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Posts Tagged ‘travel and adventure’

Diet, Peformance and the Race to the South Pole

It is 100 years since the British and Norwegian teams, lead by Scott and Amundsen, battled against high winds, sub-zero temperatures in their journey to be the first to the South Pole. If you remember your history, Scott and his team came second. Not only were they beaten by the Norwegians but they were trapped in their tent, by a terrible blizzard, on the return journey. Here, exhausted and demoralised is where they died, having run out of food. However, what they ate in the previous months is one of the main reason why Amundsen was successful but Scott was not.

Nutrition has come a long way in 100 years, but in 1911 the value and importance of vitamins was not fully understood. In particular Scott’s team started the journey deficient in vitamin C and the B vitamins, whilst the wortleberry jam enjoyed by Amundsen’s team gave them a small amount at least. Daily rations during the walk to the Pole were pemmican, biscuits, cocoa, tea and 12 lumps of sugar. Pemmican is a mixture of fat and dried pieces of meat. It is mixed with water and heated to make a stew called “hoosh.” These rations did not provide enough energy, let alone variety.

Not surprisingly, after days on these rations, food was either talked about or dreamed about as the men were slowly starving. The most popular fantasty meal was well seasoned mince meat, wrapped in thick slices of bacon with plenty of fat and covered with buttery pastry layers, fried in lard and eaten piping hot. Vitamin C is not made by the body and so must be provided by foods. The well known deficiency disease is scurvy but long before this stage is reached muscles turn sore and weak, old wounds open and new ones don’t heal.

The B vitamins are involved with energy release, brain and nerve function. Amundsen’s rations included biscuits enriched with oatmeal and yeast – which would have provided a source of these vital nutrients. Scott and his team however suffered from the symptoms of B vitamin deficiency – anaemia, low energy, nerve damage, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, hellucinations and depression.

Constantly feeling exhausted, confused, with painful mouth ulcers and blisters that will not heal is bad enough at home but becomes intolerable whilst shivering in a tent in the Antarctic. Modern expedition food is now designed with a greater knowledge of nutrition and understanding of the power of food and performance. Food is vital to power the body and to keep the mind at peace. My role is to design the eating plan for the environment and challenge. However, the adventurers and explorers, I have worked with, also seem to have an extra dose of mental strength – which helps them to push their boundaries.

Adventure & Travel Show, London, Olympia


It is the New Year and thoughts turn to expanding waistlines and a resolve to eat less … or better. For others it is travel, and the yearning for adventure. Happily I can help with both.

I will be speaking at the Telegraph Adventure and Travel Show in London. It is a fabulous two day event, with a programme of speakers and plenty of outdoor gadgets and clothing to be tried, tested, or lovingly inspected. I will be speaking on Saturday 28th January (at 4pm, in Lecture Theatre 4).

My talk will take the audience on a journey … of my research findings and science facts about how altitude and different environments affect food habits. The Adventure Show programme is packed with stories about travels and incredible adventures around the globe. My story takes you behind the scenes to reveal some of the planning and preparation that goes on for a major expedition.

What you eat affect your performance, whether it is the mental performance of working effectively and coping with a stressful workload, or physical performance and having enough energy to get you where you want to be. I have worked with expeditions to Everest, and individuals who want to run a marathon … or walk to the North Pole.

If you would like some discount tickets for the Show (£6 per ticket, advance price, saving £4 on door price), please enter the code DRCHRISFENN when ordering online – www.adventureshow.com or phone 0871 230 7159 (calls cost 10p per minute + network extras) and quote code.

Looking forward to the Show, and giving my talk. If you come, and would like to discuss good food and the challenges of adventure, please come and say hello. If you can’t make it, please contact me to discuss presenting a talk to your group or company. This page  has more details about one of my presentations.