What you eat 20’ up can increase your performance.
We’d like to thank Pnuma customer and friend, and founder of Built4TheHunt Jeff Moran for his contribution of this helpful article. It provides valuable information about what whitetail hunters can do to help maximize their performance during tree stand hunts just by eating/snacking on the right foods. Easy to do – and the results could help you punch your tag on that giant buck you’re after.
Living in Idaho, I absolutely adore spending my free time in the mountains with friends, family, and the newest addition to my wife and I’s life, our newborn son. As such, I’ve focused my attention on athletes and backcountry hunters who spend their time competing and recreating in the same regional location I call home.
It wasn’t until recently, I realized that I’d previously neglected my nutritional needs. With roots in the Midwest, many folks spend their mornings before work in a stand and their time before turning in for the night checking trail cams in pursuit of freezer meat.
In fact, in my research, the majority of Midwest hunters neglect to focus on nutrition as part of the preparation and never really put thought to answering questions like, “Is there anything a hunter can do by way of nutrition to improve their focus and reaction time while hunting in a manner that’s not in the mountains of the west?”
With that question in mind, let’s take a look at what changes in your nutrition might mean for increased performance in the field.
Big Dogs with No Bite
It seems like every time I turn around some “nutrition expert” is overly complicating the world of nutrition with fancy terms. It wasn’t long after I entered dietetics school that I learned most of these terms have very basic definitions and in the grand scheme of things, offer very little towards making a real difference in an athlete’s performance.
Take the word nootropics for example. It’s used to describe supplements that “improve cognition and reaction times…” blah, blah, blah, buzz-word, buzz-word, buzz-word, and “brain health”. It’s easy to see where reading this word would make a guy feel like they’re in the local tanning shop trying to find a bottle of bronzer before a summer trip to Belize rather than improving their reaction time in the bow stand.
The sections below are intentionally focused on things that work, while demystifying some nutrition beliefs floating around in the industry today.
I’m the first guy to raise my hand when asked in a crowd, “who here has a sweet tooth?!” There’s certainly nothing wrong with high-carb snacks when you’re hiking your tail off chasing critters, but it’s another thing altogether when you’re less active.
Carbohydrates, when eaten without protein or fat, can cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar. This feeling is much of why we feel a big “crash” after binging on an entire bag of sour candies shaped like small kids as opposed to feeling alive, alert, and ready to go. While delicious, it’s hardly going to be what helps you sit in the stand in nasty weather waiting out that big buck.
Combination Foods: A Better Balance
You don’t need to avoid carb-based snacks while hunting, but you do need to rethink them. We’ve long known that including foods with protein, fat, and fiber slow that rapid rise and fall of your blood sugar mentioned above. This means increased alertness, helping you feel fuller longer, and supplying you with sustained energy and focus while waiting out a critter.
For example, raisins seem like a healthy snack choice, right? They are high in iron, have decent fiber content, and are generally a good carb source for energy. As great as this sounds, it’s likely you’ll experience the rapid rise and fall of blood sugars, as previously mentioned, with this carb-only snack. The addition of a few tablespoons of peanuts and high-protein dried and salted edamame instantly transforms the snack into one that’s going to keep you in the woods until your opportunity to send an arrow arises or until dusk tells you it’s time to leave the stand for the day.
Quality: Does it Matter?
Something else to consider is the quality of the food you’re eating. While carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all created equal regardless of the source, you’ll arguably feel better opting for good sources of nutrition rather than a cargo pocket full of gas station snacks.
** Check out the list at the end of the article for a host of different examples of quality snacks!
When “alertness” is mentioned in performance nutrition, it’s almost inevitable that someone suggests caffeine as a potential solution. While there’s been research to support the fact that caffeine can increase both alertness and performance, it’s usually only seen in endurance-type activities (i.e. not sitting on a tree stand, blind, or patrolling the edge of your hunting plot on foot).
The piece that’s usually not talked about is over-consumption of caffeine (effective doses are usually very high amounts) make people so overly wired that their focus decreases when in regards to shooting sports, such as hunting. As a result, we see an increase in their anxiety, anxiousness and heart rate; all a combination that hardly screams focus when you need it most.
Caffeine and the Remedy
Have a cup. A cup. A single cup. One. Not the bubba keg they run a special on at the four-way stop just before you bounce out of town. It’s likely a cup is going to give you enough caffeine to keep you awake and alert without suffering the ill effects of having too much. Energy drinks, 5-hour shots, and supplements with large doses of caffeine are not yielding the benefits we’ve seen with athletes in other sports, so no need to think “if some is good, more is better!”.
What about the others?
There has been a handful of supplements that have shown some promise with improved cognition; supplements like omega-3’s, flavonoids, lutein, and beta-carotene for instance. However, we’re talking long-term brain health and protection when we think of these supplements (think prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia), not flinging an arrow at that big buck you’ve been watching on your trail camera all summer.
Even the studies surrounding these supplements and brain health aren’t solid and haven’t given us the confidence we need to suggest they truly work.
As a bowhunter myself, I know it’s very easy to get wrapped up in trying to find ways we can improve our chances of success in the woods. The most obvious place to look beyond your gear or bow set-up is at things that might yield some sort of advantage; places like supplements and your nutrition.
While there’s no single food or magic pill that’s going to drastically improve your alertness and reaction time, you may notice some difference by focusing on quality sources of nutrition, combining foods to avoid the dreaded blood sugar-induced naps, and using the proper dosage of caffeine. A few simple tweaks can drastically increase your ability to focus on shot placement when it matters most.
Five Examples to Balance your Nutrition and Improve Chances of Better Focus
- Trail mix: a combination of good digesting carbs high in iron, mixed with heart-healthy fats from nuts create a combination of slow-digesting, sustained energy that’s easily able to fit in your pocket for a quick and convenient snack while in the woods. Consider mixing up a handful of nuts (pick your favorite, one isn’t better than another), dried fruit, edamame, and pretzels (or another tasty snack).
- DIY bar: many of the pre-packaged bars are loaded with ingredients companies use to make the bar hold together better or offer a different texture. While I’m not one to condemn packaged foods, making your own DIY bar offers the chance at a better variety and the ability for you to ensure the ingredients are a recipe for sustained energy rather than a large blood sugar crashes. The recipe doesn’t need to be difficult and may include nothing more than peanut or almond butter, whole-grain oats, dried fruit, and crushed nuts.
- Jerky: you’ve put in an incredible amount of work for your meat and there’s not a feeling in the world like looking for meat to fill the freezer while chomping on a pepperoni stick made from last year’s harvest. Chocked-full of protein, jerky is a surefire way to consume an appropriate amount of protein while in the woods.
- Protein and produce- the best combination!: Produce is loaded with fiber and a variety of nutrients essential for good health. Combining it with a source of protein is arguably the best snack for any This can be as simple as a couple of cheese sticks with apple slices or jerky sticks with a handful of cherry tomatoes.
- Tortilla for all: Wrap some salami or ham with reduced-fat cream cheese or avocado for a tasty snack that checks all the boxes for long-term and sustained energy in the woods.
*Article written and prepared by Kyle Kamp, Registered and Licensed Dietitian, RDN, LD; through Built4TheHunt.com.
*All information presented and written within this article are intended for informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.