This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of our magazine.

Warning: The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult a medical professional before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan.

The standard American diet is commonly referred to as the SAD diet, and for good reason — it’s awful. Thanks to fast-food joints, vending machines, and microwave dinners, the vast majority of American society no longer knows what real nutrition is. Rather than thinking of food in terms of organic, free-range, or grass-fed, many people speak in terms of “combo No. 1,” “a side of fries,” and “supersize me.”

While Twinkies or McDonald’s might last a lifetime, they’re not the ideal source of healthy, storable food. At this point, then, you may be asking yourself, “As a prepper, what do I need to know to stay healthy, both now and after a big disaster or crisis?”

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of life. We need them to build bodily tissues, enzymes, and hormones, and for many other functions. Without enough protein, we’re not able to function well.

The general recommendation for daily intake of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Note that this is based on what your body needs to prevent a protein deficiency, not to function optimally. Depending on activity, you may need up to 2 grams per kilogram on the high end. Contrary to popular belief, this can come from a single meal or from multiple meals eaten throughout the day. You don’t need to get up at 3 a.m. to down a protein drink. That’s just silly.

Above: Nuts and legumes are good sources of protein and, if stored properly, will last longer than many other foods.

Good Storable Sources: Information about nutrition can be meaningless for the prepper if we don’t also discuss storable food options. Meat is obviously a great source of protein, but can be difficult to store long-term, especially if the power grid is down indefinitely or if you’ve bugged out and must stay mobile. Aside from canned meat, MREs, or other freeze-dried options, there are actually other good protein sources that can be stored much more easily than meat. If we look to vegetarian options for protein, there are many sources available, including spirulina, nuts, nut butters, legumes, and whey (dairy), egg, pea, or hemp protein powders. Soy is best avoided based on its chemical similarity to estrogen — just 30 grams has been shown to disrupt thyroid function.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide a more immediate fuel source for the body to break down into energy. While fats and protein can be used for energy as well, carbs provide the quickest breakdown and utilization. They can be separated into two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are smaller and more easily processed molecules, while complex carbs are larger and take more time and energy to break down. The latter variety provides energy for a longer time span, which is always a good option when considering the uncertainties of bug-out scenarios.
The minimum recommended amount of carbs per day is 130 grams for the average person. This number can increase or decrease depending on activity and body size, with larger or more active people requiring more, and smaller or inactive people requiring less.

Above: Complex carbs like brown rice provide energy for longer periods — though due to their fat content, they won’t last too much past a year.

Fiber is considered a carbohydrate, but one that we can’t digest. Because it can’t be broken down into sugar like other carbs, it passes through the body (helping us stay “regular”). It’s much more prevalent in complex sources of carbohydrates, which is another reason to prioritize complex sources. Per day, it’s recommended that adults get at least 25 grams, but anywhere from 35 to 45 grams is ideal.

Good Storable Sources: From a storable food standpoint, it’s better to focus on more complex carbohydrates (such as legumes or brown rice) rather than simple carbohydrates (such as sugar). If in a bind, by all means eat what you have available. But if the option presents itself, a longer-lasting fuel source will be more beneficial. Some very good options for carbs include wild/brown rice, quinoa, oats (preferably steel-cut), bulgar, amaranth, spelt, and legumes.

Fats

Fats are extremely important, with the benefits including immunity, hormone production, metabolism, and nutrient absorption. Dietary fats come in two different types: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are not. From a health standpoint, it’s beneficial to get both, preferably the least processed kinds from whole foods.

Above: Nut butters provide not only protein, but also healthy fats.

Some examples include oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, animal meats, eggs, olives, and coconuts. Fats aren’t something to be too concerned about in terms of exact quantities — worry more about the quality.

Good Storable Sources: Storable options are slightly more limited than the list above. The primary ones that keep the best are nuts, nut butters, and seeds. Some outstanding specific seeds to look for are chia, flax, or hemp. They tend to last a while, are extremely nutritious, and also contain fiber and protein.

Primer On Sports Nutrition

Understanding sports nutrition is important for any prepper because it’ll inform what you eat before a calamity and affect how you perform physically during said calamity. While commonly thought to be an intricate equation of what to eat and when, recent research proves that the timing of what you eat doesn’t really matter. For most people, eating a solid meal one to two hours before exercise and one to two hours after is just fine. That said, we’ll discuss some points to consider depending on the scenario you’re faced with.

Above: Protein powder can be stored easily and last a while — ideal for short-term survival situations and CrossFit workouts alike.

