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September 17, 2010. I’ve had potatoes on my mind since I used the season’s first fresh ones for that killer potato salad. Which recalled a killer hike in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, a hundred or so miles northwest of and a few thousand feet above the heart of baking potato land.

I don’t recall if my pre-hike breakfast included a good dose of dietary fiber and easily digestible protein from a plate of potatoes. But that would’ve been a good start – a great carbohydrate dish with a low glycemic load, like yesterday’s cheddar-filled baked apple.

But I do know that hiking this 10-mile roundtrip trail will take you up 2,000 feet and back down – and burn about 2,000 calories. About 15 big potatoes. So have a potato and a nice, long walk. When you’re in Idaho, head for the dramatic Sawtooth Range.

On the trail
The first mile or so is pretty gentle: you gain about 500′ in elevation on your way through a forest of lodgepole pines with an occasional view of a sharp mountain peak. Then you’re out in a meadow with open views and meandering streams.

The next 500′ elevation gain happens pretty quickly, in less than a half-mile of switchbacks that bring you to a avalanche meadow and across Iron Creek. Then right back up another 500′ to a ridgeline that overlooks Alpine Lake. Take a little detour down to the lakeside.

The last leg of the trail is a gradual climb to a spectacular view of Sawtooth Lake – and some kind of weird déjà vu. Then you realize you’ve seen this picture on every poster and postcard in every store in the area. You know, they all got it right. So take your picture, sit down and have a picnic.

Or stay on the trail for 20 minutes. Hike down to the lake shore, then back up a steep, switchbacked section for even cooler views of the lake and the top of 10,000-foot Mount Regan.

Wherever you picnic, you can pick up something at the Farmers Market in sort-of-nearby Ketchum on Tuesdays and in Hailey on Thursdays. Raspberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches and tomatoes throughout the summer hiking season. And elk.

If you’re looking for breakfast in the really small town of Stanley (six miles from the trailhead), try Stanley Baking Company’s sourdough or whole wheat pancakes – or the migas, scrambled eggs with yesterday’s corn tortillas and very fresh chili peppers. You can do this before you hike, have a good pizza at Papa Brunee’s when you come back down the mountain – and still have a serious calorie deficit if you made it all the way to Sawtooth Lake.

While you’re hiking, sip water frequently to stay hydrated and fresh. Avoid expensive, environmentally unfriendly bottled water; filter, fill up and carry your own. When I hike, I wear my CamelBak backpack with its built-in water reservoir and conveniently in-my-face water “bite valve” that never drips or leaks. Check out these 50-ounce and 100-ounce packs and this kid’s 1-liter Pack.

Every Thing Is Everything:
Exercise directly improves your health which reduces your health care needs and costs which increases your peace of mind which further improves your health.

Although previous studies have found enhanced mood for up to an hour after exercise, this study found benefits for up to 12 hours following activity, compared to the resting group…Test subjects performed exercise at 60 percent of aerobic capacity, indicating that moderate-intensity exercise – like walking or light cycling – is enough to boost mood.”
(“Boost Your Mood at Least Half the Day with Physical Activity”, American College of Sports Medicine, 2009)

“ … exercise has a benefit of reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.” (from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of NIH. Their Guide to Physical Activity lists many examples of “moderate physical activity”, including “Raking leaves for 30 minutes” and “Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes”.)

It’s Always Something
If you work out after breakfast to manage your weight, what you eat for breakfast may help or hinder the fat-burning benefit you want. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition (May 2009) showed that exercise after a high-fiber, low glycemic index breakfast (meusli, yogurt, fruit) burned twice as much fat per hour as exercise following a high glycemic breakfast (cornflakes, milk, white bread, jam). If you’d like a quick translation and explanation of this glycemic index thing, read on.

The index is a measure of how quickly digestion breaks down carbohydrates to produce glucose, thereby raising glucose/blood sugar level. As a rule, highly refined/processed foods break down quickly, raise your blood sugar quickly, and produce a corresponding rise in insulin level – all of which is associated with increased risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. So the moral of this story is that exercising to prevent weight gain may be optimized by eating specific foods and hindered by eating others.

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