perhaps they're not "bad fats", more like "bad calories": if you can have the same number of calories of sugar versus a teaspoon of butter, do the butter - butter's better for you. So it's just matter of making the right choices in your everyday meals.
Steve: Okay, you've been a hiker for some time, I understand?
Jessie: Mostly three-day backpacking trips. I did the Wonderland Trail over seven or eight days, but nothing at all to this extent of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had decided to hike the trail with a friend who is not ketogenic, so he started googling what his diet would look like and he's like, "cool, I get to eat like a fifth grader on a school bus: I get to eat snickers bars all day. This is going to be great!" I was just sort of thinking, "oh, I'm in trouble. This is going to be problematic." So I started digging around and he's planning out his Ramen Bombs and just planning out how many different types of clif bars can he try before he gets bored of them? And I'm just trying to figure out how to find a way to put meat and vegetables into backpacking food and I'm struggling. I walked into the sporting goods store and it was, "'Mac and Cheese', well, can't have that, that has pasta... Or 'Rice and Beans' well, can't have that, that has rice." I thought I wasn't going to be able to hike. I thought this isn't possible. I have to go off-diet and go back to feeling crappy and having mood swings and tired, which is NOT how you want to feel on a thru hike. Or I've got to figure out my own stuff. And so I started researching what would keep, how to make it keep -- dehydrated? freeze dried? -- what spices did well, how to get fat packed into small enough containers that I can bring onto the trail. And I ended up with like really robust menu options. I even found ways to get calories into my coffee: each morning I added powdered heavy cream and MCT powder. So my morning coffee was 300-400 calories alone and then I would snack.
Steve: Really? Oh wow.
Jessie: Oh yeah, it was, it was a nice little wake up jolt. And then throughout the day it was, it was the same thing that all thru hikers do: you're snacking constantly. My hip belts are filled with different things; instead of snickers bars, it was freeze dried cheese or dehydrated meat or jerky without sugar. It was just choosing things that are slightly different. Then came to dinner. As a hiker you want a hearty dinner; you want to sit down at the end of a long day and not have to worry about it and just shove food in your face to try to stave off the hiker hunger. But I was having trouble with commercially available dinner options. So I ended up making ketogenic dinner meals the same way a lot of hikers do: compiling all the ingredients individually and learning how to dehydrate my own meals. I ended up with like a bunch of low carb recipes, like beef tacos and buffalo ranch chicken, and every night was a different ketogenic meal, and each meal is 500-700 calories. Then I could add oil to it if I wanted to for more calories; I packed little olive oil packets and then added cheese and vegetables and the meals were more colorful and better tasting than all of my hiker friends'.
Steve: That's the interesting thing. So you decided to do this, but as you know, this is a really calorie rich environment in terms of what you burn. So did you seek medical advice from your doctor or in fact, any advice from any other hiker who'd ever done this ketogenically?
Jessie: I think that if you tell any doctor that you're about to go burn 6,000 calories a day by walking from Mexico to Canada via the hardest route possible, most of them would look at you like you're crazy, regardless if you're eating keto or candy. Look at the pictures of thru hikers at the end of trail: a little bit emaciated, skin and bones, bodies just starved for energy. My body didn't look like that. The recommendation that I have is that if you're going to try it make sure you're "keto adapted": eat ketogenically for three to five weeks before your hike to make sure that your body is fully switched over. Otherwise you're gonna have a bad time. When I started the hike, I was fully keto adapted and stayed Keto almost 100% through (I definitely went off Keto once or twice: I ate an entire jar of peanut butter, which is not exactly totally ketogenic. It's "keto if you squint") and then finished looking healthier than many of my hiking friends.
Steve: I want to come back to that in a minute, but if somebody wants to do this (and it makes a lot of sense because you're going to tell us how it impacted you at the end of the day) you said you have to be adapted. So you have to be living ketogenically for a period of time because if you just start on day one, that's just not gonna work for you, is that right?
