Going the distance with High Energy Foods

high energy foods

We’ve all been there.  The desire to be first on a lake filled with muskie or at a favorite grouse hunting ground by daylight can cause us to skip breakfast.  By mid morning our attention span falters, casts become shorter, and the concentration needed for grouse hunting becomes tedious.

A quick candy bar might give a boost, but within a short period we are worse off than before, weak and lethargic.  Success turns to failure all for lack of a proper high-energy diet.

As outdoors men and women we need to “stoke” our body with good fuel, just like a wood stove.  Candy bars and high energy drinks are like a wad of newspaper.  They burn up quickly and are gone.  The key is to bank energy, like a stove full of white oak dampered down, for a long burn to provide energy for hours.

Glucose is the key ingredient to energy, but like any fuel it needs to be regulated.  Pure sugars, like candy bars are rapidly transformed into glucose but there’s nothing to regulate its flow so energy levels spike, then dissipate.

During any exercise, we burn three macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.  Our bodies preferred energy source is carbohydrates and then fat.  Since our bodies need to conserve protein for uses such as muscle repair and building, we use very little protein for energy and the rate of use remains consistently low.

  • In easy activities our bodies utilize more fat than carbs at a two to one rate.
  • During moderate exercise our use of fat increases by about a third, but our carb use more than doubles! During this type of activity the burning of carbs equals the burning of fat.
  • As we change from moderate activities to heavy or sustained exercise, like chasing grouse or fan-casting muskie baits all day, so does the way we burn energy. The burning of fat levels off, but the burning of carbohydrates spikes to almost double that burned during moderate exercise, and almost five times that burned during easy activities!


Look at any energy bar and you’ll find it loaded with carbs.  To explain why, I went to Samantha Schaefer, M.S., a registered and certified dietitian.  “As outdoorsmen or women, you need sustainable energy,” she explained.  “Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source.”  They come from foods such as milk, yogurt, fruits, pasta, breads, rice, and potatoes and are converted into glucose.  Since the body has to process the carbohydrates, the release is steadier, providing fuel for hours.  But before you start stocking up on potato chips and diet soda, you need to see the bigger picture.

Processed foods like white bread and instant mashed potatoes are better than chugging a Jolt Cola®, but sportsmen will want to do better.  “I recommend at least half of your carbohydrates come from whole grains,” Samantha said, “because complex carbohydrates give you more sustainable energy.”  It’s like this: simple carbohydrates are like pine boards in our woodstove body.  They burn well, but not all day.  Eating complex carbohydrates is like stoking our bodies with oak.  So, instead of getting our carbs from processed, refined foods made up of simple carbohydrates, we need complex carbohydrates which are loaded with fiber.

Fiber slows the processing of carbohydrates, as well as helping the body in many other ways.    It isn’t just a matter of what you eat but also when.  Many people consider their days too action packed for real meals so skimp on breakfast and lunch and binge eat at dinner, just in time for bed.    And instead of pigging out on one meal, active sportsmen need to take in energy throughout the day.  Break your food intake down into three smaller meals and two snacks.

So what should you be eating?  It depends on your cooking arrangements and how long you’re going to be out.  In any situation, it is best to have a planned menu for every meal.


In reality breakfast sets the pace for the rest of the day.  If available, fresh fruit like bananas, strawberries, or cantaloupe on top of whole wheat French toast, sweet potato waffles, or buckwheat pancakes, along with milk, orange juice, and ham is a good breakfast.  This meal is loaded with carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  Use the syrup sparingly, just enough to compliment the fruit.  While the fruit toppings have natural sugar in them, their fiber slows down its use.

A bowl of hot oatmeal, with blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, or raisins is a good start.  Add low-fat yogurt to the oatmeal or on the side and it’s even better.  Finish it with Roman Meal toast and apricot preserves and you should have plenty of energy for stalking that ten-point U.P. buck through the cedar swamps.


High energy foods are not new.  Some food companies specialize in heavily researched grain and nut bars that provide necessary macronutrients in a formulated ratio.  However, before you purchase a case of one brand or flavor, shop around.  Not all bars are created equal, energy and taste-wise.  Energy bars come in many different configurations, and each is for a different need; supplement bars, high-protein bars, 40/30/30 bars, and high carbohydrate bars.  For long term energy, the high-carb bars are what is needed.

A few years ago Nutrition Action Healthletter did a study of energy bars and came up with what they considered the best.

BarsAs you can see by their results, commonly found Power Bar and Clif are two of the brands that raise the bar, pun intended.

While energy bars can be part of the snack menu, they don’t have to be all of it.  There are many other tasty alternates.

