Ben Marr launches off the curling shoulder of Hawaii hole, Mistassibi River, Quebec.     Photo/David Jackson
Ben Marr launches off the curling shoulder of Hawaii hole, Mistassibi River, Quebec. Photo/David Jackson

Food, Balance & Whitewater with Ben Marr

Curiosity and creativity are the key ingredients in Ben Marr’s pursuit for health and balance while chasing whitewater around the globe.

Chef Marr prepares stacks of veggie burgers for team consumption on a rest night spent in Chicoutimi. Photos by David Jackson

By Carmen E. Kuntz

In some form, we are all seeking balance. Work-play balance, training-recovery, fun-fitness. Benny Marr spends roughly 300 days of the year on the road. For him, the pursuit of balance is a constant. From spring in Ontario and northern Quebec, summer in BC, and White Salmon in winter with some ocean hopping here and there, he is literally chasing whitewater. Here are the dirty deets straight from the almost-vegetarian, kombucha connoisseur, lentil burger master and big-water hunter himself.

Decisions based around food vary. It's a balancing act for Marr, between the kayaker lifestyle and that of an athlete looking to make conscious and health-related food decisions.

"Initially I started eating clean to balance out the unknowns of my springtime party/stoke habits. I thought, if I'm going to be out at night partying, and getting late night food, I'll keep it clean during the day. Now, I very much enjoy eating well, or as well as I can, to the best of my ability and knowledge. The ‘socially conscious’ part of things, that's a whole different hand basket! I agree with vegetarians, and vegans, but I'm not that hardcore. I eat hunted meat when I can, and meat farmed not far from wherever I am, but I don't go for store bought." 

McDonalds becomes the main convergence during stakeout. Free wifi, hot coffee, and cheap food meets the criteria of smelly, wet, and hungry kayakers in the north. Not everyone chooses the unhealthy habits though, Benny being the leader of that group as he eats an avocado in the parking lot, just in reach of wifi. Photo by David Jackson

For Marr, whitewater kayaking isn't measured in race results. He paddles big water in his freestyle kayak and runs massive multi-day expeditions in his creekboat. So how he feels is his greatest measure for performance.

"The best way I can describe it is clean energy. When I'm tired, it doesn't matter — I can still go rally another lap. When I am eating well I feel like I have access to a pretty deep well of energy. I have good endurance these days. And I definitely notice a difference when I don't eat well."

Photos from the 2015 Torngat Expedition by Pedro Oliva and Ben Stookesberry.

Marr recalls the eighth day of an expedition in the Torngat Mountains of Newfoundland in 2015, and how logistics, weather and communication all played a part in having limited food. There are times like this when he doesn't have a choice on what he's eating, and food becomes strictly fuel. "I can't think of time when I was more active with the least amount of food. It's funny that during the highest energy-burning trips I've been on, we aren't eating anywhere close to what I would choose to eat. I find it very interesting to see how your body can perform on different fuel."

Fireside meal prep with Bren Orton and Marr. Photo by David Jackson.

Friends. Peer pressure or inspiration.

Marr supplements fast foods with whole food, and (attempts to) balance partying and performance by staying fit and healthy while on the road. Marr has some buddies who are into his wild food and some who aren't. Marr's good(ish) buddy and British freestyle phenom, Bren Orton, often cooks with Marr when they are on the road “staking out” big wave freestyle. The duo will pair wine (mostly Marr, Orton doesn't like the calories or effect of alcohol) with a kale salad while other kayakers eat uncomplicated fire or one-burner meals.

"Everyone seems to have their own, strong opinion of what they know or what they think is right or wrong when it comes to food. But I very much enjoy experimenting with what I know, what I eat and how I feel and perform."

Grocery runs into town are cross functional. Wifi, food, emails, relationships, and a few hours spent huddled in a warm car catching up on the world outside. Pat Camblin backs up footage from a day of shooting while Benny gets groceries. Photo by David Jackson

Challenges. What's toughest about eating clean?

Location and time are limiting factors. When travelling for paddling finding supermarkets with variety and accessing a kitchen and the time prepare it can be difficult. Sometimes you don't have a source for great food, or the time to prepare it.

"I love being in North America because we are so spoiled with the foods we have on hand at all times of the year. When traveling I love cooking for myself and my hosts when I can, but often eat out as well. Sometimes I bring food with me from home."

Meat. Are you in or are you out?

Marr seeks out farm-to-table meat options when meat is on the menu, or hunted. The more local, the better. But most of the time he's cooking and eating like a vegetarian, a choice he makes based on health and environmental reason.

Dead soldier in Ottawa. Photo by David Jackson.

Cheats. What do you compromise on?

For a lot of paddlers, beer is a food group in and of itself. Partying is one area where Marr's nutrition regime is a bit blurry. He tries to stick to clear alcohols; tequila and gin predominately. "Beer is being limited," says Marr, "while wine is becoming a staple. And I finally figured out how to read the sugar content of wine at the LCBO (Ontario liquor stores) which is nice."

Last year, the longest amount of time Marr that stayed in one spot was two months, spent in White Salmon, Wash, and then one month in Squamish, B.C. "When people are preparing food, I try to get involved and help, swaying the meal and ingredients to my liking. In certain situations I will do my own thing, and other times I'll keep my food preference to myself and just enjoy what's being served. I'm doing this for fun, to be as healthy as possible, and for balance, because there are still very unhealthy aspects to my life that I haven’t let go of yet. Like smashing a bag of chips, and huge amounts of cheese…"

On the road again. Photos by David Jackson.

Marr just finished his seasonal, east-to-west, post-Stakeout migration. "Overall, I feel healthy and I feel strong. I have deep well of energy to pull form to do all the things that I want to do." As he drives across the continent, from the Ottawa Valley to the Pacific Northwest, he's got some precious cargo in the back seat of his truck. With a seat belted strapped across is a large, glass jar of cloudy liquid. His kombucha culture is alive and well, and will be ready to sip on in a couple weeks. It's all for the cause; learning, exploring and enjoying the challenge of eating like a nutrition gangsta.