Going Hunting? Don’t Neglect Your most Vital Resource- YOU!
Hunting is all about preparation: you spend days scouting and planning; you spend hours shooting and sighting in your bow and rifle; you research and acquire the best gear to enhance your chances in every situation. But if you don’t prepare your body, you’ve neglected the most important part of the system, and all of your preparation could likely be derailed by something as simple as a blister or sore low back. From adding supplements to increasing hydration, there are many steps you can take to prepare yourself and increase your odds of a successful hunt.
According to Sports Cardiology, a dehydration level of as little as 2% of a person’s body weight can have a significant impact on both mental and physical performance. To prepare, you must remain hydrated up to one week prior to the hunt, which means you should be drinking half of your body weight in ounces each day (ex: a 200lb. person should drink 100 oz. water daily). Indicators of being well-hydrated are: urinating every 2-3 hours, light/pale yellow and odorless urine, and simply not feeling thirsty! Be aware of dark yellow and/or strong-scented urine, as it may indicate dehydration. Also, it is never a good idea to over-hydrate at the last minute, as it can lead to hyponatremia (a dilution of the body’s electrolytes to the point that electrolyte regulation becomes difficult) as well as frequent urination, which can become an annoyance when you’re trying to hunt. Check out this video for more info: https://youtu.be/MbE-TYlLKnc
First, I must stress that it is NOT recommended for a person to make drastic changes to one’s diet prior to an event, such as a hunt, as it could lead to severe gastrointestinal (GI) upset. Nothing could be worse than spending your entire hunt quickly digging holes in the woods! With that said, here are some supplements that, when added into your diet days prior to your hunt, could benefit your performance and chances of success greatly:
-Creatine- this can help performance by improving endurance and muscle strength. Some people recommend a “loading phase” in which you take up to 20 grams per day; however, shooting for 5-10 grams throughout the day is a good place to start. Warning: Creatine may upset your GI. If you are interested in learning more about the “loading phase,” watch this video: https://youtu.be/Sdo7eTcnYUc
-Beet Root Powder- like creatine, beet root powder is quite popular in the sports and athletic performance world. It increases nitric oxide in the blood, which has the effect of enhancing blood flow and improving cardiovascular endurance. Beet root is generally a safe and affordable option for people wanting to get a bit of a performance boost. This powder will also turn your urine red or pink, so consider this when monitoring your hydration using the method discussed earlier. Warning: people with kidney conditions, inflammatory bowel conditions, and low blood pressure should ask their doctors before consuming.
-Caffeine- Caffeine is a known performance and endurance booster, but more of it is certainly not better. It is recommended that one limit caffeine consumption to no more than 300mg per day (8oz coffee=100mg caffeine). Remember that caffeine is a mild diuretic, and it can also contribute to dehydration.
–Electrolytes- Electrolyte imbalance can diminish performance and can easily by remedied by flavored electrolyte powders and tablets that you can simply add to your water. Avoid popular commercial electrolyte drinks as they have been known to have excessive amounts of sugar which can cause your energy to crash and decrease your performance.
To maximize performance, think about food as our fuel that is meant to allow us to go strong for long periods of time, so you must find out which foods make you tired and which energize you. Like supplements, it is NOT recommended that you change your diet right before your hunt; instead, begin to prepare your GI days or weeks before by knowing and eating the foods that sustain you and enhance your optimal performance.
It is difficult to stay consistent when you don’t know what your current “macro” intake is. “Macros” are your sources of calories which come from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Once you have tracked your macros for a while, you can start making adjustments to them in order to see how it impacts your performance. For example, some people run better on a low carbohydrate and high fat diet, while others run better on a high carbohydrate and low fat diet. It takes some experimentation to see which category you fall into.
If you are interested in learning how to easily track your macros, check out this article: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-count-macros#step-by-step
If you are looking for some tips on what the pros do to fuel their hunts, check out these links:
Improving sleep quality and quantity is one of the best ways to improve recovery and ensure that you are able to perform your best. In the athletic performance world, improved sleep has been shown to enhance skills like free throw shooting and biking endurance. Since sleep may be hard to come by during the hunt, your best option is to “bank” as much sleep as possible ahead of time. Most people require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and any less can negatively impact your performance. If you are looking to optimize recovery, start training your body to wake up at the hour you will during the hunt, and do this the week or two before. That way, you can achieve your deepest and most reparative rest during the hunt, which occurs at the end of a full night’s sleep (between 6 and 9 hours).
