Have you ever felt sleepy during a morning or evening sit? Or have you grabbed a soda or candy bar at the gas station before driving to your hunting hot spot? Most bowhunters have.
Hunters must wake up early to beat the sunrise and position themselves among their quarry before daylight. They stay late to catch animals moving in the evening, then sneak out after dark. If a hunt goes well, they’re out recovering a critter they shot, which requires time and energy. Those early mornings and late nights hinder hunters’ ability to cook well-balanced meals and pack snacks that keep them full and focused. Therefore, they routinely skip meals, hit drive-thrus or grab snacks and caffeinated beverages at the convenience store. But Ward Reckart, an exercise physiologist who teaches at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, said those decisions aren’t smart or sustainable.
Reckart is also the head coach and nutrition coach at CrossFit Augusta in Augusta, Georgia. He works with athletes regularly and encounters people who have the same eating habits as many hunters. These folks often get tired and cranky or can’t perform to the best of their ability when they make poor food decisions. Both athletes and hunters must eat regular, well-balanced meals to operate at an optimal level.
Food Affects How You Feel
To better understand how athletes and hunters can feel focused and strong during demanding tasks, Reckart said it’s important to understand food science at the basic level. That knowledge can help you pick foods that give your body the fuel it needs to feel full, satisfied and energized.
The Need for Diversified Food Sources
Reckart said humans need meals that include all three macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) because each plays a different role in the body. Proteins are things like beef, fish, chicken, game meat and beans. Carbohydrates include rice, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocados and nut butters. Know that carbohydrates are often processed into forms such as doughnuts, chips and candy. The process includes adding ingredients, and the conversion decreases their nutritional value, so it’s best to avoid those items.
Most protein sources come from animals. Plant-based protein sources exist, but hunters usually opt for meats over beans and legumes. Carbohydrates typically come from the ground or off a tree and are composed of natural sugars. Healthy fats also come from plants, but they contain fatty acids. Another way to look at it is that carbohydrates are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water, whereas fats do not.
Each type of macronutrient generates a hormonal response that affects how we feel. Hormones are chemicals that travel from one part of the body to another and instruct targeted cells to produce a chemical or action. A common hormonal response is the production of insulin after we eat low-quality carbs like chips and doughnuts. These carbs spike blood sugar levels, which initially increases energy levels. However, the body’s natural reaction is to drop blood sugar levels by releasing insulin to transfer the sugar from the blood to your cells. The more insulin the body has to release, the more sluggish and tired you’ll feel. Hormonal responses are the body’s way of balancing nutrients in your system.
Eating high-quality foods in a well-balanced fashion (with all three macronutrients) helps mitigate individual hormonal responses that trigger certain moods or reactions within the body.
The Need for a Consistent Supply of Food Sources
People need to eat regularly. Reckart said to think of your body like a campfire. If you start a fire in the morning and put a single log on the fire, it will eventually die down and smolder. A fire needs a steady supply of wood to consistently burn hot over time.
“Think of the campfire as your metabolism, which is the energy your cells use from the food you’ve eaten,” he said. “Then, think of the log as your food. If you’re not giving the body the necessary nutrients it needs, then energy levels plummet.”
Just like a campfire needs wood, your body needs food. Give each the necessary fuel they need to function and perform at an optimal level. No one wants to sit around a smoky little fire. Similarly, no one wants to feel slow and sluggish, either.
Tips for Planning a Smart Menu
When you shop for food, Reckart encourages, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. There, you’ll find eggs, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. As a general rule of thumb, “if it comes in plastic packaging, it’s probably best to leave it where it lies and not put it in your cart,” he said. That rule applies to most foods, aside from proteins and some fats.
Another tip: Eat foods that are raw, pure and unaltered. “Choose foods that are as close to their natural form as possible,” Reckart said. “In other words, how you would find them in nature. While you may dream of walking through fields of tasty cakes, that’s simply not reality.”
Sample Meal and Snack Ideas for Sustained Energy
Not sure where to start? Reckart gave his menu recommendations for maximum performance before and during your bowhunting adventures:
- Breakfast: Choose steel-cut oats topped with berries, or prepare an egg or egg whites with peppers and onions. Top the eggs with a few avocado slices.
- Lunch: Pack a sandwich on bread made of whole grains or sprouted grains with high-quality (preferably nitrate-free) deli meat, lettuce and tomato. A few almonds and a piece of fruit are great side options.
- Dinner: If you’re preparing a meal at home, opt to bake or grill chicken breasts or boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Serve sweet potatoes and two cups of vegetables, topped with olive oil, on the side. If you’re camping, canned black beans with a slice or two of aged cheese, baby carrots and a piece of sprouted or whole-grain bread is ideal.
- Snacks: Need something to curb your appetite in the stand? Go for nuts, raisins, a piece of fruit, string cheese, sunflower seeds or sliced vegetables like carrots, celery, peppers and cucumbers. Homemade venison jerky or summer sausage are other great options. Just be sure to stop yourself after a few pieces because cured meats tend to have high salt and sugar contents. If you must choose a granola or energy bar, read the ingredients label and find one with lots of nuts and little to no added sugar.
- Drinks: Bring water. Sports drinks, sodas and juice often contain high amounts of sugar, which tanks energy levels. Meanwhile, caffeine causes diuresis, which means increased urination and dehydration. Water wins.
Don’t Forget Sound and Smell
Bowhunters must outwit a game animal’s senses to get within shooting distance. In addition to playing the wind, you should also consider picking a snack that’s quiet to eat and doesn’t have an overwhelming odor.
For example, whole-grain crackers provide good carbs for energy, but they might be difficult to open quietly. Consider transferring snacks in loud plastic bags to a quieter sandwich bag. As for the smell, a tuna sandwich is a good source of protein, but tuna is potent and easy for people to smell from a distance. Imagine how it smells to a deer! Eat it in your vehicle or go with ham, turkey or chicken when afield.
Resist the Temptation
“Next time you think about reaching for that can of soda or bag of chips, just remember the hard work and effort you’ve put in for your next hunt,” Reckart said. “If you end up with the hunt of your life, you better be ready to take that prize home!”
He’s right. Of course, a Twinkie, Snickers bar or bag of Doritos sounds delicious, but save your splurge foods for a lazy movie night at home. Your body will thank you when it comes time to track down and drag out a recently arrowed animal.