Finding energy is a daily challenge.
Whether you are a parent trying to keep things from falling apart mid-week or a field operator trekking through war-torn territory, energy is at the core of your success.
CIA was an interesting and exciting place to work… most of the time.
What the movies and books don’t show you is all the down time spies have to endure: writing detailed cables, filing expense reports, sitting around waiting for satellite images, call intercepts, or document translations.
In the field, the waiting was even worse.
The blazing heat drains you. Cold temperatures beat you down. And biting insects can suck your hope out right through your skin.
I can feel the creepy-crawlies on me just thinking about it again!
But the thing that always lifted me up – and still lifts up covert officers dealing with sand flies and snowdrifts today – was our understanding of natural energy sources.
I’m not talking about inner-peace or chakras. Those may be valid for monks and peacemakers, but both are the exact opposite of the world I come from.
I’m talking about natural food sources. Sources that are available anywhere in the world and fully accessible without raising suspicion.
When you are on mission in a foreign land, it is critical that you avoid detection.
That means you have to source everything you eat from the local people. You can’t just carry your favorite American snack food in your pocket.
If you’ve ever seen a TV show or movie clip where the deep-cover lead character pulls a candy bar or energy bar from their pocket, it’s a sham.
One misplaced food wrapper could alert an entire government to the presence of US operators.
No special forces, intel, or covert action operative would be caught dead carrying instant coffee, tea bags, packaged food or bottled drinks into a hostile area.
Everything must be sourced from the local area – markets, farms, mother nature, or support assets.
The challenge with locally sourcing your food is that you don’t always know what that food is, its nutritional value, or how your body will react.
That’s why we are trained to focus on international staples; common foods found all over the world that are cheap and easy to find.
- Sometimes we need foods that give us protein, like beans, eggs, and milk (goat, cow, yak, etc.)
- Other times we need foods that reduce our appetite for long periods of time, like potatoes, fish, or tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.)
- And sometimes we need foods that will give us instant energy…
Here are 5 sources of instant energy that spies use all over the world:
Pure, natural honey is mother nature’s gift to mankind.
Honey tops this list because of its incredible energy-to-portion ratio. Two spoonfuls of honey offers the same level of pick-me-up as a full-sized candy bar or regular canned soft drink. Only honey uses body-friendly glucose and fructose to give you that boost, rather than the sucrose you find in processed snacks and drinks.
Whether you are crossing a desert or chopping through thick jungle, there are local honey stands all over the world.
Honey is both a source of food and a source of medicine in most parts of the world. In India and Pakistan, honey is used to soothe stomach aches and resolve indigestion. In Asia and Africa, honey is a topical ointment for bites and stings. In the Middle East and Europe, honey is a sleep aid and sometimes mixed with ginseng to spice up sex drive.
I haven’t seen coke or snickers advertise any of those advantages yet!
Dates are only grown on date palms – a type of palm tree that requires sandy soil, lots of sunlight, and hot temperatures.
The good news is that those conditions exist all around the world if you follow the equator. Dates grow in huge amounts, with little/no human intervention, two thousand miles above and below the equator. You can buy them in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia in bundles for less than a dollar.
Dates are a unique mix of glucose and fibre. They are small and lightweight but work fast to give you energy and focus. You can eat them fresh or dried, but dried is where they are worth their weight in gold.
Dried dates can hold for weeks or months as long as they are kept dry. And that makes them invaluable in the field.
#3 Dried Apricots
One of the most robust and easy-to-grow fruits in the world, apricots are common in every culture.
Like dates, apricots are an awesome mix of fibre and glucose. Their high glucose levels give you instant energy, but their equally high level of fibre means that that energy doesn’t spike. Unlike honey and dates, a few apricots will keep your body energized for hours at a time.
The downside to dried apricots is that their high fibre content also means you have to stay well hydrated to process them through your system. Dates and honey require much less water to consume, which is why Bedouins and desert nomads have long used both foods. But if you don’t drink enough water, over-eating apricots can make life very uncomfortable in very little time.
#4 Black Tea
Black tea is the only food source on this list that isn’t based in natural sugars.
Because the energy in tea comes from a combination of naturally occurring caffeine and L-theanine. The whole world knows caffeine, so I’ll skip explaining it for now. But the reason black tea is in every operator’s hip pocket (instead of coffee) is because of the benefits that come from the amino acid L-theanine.
L-theanine is a natural organic relaxant. When it combines with the caffeine in black tea it creates a long-term boost in energy without making you jittery or making you crash. Further, once the caffeine is processed through your body, the L-theanine still remains. The result is that it reduces anxiety (where coffee can increase anxiety), increases focus (again, the opposite of coffee), and promotes better sleep.
The least widely grown food on this list is known worldwide because it is cheap and easy to ship.
Carrots are a root vegetable high in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The reason most of the world has access to vitamins C and K is because of this hearty orange root!
Similar to apricots, carrots are a great mix of glucose and fibre. They are also built to be tough, with a strong outer coating that helps them stay fresh and edible for long periods of time without a refrigerator.
Unlike dried apricots, carrots retain their own water and are much easier to digest. They also have vitamin and mineral benefits that apricots do not have. The downside to carrots is that they only last on your counter (or in your bag) about half as long as dried apricots. Plus, when they go bad, they go VERY bad…because they have all that water inside them.
If you are looking for instant energy to get through your workday, weekend with the kids, or high-stakes operation, I know these foods will help you.
They still help me every day.
Written by Andrew Bustamante
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