Jessie: Yeah. So some people have easier times with it than others, but if you decide tomorrow or (and a lot of people are going to this) on January 1st as a common New Year's Resolution, "I'm going to eat ketogenically for the new year and lose a bunch of weight and get healthier and get in shape." Then from Day 1 until about Day 14, your body is adjusting. It's learning how to burn an entirely new fuel source. Maybe the automatic and manual car wasn't the best metaphor, but you instead gasoline versus diesel: you have to swap over fuel sources. If you decide on Day 3 that you're going to go live in the woods, you might end up with headaches and leg cramps, and all the things that you would experience just trying kick an old habit. So yes, it's highly recommended that you are what's called fully keto adapted, meaning your body has learned how to use this new fuel source of fat instead of carbs and isn't struggling with that transition anymore. That it has accepted this new norm, this new reality, and that's when you start waking up with the sun and you feel great and your energy is increased. I strongly recommend that you do the Keto adaptation period, which just means keeping below 25 net carbs generally per day. There's a lot of calculators online that help you figure out what your macros are, such as how much protein and carbs and fat should you be eating.
Steve: So you say below 25 net carbs. What does that mean?
Jessie: Here in the states, we calculate carbohydrates a little bit differently than other countries. If you look at the nutrition label on any food available in the grocery store, you have all of your different nutrients and vitamins and fats and all that. But four main items you need to look at are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and carbohydrates are broken down differently in the States than they are elsewhere. We include sugars, of course, because they're a carbohydrate, but we also put fiber in there; fiber actually isn't a net carb because we don't digest it the same way; it actually passes through our body pretty cleanly, which is why it's a great digestive tract cleaner. When a product like an avocado has five grams of carbs but two grams of fiber, then we subtract the two from the five. And we end up with three net carbs. So the same things that your doctor would say, like "eat fibrous foods, eat spinach and greens", so do people on Keto: we love fibrous foods because we get a lot of bulk in our stomach without feeling hungry. We get to eat a lot it doesn't count towards a sugar craving at all. This unfortunately requires a little bit of math, but if you can do the net carb subtraction, stay under 25 net carbs per day as a general rule of thumb. But again, your miles may vary.
Steve: So what is that? Tell me what– 25 net carbs a day, it sounds like, it's eight avocados for a start. so that's your 24, that's probably not the best way to– what are carbs and what can you–so could you, for example, eat potatoes?
Jessie: No. Some low carb diets that aren't really ketogenic -- like Paleo; it's a "Keto adjacent" way of eating -- they're allowed to have sweet potatoes on their diet because sweet potatoes are lower in carbs than say white potatoes, but generally speaking potatoes are a starch, and starches are a big No in the keto world
Steve: Right, What's the big Yes then? Apart from avocados, which by the way, I love Avocados but I don't think I could live on Avocados all day long. So it's going to be more than that.
Jessie: I thought that I would get sick of Avocados, but I was begging my mail drop buddy to put an underripe avocado in every single mail drop I had, I never tired of them. But to give you a baseline, a piece of bread might have 10 carbs, you can have two pieces of bread in your entire day and then nothing else. I don't recommend you do that. But some of the better objects include meat: steaks or chicken or jerky (if it doesn't have sugary preservatives). Vegetables are fantastic, like zucchinis, and foods that are low on the glycemic index, (ie low sugar) so oranges aren't okay, but strawberries and blueberries in moderation are okay . It's just knowing what you're eating, which is a good rule of thumb regardless of what diet you're on or what you're hoping to get out of it. Thru hikers study nutritional labels like they're in college; it's the same thing, just know what you're putting in your body and do the math and keep track of it for a little while. I always recommend to people (even if you don't want to go Keto, even if you're just looking to be a little more aware of what you're eating) just track your food for awhile. Look at the nutrition labels, write it down, and at the end of the day go, "oh wow, I had 150 grams of carbs. That's way more than I thought it was consuming"
Steve: I know at the end of my hike I was having six snickers a day and a jar of peanut butter a day. That's a winning combination, let me tell you.
