The Six Tastes + How Flavors Boost Our Bodies

Days full of epic singletrack, jaw-dropping views, and adrenaline-charged obstacles. Nights filled with slurping noodle bowls and the smell of vegetables roasting. Dust in our ears and grit in our over-smiled teeth. Beers cracking open. That’s how I would describe the weekend I just spent with the ladies of Roam Events. It felt like the most fabulous feat to roll with these forty women through the desert, hooting, hollering, and shredding. Moreover, I’m over the moon that everyone left with full bellies and full of stoke. It was one of the most adrenaline-charged, fun-first trips I’ve ever been on; we were athletes at our peak of happiness + healthiness and I’m confident flavor was key to boost our bodies for this big adventure.

A full-on weekend

Our schedule was full-up; early mornings and boisterous big breakfasts to get us going before we would hit the trail. Most days, we didn’t return home until the sun was setting, exhausted from tackling feature after challenging, heart-stopping feature on our mountain bikes.

Straight off the trail, we elegantly swan dived into bowls of potato chips and juicy watermelon slices. Sandwich cookies were slathered with peanut butter as I started pots of water boiling for noodles, drizzled pumpkins and mushrooms with olive oil, the bubbling sound of conversations elevating as we grew closer to dinner time.

One night we piled our plates high with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, leafy greens, squeezes of lime juice and all of the spicy/pungent sauces and salads. Another night, we filled bowls with sweet and nutty buckwheat soba noodles, then ladled sweet pumpkin, umami-miso broth, and roasted mushrooms over the top. The plates were grounding, satisfying and truly on point if I do say so myself. And honestly, I take little credit. The flavor of the ingredients I picked have everything to do with how perfectly ON we felt in this beautiful and challenging place. The flavors did the work to boost our bodies. We may not have been racing, but we were out to milk maximum enjoyment out of this desert oasis. And this kind of athletic pursuit – the kind that’s out for fun, connection and optimizing soul over measured success – requires a different consideration to nutrition.

Push limits, and ignore the “good and bad”

When we think of fueling our bodies for sport, we often become fixated on the macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates and protein. We want that boost to crush, but we often forget our bodies need to be functioning at their best in all the other ways to do that. We’re advised to “eat clean”, stick with the “good foods” and avoid the “bad. And if we’re craving something “bad” without doing something “good,” we’re doing it wrong.

I don’t really subscribe to the “good” and “bad.” I’m certain that food is not only our joy but also our medicine. The emotional and subtle values of the foods we eat are just as important as the nutrients when it comes to performing our best. And a few centuries old practices would agree with me.

The Six Tastes: Flavor fuel

Our bodies are SMART. For centuries, our bodies have been guiding us as we navigate the poisonous and nutritious. In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, each of the six flavors we taste associate with a nutritional value our bodies need for balance and survival. But in order to optimize ourselves, we have to understand what our bodies are asking for, what they’re tasting and intuiting when we eat the foods we choose, and how they’re benefitting us.

Circling up to eat big bowls of nourishment in Moab meant making meals that gave us all the tools we needed to hydrate, digest, eliminate, recover, detoxify, balance, calm and power our adventures. The flavors were the boost our bodies needed.

The Six Tastes identified below each have a super-power. Here’s what they’re doing behind the scenes.

Flavor #1 – SWEET:

Foods that taste sweet help us to rebuild tissues and calm our nerves. After a big day of adrenaline-pumping drops, or when we’re experiencing something emotionally or physically challenging, our bodies will ask for a sweet flavor to rebalance. When we experience this craving, we most often think of desserts, candy, and sweet treats but eating fruits, grains, natural sugars, milk and vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, and beets will answer the call for a sweet treat.

Flavor #2 – SALTY:

When our bodies are full of lactic acid or have experienced dehydration (like in sport,) they will crave salty foods. Salty flavors help us to taste foods completely (so our bodies can properly tell when they’ve been sated!) Salty flavored foods also help to lubricate and rehydrate our tissues and aid in our digestion. The foods that come to mind when we desire this flavor are salty chips, processed snacks, and french fries but any naturally salted food will sate this craving. Flaky salt, sea veggies like seaweed and miso paste or broth are all good choices. (But so too are the french fries + chips in moderation to mainline salt.)

Flavor #3 – SOUR:

Foods of this flavor aid our tissues and lymph system in detoxifying and they increase the absorption of crucial minerals in the foods we eat. This craving is hard to detect sometimes, but when we add sour flavors to our diets we start to notice when they’re missing. Fermented foods, yogurt and sour fruits like lemon and lime are good examples of this flavor. This is one reason a squeeze of lemon is so refreshing and important in our foods and drinks.

Flavor #4 – PUNGENT:

If you crave spicy food, you’re craving pungent flavors. These flavors stimulate our digestion (and help boost our bodies to eliminate waste + toxins,) and they increase our metabolism. Chili peppers, garlic, herbs, and spices are all pungent and they’re valuable for natural body balance and for performing our best – in sport and life.

Flavor #5 – BITTER:

Bitter flavors also help us to detoxify, they help reduce inflammation and keep our tissues light. This flavor isn’t often discernable as a craving, but if you ever just “really want a salad” this makes sense because leafy greens, herbs and spices are most often associated with this flavor. Your leafy green salad becomes a nutritional powerhouse when topped with other flavorful ingredients that simultaneously stoke + calm your system!

Flavor #6 – ASTRINGENT:

Astringent tastes are also difficult to discern as cravings, but this doesn’t make them less valuable. Legumes, raw fruits, vegetables, and herbs are all astringent in flavor and they all help to absorb water, remove it from the body and reduce inflammation.

So, when I put together the meal plans for our week, I aimed to weave together as many of the Six Tastes as possible into each plate; to include ingredients that would calm (sweet,) rehydrate (salty,) detox our muscles from the challenges of the day (astringent,) and help us digest the day and the food we were eating (pungent,) AND that would provide enough protein, carbohydrates and fats to keep us rolling.

Slathering a cookie with peanut butter might sound “naughty,” but it’s one way of giving your body precisely what it’s asking for. Something to think about the next time we’re hearing the call – for adventure, or a big slice of pizza. Remember that it’s not only the ingredients that are keeping you going, but the tastes you’re experiencing that help boost our bodies, so we can perform at our best. Flavor can help take your adventure – whatever it looks like – to a whole new level.