A multitude of research suggests that spending an increased amount of time outside is beneficial for our health – not just our physical condition, but our mental and emotional wellness, too.
As outdoor lovers, we all spend time connecting with nature – some of us have fewer opportunities than others (we understand your plight, 9-to-5'ers). But regardless of how flexible your lifestyle, you most likely don't spend as much time outside as professional climber Emily Harrington and her boyfriend, big mountain skier, climber and guide Adrian Ballinger.
The two recently launched their own YouTube channel, DangerStik TV, which chronicles these outdoor adventures. It's a stripped back, raw and authentic look at the couple, allowing viewers to share in their excitement for travel, training and spending time in the mountains.
“You get to see the highs and lows, the laughter and the tears and even the mundane drudgery of it all,” Ballinger tells ASN.
“We wanted to do a project together – something we could work together on and have complete control over, without sponsors or anything like that, as of right now,” adds Harrington.
Whether it’s chasing waves in Baja, or POW days in Japan, the couple is always on the hunt for a new experience. And key to fueling their life full of travel and strenuous activity is a healthy lifestyle and a diet of simple, mostly unprocessed foods – allowing for a sweet tooth craving here and there.
We caught up with the couple to hear more about what inspires them, how they stay balanced on the road and their favorite quick and easy recipes to whip up while training and traveling the globe.
How does living in the mountains influence your daily routine, life and thoughts about wellness in general?
Adrian: There's an entirely new generation of climbers who are literally growing up in the cities. That's where they live and train, using climbing walls and CrossFit boxes and what not. But I still think nothing compares to living in the environment in which you work and play.
Out here in the country, from the moment you wake up to the moment you put your head down to rest, you're surrounded by ever changing nature. It's awesome and all at once humbling and inspiring. And because it's always in your face, you never lose focus of what you're doing, what you're training for and what you're hoping to accomplish. It's like having a living breathing vision board in front of you.
Being immersed in the Great Outdoors does so much good for the soul. Every day becomes a new adventure, even if it's terrain you've covered countless times. The way the sun plays off natural features; the way the wind can kiss your face one day and then kick your ass the next; the rain, the snow, the stars. It puts everything into perspective for you. You never feel stuck in a rut. I can't imagine living any other way.
Emily: Living in the mountains for me – playing, learning, existing in them – is imperative for my mental health. It's remarkable how much my mood changes depending on whether or not I was able to get outside that day. If I am in a bad mood or feeling a bit down, the best thing I can do is get myself outside in the hills.
Training for rock climbing often involves a lot of time inside at the gym (especially in the winter), but I have learned that in order to feel healthy and balanced, I need to incorporate being outdoors as well. It's one of the biggest reasons I started skiing again, because when climbing outside isn't possible I have found solace in experiencing the mountains on skis.
What is your philosophy on eating? Do you prescribe to any specific regiments?
Adrian: A couple years back, I learned a lot about how my body metabolizes carbohydrates. My doctors and dietician both identified my diet as a chief contributing factor when I wasn't able to complete my first no-supplemental-oxygen summit attempt of Mt. Everest.
They determined that I was incredibly reliant on carbs as a source of energy, which are quick burning and don't last long. I was always the type of person who would wake up hungry and need to constantly eat throughout the day in order to feel energized. At high altitudes it is nearly impossible to be ingesting calories all the time, so I was constantly "bonking" until I failed.
I adopted an entirely new diet based mainly on fat (fat burns much slower and lasts longer) and incorporated a lot of fasted workouts into my training in order to train my metabolism to burn fat as opposed to carbs. When I went back the following year, after I made adjustments to my diet and training, I was able to complete that goal.
I still love carbs, though, especially bread and fresh baked cookies. So I tend to shift in and out of my high-fat diet throughout the year.
Emily: I used to be pretty into dieting for climbing, but honestly I think I took it too far and it became unhealthy. Now my philosophy is all about balance and moderation.
I CAN eat everything (which makes travel easy and not stressful), but I try to consume mostly whole, unprocessed foods, and drink alcohol moderately. I love peanut butter and chocolate. I try not to eat things that don't make me feel all that good, but other than that I try to have no rules.
I feel like diets and rules are taxing for me emotionally and mentally, and I have a habit of going too far with it, so I try to focus on the enjoyment and experience of food above all else. Adrian and I love cooking and eating together. It's one of our favorite things to do together, so when we are home we prioritize cooking and meals at home and I love it so much.
What are the most important foods you consume prior to and after training or time spent climbing/skiing/being active outside?
Adrian: You want to stay hydrated, so water is probably the most critical thing to be ingesting, especially at high altitudes.
As for food itself, you need something that can give you quick energy and protein without causing your body to crash so I usually rely on nuts, cheese, meat, some grain-free bars, sometimes chocolate. I like to make my own nut mixes with cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, dark chocolate and grain-free granola.
Emily: I eat a lot of the same stuff Adrian does: nuts, chocolate, fruit, some bars (I love the nut and date based ones). I probably eat a bit more carbs and far less meat than he does throughout the day because I don't like to feel like I have eaten a big protein-packed meal when I am out climbing. I save that for after training when I feel like I need to recover.
I make most of our breakfasts, and my favorite thing to make in winter is some sort of porridge: grain-free hot cereal made from coconut or nut flours, frozen berries, almond butter and dried fruit.
What are some tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way when it comes to staying balanced and healthy while you're traveling?
Adrian: Even though they now feature Wi-Fi and USB chargers, I still believe plane rides are actually meant for sleeping, not catching up on work. So while on the road, I always try to catch up on sleep when the transportation function is out of my hands. And I've gotten pretty good at it.
To avoid jet lag, altitude sickness and to stay healthy, I suggest the following: Drink lots of water, and bring your own snacks from home to keep you happy – it's better for your body to have some familiar things. Take more rests than you think you need, and try to get a lot of sleep.
Emily: I am big on having alone time. I need quiet time when I travel. Oftentimes we are in really social settings, living and having meals with others all the time. It's wonderful but I find it draining and I need solo time (or time with just Adrian and I) in order to recharge, reset and be on my game.
What are your “non-negotiables” for maintaining your health and spirits while training? And while on the road?
Adrian: Coffee! That's always my non-negotiable. I have to have it everywhere I travel and don't care how much it weighs down my climbing pack. It gets top priority!
And I'd like to say my other non-negotiable is sleep, but that's really crazy given our final ascents are typically undertaken in an environment that allows little to no sleep at all. But yes, sleep is one of the best ways for me to keep my immune system fresh and spirits high while on the road.
Emily: Adrian can sleep anywhere and he's really lucky for that. I have a harder time so I bring essentials that help me sleep: sometimes my own pillow case, comfortable clothes to sleep in on the airplane, a nice eye mask, good ear plugs, etc.
I am also big on skin care. I bring face wash and moisturizer everywhere with me. Washing my face makes me feel like a new person after a long day of travel or in the mountains.
Can you share one of your favorite recipes with us and why it’s your favorite?
Adrian: Emily makes amazing cookies of all kinds: regular chocolate chip, paleo chocolate chip (for when I am training and stricter with what I consume), peanut butter.
I also got her an ice cream maker for Christmas that she has been experimenting with. We both have a huge sweet tooth and love dessert. For me I prefer cookies or brownies.
Emily: It's true – my favorite foods are ice cream, dark chocolate, peanut butter and olive oil. And yes, I do a lot of experimenting with recipes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't [laughs].
I am always altering and changing things, trying new combinations. I made olive oil ice cream the other day that was a hit. I used coconut cream, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and some really high quality olive oil we bought in Spain.
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