Jessie: The good thing though is that the reason you were eating a jar of peanut butter a day, and the reason why I was eating a jar of peanut butter, was because it's high in fat. It's fat dense and the same reason that makes peanut butter a great thru hiker tool (and olive oil too) are the same reasons that make Keto a great option for hikers. All the things that thru hikers add to their hiking diet to boost the calorie intake are the things that Keto hikers are already eating. A few more hoops to jump through, but it's better for you overall if that's the way you want to eat.
The Logistics Challenge
Steve: So what were the logistics of doing the hike in this way? I mean, are they the same as everybody else because I presume you can't just go into your local Walmart and get what you need or maybe you can?
Jessie: If you go into a larger grocery store, like a Walmart or Safeway, then you could totally do this without mail drops the same way a regular hiker would go without mail drops. But what makes it challenging is I didn't know what these towns looked like. You don't know what you don't know, so I didn't want to rely on being told that there was a grocery store in town and finding out that the only thing that looked even remotely ketogenic was 10 packets of Spam. You've probably experienced this: you hike into trail town and you begin to formalize what the trail town looks like in your mind after having walked towards it for weeks. I always imagined each town a specific way and reality was an entirely different thing. I didn't want to like rely on that entirely so I decided I would have to mail drop all of my food, which is a strategy some regular thru hikers take and it's challenging. You have to have a mail drop buddy. And so my partner, who wasn't able to hike with me that year, he stayed at home and mail dropped me all of my food. He had very elaborate spreadsheets and calculations to track my miles per day. He's very type A (he's a software engineer) so of course he was calculating, "she's burning x amount of calories at this pace. I should be sending her y amount of ounces of olive oil to make up for the caloric deficit." It was lovely and insane and I adore him for it, but that's not necessary for everybody. If you've thru hiked before then you know what it looks like to mail drop a box of food to a town that maybe only has a post office and a gas station and you don't want to be living off of twinkies and Fritos for the next stretch so you mailed ahead a box of food for yourself. It's that same process, just in every town. In retrospect, there were five or six larger trail towns that had totally adequate grocery stores, but I didn't want to rely on them without knowing what I was getting into.
Steve: It's probably more easy to do, I suspect on the Appalachian Trail, funny enough, because there are that many more road crossings and so on. Because you went in in 2017, which was, I know it was a very high snow year in the Sierras. Did that impact your ability to stick with the diet?
Jessie: I was more worried about sticking with the diet in the beginning. When I got dropped off at the trail down in Campo, the guy who dropped us off was the father of my hiking buddy and is a doctor, so I told him what I was doing and how I was eating, he just shook his head and I overheard him tell my hiking buddy, "She won't make it 100 miles." I thought, "Oh no", but I'm also incredibly stubborn. "Well, I'll prove him wrong." but I heartbroken to hear that. Then started hiking and realized within two days I was totally fine. And it wasn't until I got to the Sierras that I thought this might be a little different, but I didn't think that because of my diet. My diet actually makes it a bit easier to thru hike as the oils and the nut butters that other hikers add to their diet to boost their calorie intake are the things that I was already eating. So the amount of food that I had in a given day weighed less than my fellow hikers because it had more calories per ounce. So I was eating macadamia nuts, not peanuts, and I was eating olive oil and not snickers bars (not saying I was eating olive oil straight, I don't recommend that). Then I got to the Sierras and unfortunately, the snow was so bad that a couple of the typical mail drops through the Sierras were still closed for the season. In Tuolumne, the entire roof of the general store there caved in and they weren't going to open until August or September and I was passing through there (as were most of the other hikers) in June and July. Reds Meadow was also closed. There was one stretch, what normally would have been five, six days tops, where we had to pack 13 or 14 days of food because we had to keep going past all of the closed mail drops.
Steve: And your boyfriend was working this out because he knew about these closures? Did he send you enough food then?
Jessie: He was so on top of it. I was hiking with a small little trail family and we would get to the top of the highest peak and we would text him and we'd ask, "What are the conditions of the next stretch? How many miles, what pace?" and he would have this entirely elaborate plan. "Well, this one river is overflowing and this one is flowing at x amount of water at y feet per second." He was so on top of it that he earned a trail name even though he was home; my trail family nicknamed him "Mission Control" because he was the one we all radioed for info.