Pre-Exercise: Before activity, we’re looking to improve performance, sustain energy, preserve muscle mass, or maintain adequate hydration. To do this, we’ll examine the major three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

First, protein is important since it’s responsible for tissue repair. When exercising (or fleeing or fighting), there will be some degree of tissue damage, and protein ingested before an activity will provide more readily available protein. This can reduce the amount of damage that muscles undergo during exercise. Don’t worry too much about the type of protein. Any source eaten within an hour or two of the workout will do just fine.

Men should look to get about 30 to 40 grams at this time, while women should consume about 20 to 30.

As we learned earlier, carbohydrates are responsible for more immediate energy, and therefore, they’re a great addition to a pre-workout meal. Eating carbs before you work out can spare some of the stores your body already has in the liver and muscles, allowing you to sustain exercise for longer or minimize the amount you pull from your body. These are both good things.

Men should consume about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, and women would be good with about 30 to 40 grams.

Fats don’t really appear to benefit us much from a pre-workout meal standpoint. Because they’re much slower-digesting, they can help to maintain blood and glucose levels, but this won’t make much difference unless you’re completing very long duration activities.

If you’re planning on eating something within an hour of your exercise session, liquids are a better option, as you won’t have enough time to digest solids. Opt for a protein and carbohydrate source that can be mixed well with water, such as a pre-made whey protein carbohydrate drink. If you have a blender handy, you can mix protein powder with fruit and some greens. Either option will work.

During Activity: Unless you’re engaging in multiple exercise sessions per day, completing activities lasting longer than two hours, or have a goal of gaining muscle mass, you don’t need to worry about what to eat or drink during exercise. This is very necessary, however, when traversing long distances, such as when looking for shelter or moving between towns in life-and-death scenarios.
One of the main points to consider about nutrition during exercise or higher levels of movement is that blood flow will be redirected toward your working muscles. This will cause digestion to slow down quite a bit. So, the nutritional sources taken in during physical activity should be very easy to digest. For these sort of situations, let’s take a look at what you might need to pack in your bug-out bag.

Protein during exercise helps prevent your muscle mass from breaking down and will help you recover. The best sources are those that mix well with water, such as the protein powders listed previously or spirulina. Shoot for about 15 grams per hour.

If you’re not in the drinking mood, branched-chain amino acid pills or drink mix can be a great alternative. You’ll need about 10 to 15 grams during the activity.

Carbs taken during exercise can be beneficial to provide immediate energy that may have been depleted. This can be advantageous for long hikes, marathons, or while on the move all day with little food. The maximum you’ll be able to use is somewhere between 60 and 70 grams per hour. Any more than that will not be beneficial, and will almost certainly cause some stomach upset. When mixed with protein, you can take in less (around 30 to 40 grams) with similar benefit. Some great fast-digesting carbohydrate sources are pre-packaged gels (similar to what marathon runners use), sugary fruits such as bananas or grapes, or sports drinks like Gatorade. For a great storable option, look for Gatorade in powder form.

Post-Exercise: When you’re finished exercising, the main goals of your nutrition strategy should be to refuel what you used, improve recovery and future performance, and rehydrate.

Exercise causes muscle breakdown, so a logical addition to your post-workout meal should include protein for the benefit of tissue repair. As stated earlier, we’re not concerned with any 30-minute windows of opportunity, so no need to do the mad dash to your protein powder. If your pre-workout nutrition was adequate, there will be amino acids in your bloodstream to help kick-start the recovery process. For this post-exercise meal, men should take in 40 to 50 grams, and women should get 25 to 35 grams.

Carbs are also important at this time, mainly to restock the fuel we used during exercise. Instead of the common misconception of eating very quick-digesting sources, your best bets are some fruit or minimally-processed sources (such as rice or oats). Men should look for 50 to 60 grams of carbs, while women should eat 30 to 40 grams.

Conclusion

These guidelines are generally geared toward exercise, but it’s easy to translate them to bug-out scenarios. The main thing to keep in mind is that scenarios can pop up out of nowhere, and you should always be prepared. Having some fast-digesting carbohydrate sources and protein powders on hand can make all the difference when forced to travel very long distances without much notice. Luckily, there are numerous sources that are generally pre-packaged and small enough to fit into any bag or pocket for immediate grab-and-go situations. So, do your research, pack your gear, and most importantly, keep training.

About the Author

Ryne Gioviano, M.S.Ed., NSCA-CPT is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design. He holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. For more information, visit www.achieve-personaltraining.com. You can find Ryne on Twitter and Instagram at @RGioviano.

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