Out in the wild snacks of sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also good.  Granola bars hit the spot and now come in a wide variety of flavors.  Walnuts, pecans, or trail mix high in nuts and dried fruits like figs or apricots is great, but a fresh apple or pear keeps the snack savory.

If you have a cooler in your truck or boat, your options are even greater.  Cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bananas with peanut butter, or bagels with low-fat cream cheese taste great for a quick break.  Low-fat cottage cheese and fruit is a tangy snack. Put trail mix in a cup of low-fat yogurt and you have a high energy pick-me-up.


Bean soup can’t be beat for carbohydrates and fiber.  Make it Hurst’s brand Fifteen-bean soup with ham and tomatoes and you’ll be getting forty grams of carbs, eighteen grams of fiber, and 16 grams of protein in every cup of soup!

If you’re on the trail, lunch can be everyone’s favorite: peanut butter and sugar-free grape jelly on wheat, Roman Meal, or multi-grain bread.  (Add a layer of dill pickles for a crispy zing!)  How about turkey sandwiches on whole wheat with fresh carrots, apples, pears, or grapes on the side?  Speaking of grapes, add them and walnuts to the pre-packed canned tuna with mayonnaise and crackers and you’re living right.  Add an apple, plum, banana, or apricot for dessert.  Believe it or not, the average pear has more fiber in it than a serving of prunes!  Be sure to eat the peel as it has most of the fiber that is needed for slowing down the rise of blood sugar and providing sustained energy.


Start dinner with a salad.  Green leafy foods have lots of fiber.

Whole-grain spaghetti, chili with cheese and beans, ham and bean soup with cornbread, and steak with skin-on potatoes all make great dinner ideas.  Add broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, turnip greens, or eggplant as a side.   Amazingly, even common sweet peas are very high in fiber.   In fact, just about any pasta, bread, or rice is loaded with carbohydrates.  By choosing non-refined products, such as brown rice, whole grain breads and pasta made from buckwheat, whole wheat, cornmeal, barley and others, you’re just adding to your stamina the next day, plus your mom and doctor will be proud that you’re eating right and heart healthy.

The idea is to load up with carbs and fiber for the next day.  This energy is stored in your muscles and liver until needed, and is called “carb banking”.  Some hunters start carb banking days before a strenuous hunt.

Hydration and Celebration

While on the hunt or while fishing, be sure to keep hydrated.  Not keeping hydrated can cause you to lose concentration and feel groggy.  Even in cold weather you perspire about eight ounces of water per hour and up to thirty-two ounces per hour during heavy exercise.  Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to get a drink.  By the time your body tells you to drink, you may already be dehydrated.

Sports drinks, like Gatorade, are fine to replace electrolytes lost in sweat, as long as you don’t overdo it.  Avoid sugary energy drinks like the plague.  Despite the cool logos, hip sounding names, and exciting advertisements, the only people they help are their stockholders.

Alcohol and firearms don’t mix, nor do boats and drinking.  Along with being responsible, avoiding alcohol can also aid your energy levels.  Beer actually has a dehydrating effect and takes water away from your body and inhibits vitamins that break down carbohydrates.

Eating right to have enough energy isn’t hard and the food isn’t limited to what you see here.  Talk to a Registered Dietitian or do a search on the Internet for high-energy foods or complex carbohydrates.  Often, just adjusting a few ingredients in a favorite recipe is all that is needed to make it high-energy.

Do the research, do the planning and you’ll have the energy to go the distance and turn your dream hunt into reality and not a nightmare.

Alan Garbers Sponsored by the Outdoorsman Sport Shop
Alan James Garbers – Alan is passionate for the outdoors. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, photography, writing, woodworking, and more. He loves exploring the BWCAW in northern Minnesota, roaming the deserts of Arizona, or hiking the mountains of Colorado. He has lived in Minnesota, Hawaii, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Indiana. From hunting rattlesnakes to black bear and fishing for catfish to muskie, he loves it all. Since 1989 his writing credits have included Indiana Outdoor News, Indiana Game & Fish, Muzzle Blasts, Outdoor Guide Magazine, Fur-Fish-Game, Boundary Waters Journal, Boys’ Quest, Fun For Kidz, Mother Earth News, Cricket, Small Farm Today, American Careers, Arizona Hunter & Angler, Old West, and others. Fiction credits include StarTrek Strange New Worlds Anthologies IV, V, and 08. Alan recently complied an anthology of his popular column, Behind The Badge: True Stories of Indiana’s Conservation Officers. It is available in e-reader format and found at Amazon and other on-line book retailers. Alan is a member of AGLOW and HOW.


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