Steve: That is impressive.
The difference between Keto and Non Keto Hiking
Jessie: It was great. But even with that 13 days of food—with a bear can nonetheless, which is the worst—when I weighed my bag next to my hiking buddies' bags, their food bags weighed 50% more than mine did. So 3000 calories on a ketogenic diet weighs about a pound a day. But on a typical 3000 calorie diet, that's about a pound and a half a day.
Steve: Tell you, Jessie this seems so counterintuitive, doesn't it? I mean, I'm sure people listening think, that can't be right, but I'm sure you're telling me this because you did it that way.
Jessie: There's a whole bunch of charts available for hikers which what are the most calorie dense foods to pack in your bag. The top 10 foods on the list are ketogenic foods. Macadamia nuts, olive oil, almond butter, peanut butter. Those things are all ketogenic and so now imagine if your entire bag was just made up of those foods. Your entire bag is going weigh less for the same number of calories. On a thru hike you're not eating 3000 calories a day, you're eating four or five. And so imagine that difference in bag weight scaled up over more calories. So my bag was featherweight. I cruised through the Sierras without too much of a problem. And I was doing 30-35 miles a day through the desert while everybody else was, was struggling a little bit more than I was and I didn't understand why. It was a combination of 1) my bag weighed less, which was just great and 2) keto gave me more energy. I was able to hike longer than a lot of my hiking buddies because they would climb to the top of the mountain, tire out, eat a snickers bar, refuel for the next stretch, then keep going. And my energy, you know–diesel engine–was more consistent. I woke up in the morning and I just really wouldn't need to stop. I'd stop for lunch because, you know, my Salami and cheese on a low carb wrap took some time to sit down and eat. But other than that I didn't have the need to rest. It was just this continual drive to move forward.
Steve: That is extraordinary to me, because I would rest all the bloody time, maybe it's an age thing for me as well. So that's the difference you spotted between you and other hikers. Were there any other differences you saw?
Jessie: I think that was the big one, the ability to hike a little bit longer in the day; it was actually the reason why my hiking buddy, the one that I started the trail with, and I couldn't keep hiking together because he was on the typical thru hiker diet and our paces just could not line up. He would power ahead much faster than I could. If you're carb fueled you have more burst speed, your body wants to burn as much energy as quickly as possible and so that's why you eat a snickers bar or a pop tart or whatever sugar-laden food you have and you charge up the mountain at an incredible speed. Mine was more slow and methodical so I would just follow behind him and then I'd find them at the top and he would want a break, but I'd have energy and wanted to going to keep going. He'd get annoyed that I wanted to keep going and we just ended up in this friction and eventually about three weeks into the hike, I finally said I can't do this anymore. He wanted to stop pretty early in the evening and I had another two or three hours of energy in me and I knew that this wasn't gonna work out. So in the interest of our friendship, I said "you stay here, I'm going to keep hiking." We we split up at that point and I found a group that had a bit of a more steady pace that I was looking for, even though that group was the "eat a snickers bar and power up through the mountain" types, they were just willing to hike further later in the day.
Steve: So to me this is so interesting, as I said to you, I'm going to do the Appalachian Trail next year and I wonder whether I could even consider doing something like this. I worry that I'd screw it up because, you know I did eat a terrible diet when I was on it, you know, snickers, honey buns and things like that–800 calories in about three mouthfuls, it was just extraordinary stuff, and you feel great at the time. But if you have this more sensible approach there, that might be quite nice. And tell us about when you did talk to me about it–freeze dried cheese, which sounds pretty revolting, but you tell me, it's quite nice.
Jessie: One of the things that I miss a lot on a on a ketogenic diet is crunch, you can't have chips and pretzels and so the texture of crunch is something that you miss, but the same process that freeze dries food for your typical store-bought meals at a gear-fitter, that same process can freeze dry cheese and so you can have these little tiny crisps and they end up super lightweight and calorie dense and you just throw a bag and hit the trail and they taste like really cheesy chips, but are four times as nutritionally dense as potato chips. So don't bring Fritos, bring freeze-dried cheese.
