Vitamins at the store

Looking at all the vitamins and minerals available at the grocery store can be very confusing, but they do have a place in an outdoor person's life.

By Mark Rackay

I have never been a vitamin taker. There are people who ingest a mitt full of vitamins and minerals every morning, and more power to them if. I have tried vitamin pills and never really found much of a difference in physical performance or in how I feel.

Probably the biggest reason why vitamins don’t seem to make much of a difference for me is because I generally eat healthy. My diet is made up of lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and very little sweets or breads.

As a kid, my grandmother set out a multi-vitamin for me every morning. The brand was Chocks, the chewable vitamin. I probably lost half the readers with the Chocks reference, but those who remember, Chocks was like chewing sawdust and powdered dirt clods. I washed it down with a glass of Tang, like the astronauts drank, which was orange flavored sugar water, if I recall correctly.

Our family physician, who is several decades younger than yours truly, is a believer in vitamins for active people. He feels, that since most people do not eat a proper diet, supplements are necessary to keep things like the immune system healthy. At the very least, he recommends everyone start their day with a high quality multi-vitamin, with high amounts of the B and C vitamins in it.

Vitamins play an important roll in our overall health. Lack of vitamins can lead to a huge assortment of diseases and immune system breakdowns. A well-known deficiency disease of recent centuries, is scurvy.

Scurvy has been recognized for hundreds of years and is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, the connective tissue that holds your cells together. A lack of this vitamin can cause a breakdown of tendons, ligaments, bones and blood vessels. You can see how important vitamin C is to someone active in the outdoors.

On a normal outdoor trip, say of a week or less in duration, a normal and generally healthy person can get along without eating a healthy diet. Most bodies store enough nutrients to last through a short trip. However, if your trip is longer in duration, or fairly physical, you may be compromising your health.

The demands we put on our body with backpack trips, high-mileage hikes, and long term outdoor adventures can quickly deplete your body’s stores of calories and nutrients. Add to that inadequate recovery time for those muscles and joints to heal, and staying up late around the campfire, your risk of injury and illness greatly increases.

Most people rely on calorie-rich foods like candy bars, power bars and potato chips. While these foods are fine for the short trip, they are seriously lacking over the long haul. Calorie-rich foods usually contain plenty of carbohydrates and offer energy but lack the nutrients needed to prevent injuries.

On the mountain, we don’t have access to the piles of fresh fruit and vegetables we have at home. As a consequence, our levels of the antioxidants these foods provide are missing. These antioxidants are what keep down inflammations and help prevent injuries and illnesses.

Antioxidants support a strong immune system, and quench the free radicals that create inflammation, which exacerbates both illnesses like stomach bugs and overuse injuries common to hikers and backpackers. The wood on a pack trip is probably close to the last place you want to have a dose of the stomach flu.

It is important to include a healthy mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in your diet, especially when on an outdoor adventure. For example, carbohydrates from dried fruits, fats from olive oil or coconut oil, and proteins from beans, nuts, or grass-fed meats and fish, are far better for you than power bars, cookies and candy.

Also crucial to outdoor folks are vitamins, which influence energy production, recovery, and immunity. Vitamins are some of the most essential antioxidants. Vitamin C, Vitamin D and all the B vitamins are especially important to hikers and outdoor people.

Vitamin C is necessary to help repair the inflammation in your body from strenuous exercise, while Vitamin D is important to keep your old bones healthy. The B vitamins are the most important, for my money, because they are essential for energy and cell production.

Another area to consider is that of minerals, because they are essential for nerve function and enabling the many metabolic processes that keep you going. As with vitamins, minerals can be depleted from your body through exercise and heat exposure. Food that is high in minerals like selenium, iron and magnesium are very important in your outdoor diet.

Try not to obsess over your meal planning for the big trip. Realize that it is impossible to pack along an entire health food store and a grocery store. Start out by eating healthy at home for the long haul. If your body is conditioned to healthy foods, you will store a larger amount of the needed nutrients all the time.

Food for your trip should be reasonably close to healthy, but keep in mind it has to be carried with you. Probably the most important thing is to start each day with a good multivitamin. Look for one that also has a good selection of minerals. Be sure to bring those vitamins along on the trip because they will make up for some of the short falls of the food.

I guess my grandmother was right about the vitamin pill every morning, even though the Chocks tasted so bad. At least now I don’t have to chew them anymore, I just swallow them with my glass of Tang.

Mark Rackay is a columnist for several newspapers and has been a feature writer for numerous sporting magazines. A world-class saltwater angler and an avid hunter promoting ethical and fair chase hunting and fishing, he travels the world in search of adventure. Feel free to contact him on his personal email for questions, comments or story ideas at

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