Gluten Free For Good


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This is the scene I was rewarded with a couple of years ago while backpacking in the Colorado high country. It was definitely worth the climb (summit 13,951 feet) and although I kept my distance in respect to my mountain goat friends, I thoroughly enjoyed our meeting.

When Maggie and Amy asked me to do a guest post at The Balanced Platter and explained that June’s editorial calendar included the theme, traveling on a GF diet, I immediately thought of high-country travel—as in backpacking. No cars, trains, or airplanes needed—just a good pair of hiking boots and a loaded backpack.

So—what does it take to fuel your engine and nourish your body for “peak” performance? Follow these basic tips for sustained energy (a long day on the trail) and quick bursts (climbing the last 500 feet to the summit). You’ll also need some turbo-charged recovery food so you can sleep well, climb out of your tent at the crack of dawn, make a hearty breakfast, and start all over again—day after day. That’s what backpacking is all about—sustained energy. And yes, I call that traveling on a GF diet.

These are basic eating strategies for all-day energy. Although sometimes one category serves the purpose better than another, most meals and snacks are a mixture.

Complex carbs
High-fiber, complex carbs will help you plod along for long hours on the trail. They provide more sustained energy because they’re digested (broken down) more slowly than simple sugars. Oats, brown rice, quinoa, teff, granola, and buckwheat are all examples of complex carbs. Start the day with a blend of carbohydrate (complex and simple), protein, and fat. Oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, and brown sugar is a perfect way to start the day.

Simple carbs 
Say you’ve been hiking along at a moderate intensity for 3 or 4 hours and you realize you’re about a half an hour away from a very steep 500 foot climb to the summit. You need a quick fix and that comes in the form of fast burning, simple carbs like GF jelly beans, dried fruit, honey, or chocolate chips. They’re easy to digest and the simple sugar goes immediately to your working muscles and nervous system.

High-quality, slow-burning fats are essential for backpacking. They provide more calories (energy) per gram, which you need when you’re physically active all day. Fats give you staying power. Mix them with complex carbs for long-lasting fuel. Nuts, seeds, coconut, and jerky (salmon, beef, bison provide fat and protein), cheese, and sausage are great choices for backpackers.

Many of the complex carbs (teff, quinoa, oats) and fats (jerky, nuts, seeds) all provide a good dose of protein as well. Protein helps repair the muscles and connective tissue you break down during long hikes. Protein is essential for recovery.

Nutrition bonus
Backpacking is physically demanding and stresses the body in many ways. I like to dehydrate nutrient-dense, hearty greens (kale, spinach, chard) and create my own dry soup mixes for a daily nutrition bonus of antioxidant protection. Hearty greens dehydrate well, weigh next-to-nothing, and rehydrate immediately. They’re perfect for backpacking. Mix the dehydrated greens with instant potato flakes and a gluten-free chicken base for a satisfying and nutritious side soup. At camp, all you have to do is add boiling water to the dry mix, stir, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Granola-Style Energy Bars (Perfect to make ahead and eat on the trail)
Makes 16 bars
Courtesy of The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life (by Peter Bronski & Melissa McLean Jory)

What you need
1/4 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons raw shelled hemp seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans
1 cup almonds
1 cup unsulfured dried apricots (about 6 ounces), chopped into chunks
1/4 cup certified gluten-free, rolled oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup maple syrup (grade B is thicker)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted, plus some to grease the pan
1 teaspoon gluten-free pure vanilla extract

What you do
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan.
2. Place the almond meal, hemp seeds, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well mixed.
3. Add the pecans, almonds, oats, and apricots and pulse several times until the nuts are in small chunks but not completely ground. Add the chocolate chips and pulse a few times, leaving larger chunks.
4. In a medium bowl (big enough to hold all the ingredients), whisk together the maple syrup, egg, melted coconut oil, and vanilla. Whisk for 1 minute to ensure all ingredients are mixed.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mash together with a fork. Use your hands if you have to.
6. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. Cover with parchment paper, and using your hands, flatten evenly. You can also use an unslotted spatula to flatten the mixture.
7. Place on the center rack in the oven. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Place the pan in the refrigerator to chill before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Peace, love, and happy trails from The Balanced Platter!
PS Leave us a comment sharing your favorite gluten-free hiking snack.

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10 Responses to “Backcountry nutrition for peak performance”

  1. Looks like a perfect energy bar to make for my intensely athletic husband. He’ll love me for it. Thanks so much for another great recipe.

  2. Deb Wheaton says:

    This sounds delicious.Looks like it tastes like clear air at altitude smells. Can’t wait to read the whole book!

  3. Cathy says:

    Sure wish I would’ve had those bars on the Grand Canyon trip! Oh, if only I’d known what I know now!

    • Melissa says:


      If we knew then what we know now, we never would have done that Grand Canyon trip! At least not with the coach and members of the US Nordic Ski Team — or, whoever those guys were. =)

      Was it worth that canned margarita? Yeah, I think it was. At least at 21 years old. It would take a lot more than that now!


  4. Cid says:


    I love the sound of these bars with all their energy boosting and delicious ingredients. A few years back I started buying small bags of hemp seeds from my local health food shop because I liked the taste but now and then I notice some grit sneaking in and with such small seeds it’s very difficult to spot it beforehand. I must find a different supplier to see whether this is common. If fact thinking about it, I’ll just get you to cook up those bars and fly them over… then I’d eat the lot 🙂


    • Melissa says:


      It’s always a treat when you stop by to visit. Life has been hectic around here and I haven’t done any blog-hopping recently, so I’ve missed my friends over at Miles’ blog. Glad you popped in. With some of those smaller seeds (or even the larger ones), the is often the case — finding bits of “grit sneaking in.” I’ve noticed that with beans and lentils as well. The hulled hemp seeds I get are free of “debris” for the most part, so I haven’t worried about it. The bulk walnuts I get are a different story. I really have to pick through those to make sure I don’t end up cracking a tooth on a piece of shell!

      I hope things are going well in your “neck of the woods.” It’s hot and dry here and we’ve had a horrible fire season — the worst on record in Colorado. When I get a minute, I’ll email you some pictures. Ugh, it’s been bad.

      Take care and thanks sooo much for stopping by!

  5. David Pyle says:

    SO glad to see that you’ve done a book. Flashback to our writing group all those (gulp!) years ago. Congratulations. This totally rocks!

    • Melissa says:


      I’m not into that OMG thing, but OMG!! SO good to hear from you. Yes, this totally rocks and you helped send me on my way. Thanks! We need to meet for tea. Sending good energy your way!!


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Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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