How Keto Impacted the Hike
Steve: So when you returned home, after you finished your hike and you got through, did you, you had no real problems on there at all? Apart–maybe hiking problems–but you had no real dietary problems on there at all, did you?
Jessie: No, none. It was super easy. Everybody always asks, "Were you Keto 100% through?" And I would say 98% through and the reasoning being was I there's three or four meals that I went off Keto because it was part of the hike. It wasn't for energy; I didn't come into town and just shove pancakes my face. But if something was literally like an experience, I would go off keto. The pancake challenge in Seiad Valley, you go and eat these five hubcap-sized pancakes. Well, clearly, I have to do this. So I roll into town and I consumed I think two and a half or three of them, and then it's one of the steepest climbs of the entire trail out of the valley. And so me and my four other hiker friends, who have all done this challenge together, just feel like trash.
Steve: That's interesting. Did you feel the different straightaway?
Jessie: Oh yeah. Your body is so happy to have, for lack of a better phrase, it's drug again. You get this rush of endorphins, you're happy while you're eating, and then you go, "now I feel awful and I've got a headache and I want to vomit" and part of it was eating three and a half massive pancakes, but the other part was reintroducing the easy sugar back into your body and your body instantly shuts off Its fat burning source. It took two or three more days to get back into it. The next morning I woke up feeling hung over and not feeling great. You have to be pretty deliberate about it.
How Next Mile Meals was Born
Steve: So you returned home and you started to think about the commercial possibilities. So this isn't going to turn into a commercial for Next Mile Meals because I've looked at your website and it's interesting because you're more of a proponent of the lifestyle as opposed to trying to shove products down people's face. So tell me about that, and why you started thinking about that.
Jessie: Sure. So about halfway through when I was realizing that Keto was totally possible and might actually be a BETTER option, especially for thru hikers, and I am remembering how difficult it was for me to find food on my trail. Outside of Mount Shasta at this tiny little trail town library, I smelled like death and I'm so sorry to the librarian that watched me do this for a couple of hours, but I posted a website and I said, "I'm hiking the PCT ketogenically if anybody's interested, here's an email form, here's how you can follow me on instagram. Maybe I'll post these recipes. Maybe there's like a community out there of Keto hikers that I didn't even know about that have also been struggling." And I didn't think it again. And then I crossed into Canada and as I'm on my way home, I'm sitting in the Seattle airport on the way back to San Francisco and checked the site and was astonished to find thousands of people who were like, "YES. Oh my goodness. Yes, please!"
Jessie: Thousands. They thought that all of their hobbies -- whether it was kayaking or hunting or fishing and hiking -- were off limits to them Like you said earlier in this show, keto is not just used as a personal choice and a lifestyle change, it's also used medically. It's used to treat epilepsy and diabetes, a whole bunch of really great reasons to do a ketogenic diet, but can be incredibly hard because it requires so much preparation and it's not really mainstream yet. And so these thousands of people were just clamoring for an option. We started a blog and we started posting recipes and suggestions and evaluations of different products that were the market and the math behind why Keto is great. And then as part of that, I took the six meals that I had made at the beginning of trail and now we sell them. We're not out to get rich over this; we're here to provide an option for people who are Keto or just want to eat a little bit better on trail, who don't want to eat the rice and beans and the really cheap pasta. If you go into a gearfitter store, the meals that are there are $7-8 and they're all just filler; the rice and the pasta that goes into them is ten cents to the company, but they gouge people on them. We have meals that are 100% meat and vegetables and cheese and they keep for years. Now people with restricted diets have an option. There's a blog at www.nextmilemeals.com, go check it out. We have a couple of Keto friendly products or even if you're just a thru hiker looking for higher fat options and you're still going add rice to everything, go for it. These are great for those hikers too.
Steve: Well, I'll put those links in the show notes. Last couple of questions. Are you aware of many other people hiking ketogenically now or were you on the first as far as you know, to thru hike with it?