Stretching & Self Myofascial Release/Massage
Stretching may help to alleviate some of the soreness associated with activity, and if you tend to be a bit on the inflexible side, it may provide some benefit in regard to injury prevention. Along with stretching, I recommend self-massage, also called Self Myofascial Release (SMR), and if you can’t get a hold of one of the many products marketed specifically towards this form of self-treatment, using a lacrosse or tennis ball will do the job just fine.
-SMR-for this self-massage technique, I generally recommend people simply remember the number four: 4 times per week, 4 minutes per area, and a 4/10 intensity, where 0 is low and 10 is high in pain intensity. Probably the most common mistake I see people make regarding SMR is that they do it too much too aggressively, such as going up to a 7 or 10 in intensity or for longer than five minutes. Doing this can result in an inflammatory reaction in the area of work, which can result in an increase in soreness.
-Stretching- I generally recommend people hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds and perform them up to 5 times per day; however, for hunting preparation, I recommend the following stretches to be held for 60 seconds and performed 2-3 times at the end of the day:
- Calf Stretch and SMR- https://youtu.be/0_RGfCaSBg8
- Quad Stretch- https://youtu.be/9iG3ope0S9A
- Quad SMR- https://youtu.be/u1hhsZCewH4
- Posterior Hip Stretch and SMR- https://youtu.be/fZTh-XA8Gn0
- Hamstring Stretch- https://youtu.be/hY86loS5wvQ
- Neck Stretch- https://youtu.be/kH2CtXTCb2o
- Shoulder Stretch and SMR – https://youtu.be/3FmRLwTObBM
Ice Bath/Cold Plunge
This is a growing trend among fitness enthusiasts to enhance recovery. It works primarily by reducing inflammation and increasing circulation to the overworked muscles, thereby reducing soreness and speeding recovery. A cold plunge is just what it sounds: submersing yourself into cold water. It is worth noting that more is not better when it comes to cold exposure. A duration of 2-5 minutes is adequate and even a short duration of 30 seconds may be helpful. If the water feels cold, it’s cold enough, meaning you don’t need ice in the water to receive benefits. If you are new to cold water immersion, I would recommend starting with your lower body only. If you are staying at home or in a hotel, a cold shower is a good option. If you are camping near a stream or body of water, you could use that.
Watch this video for some tips on how to do a cold plunge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoU1BDbo0_U
Most seasoned hunters are going to be familiar with how to pack and organize their hunting backpack. If you want more information on this, here is a video to check out:
If you have low back pain, you may find recommendations from Dr. Stu McGill, a low back pain researcher out of Canada to be helpful. Dr. McGill recommends placing the load low in the pack if rough terrain is anticipated, and high in the pack if smooth terrain is anticipated.
Ideally, most of the load should be carried through the hip belt which will place less stress on the shoulders and the low back. For more information on this topic, check out this article: https://seekoutside.com/blog/hunting-backpack-fit/
Packing-out after a Successful Hunt
Packing your elk out of the mountains is a lot of work no matter how you do it, but there are a few things to keep in mind in order to help reduce some of the stress on your body:
- How you bend while dressing or quartering your elk. In general, you want to bend primarily at the hips in order to reduce stress on the low back. This is especially the case when you are lifting. As an alternative, you can take a split (lunge) stance or a “sumo stance” to bend. See this video for details: https://youtu.be/pb9nV3rvsY4
- Do your best to keep the load symmetrical, or at the very least, switch sides regularly to reduce placing excessive stress on one side of your body.
- Remember the “Pack Position” guidelines above based on the terrain you will be crossing.
- Take your time if possible. Obviously, this recommendation is dependent on conditions such as temperature and the time of day, but it stands to reason that if you have the choice, take your time.
- Because you will probably be working even harder packing the meat out than you were while on the hunt, hydration and nutrition are critical during this time.
Good luck this season!
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