Jessie: I always dislike saying the phrase, "I was the first to keto thru hike", but I like to say I was the first "known" hiker to do so because after two months of trying to figure out if anybody else had ever done this, nobody had posted about it publicly. There was a bunch of people in smaller communities doing three or four day hikes and showing what sort of dehydrated meals they were making, but no thru hikers as far as I know, though I'm totally happy and willing to be corrected. I hope there's others out there and if you're listening to this and you did it before I did, please contact me. I want to talk to you! But, this year we know of a couple on the AT, and there was another through the PCT. We had two hikers down in New Zealand that, while we unfortunately can't export our meals to them, we sent them some recipes to help them find options in grocery stores. I'm noticing that as Keto becomes more widely accepted as a really positive lifestyle choice, that the people hiking Keto are also becoming a little more either vocal and more numerous. It's just been to watch the keto community say, "This is a totally different way to hike and it doesn't matter. We're still going to do it and be successful."
Steve: So you'd be doing anymore thru hiking in this way. You've got any more plans?
Jessie: Concrete plans? Not yet but "one day" plans? Absolutely. I want to do the CDT and the Te Araroa; I'm definitely not done. I had such a great time and felt so amazing. If you've done a thru hike or partial thru hike then you know that feeling of strength; it's the best shape you'll ever be in your life. It brought a smile to my face to watch my body change and feel my body move in really efficient ways.
Men Vs. Women
Steve: Interestingly enough, and I don't know whether you got any opinions on this, women didn't tend to lose anywhere near as much weight as the men on the Appalachian trail. I mean I lost 60 pounds. I looked like a skeleton in the end. I looked terrible. I was in the best I've ever felt in my life. But lost–I went from 245 to 185 pounds and it was really unhealthy. I looked dreadful. I know I did. So I'm wondering how–whether this would have the same impact on me, so I don't want to get–it was catastrophic weight loss in many ways, in my case.
Jessie: My partner came out for a 13 day stretch, so he did Keto on trail for 13 days and he lost a little bit of the water weight. You lose at the beginning of the trail, but he wrote a blog post about how amazing he felt on it because we noticed the same thing. Women's bodies do react differently–likely because our bodies are programmed so that whatever happens, whatever difficulty or nutrients are available to you, our bodies are supposed designed to have children at all costs (as a person without kids, it's frustrating to hear that, but it's true) and so our bodies cling to fat and muscle far better than men's bodies.
Steve: Oh, mine clings to fat pretty comfortably
Jessie: Knowing that difference existed, I wanted to make sure that my claims that I finished the trail looking healthier than my hiking companions was a true statement and not just because of my gender. And so my boyfriend, he felt great and can't wait to thru hike the next one and stay keto as well. So hopefully very soon we'll have a bit more of evidence of men keto hiking. There's one guy who's section hiked about half the PCT keto and then AT couple were women and the PCT hiker was a woman. So we've got a lot of women out there willing to take chances. So come on guys. Let's see how it goes.
Steve: Okay. Well look, you know, I'm so pleased you shared this with this because I think, you know, people want different alternatives. They don't necessarily want to eat six Snickers, peanut butter and a honeybun for lunch and it might well be a nice alternative for people. So I really appreciate you coming along to talk to us.
Jessie: Absolutely. And have your listeners email me if you have any questions about Keto or anything at all – we're we're always happy to be a source for them.
Steve: How about that. I find that subject fascinating, particularly because she has more energy, and lighter bag, and her diet involves unlimited bacon. I also thought that she described really well how the body understands what it needs to burn. I'd like to learn more on the subject and would love to hear from any of you who have tried specific and different diets on any of the long distance trails. I thought one of the many compelling things that she said was that most of the top 10 foods' advice for backpackers are ketogenic, so I strongly urge you to head across to Jessie's website, www.nextmilemeals.com. Check out everything on there. It's really interesting.
Next Mile Meals is a small, family-run business that came to life on the Pacific Crest Trail. This blog is our way of giving back to the hiking community; sharing our successes, our failures, and our learnings as we try to eat better, pack lighter, and go farther in our many outdoor adventures.