Camping & Hiking

What to Eat Before a Hike? [Best Hiking Foods]

Many people love to go hiking because it’s a great opportunity to escape from the ordeal of everyday life, and relish in the beauty of Mother Nature.

If you’re about to partake on a hiking adventure, it’s best to prepare yourself.

Although clothing and gear are indispensable, food consumption is also important. Without knowing what to eat can turn a fun hike into an utter nightmare.

Let’s talk about the best foods to eat before a hike, as well as the basics of proper nutrition!

nutrition basics

Nutrition Basics

Your body obtains its energy supply from three main sources: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Each one of them provides different amounts of calories and offers certain benefits to improve your body’s performance.

For example, one gram of carbs and protein grants four calories, while one gram of fat yields nine calories. Even though fats contain more energy, they’re not used as the main macronutrient.

As reported by the American Heart Association (AHA), the human body prioritizes carbohydrates as the primary energy source.

This is because carbs are broken down more easily into glucose, which is the predominant energy source for your body, especially your brain, blood, and muscles.

Also, carbs promote gut health, improve fat metabolism, and prevent our body from using protein as fuel. Protein has more important functions than producing energy.

On the other hand, fats are necessary to absorb liposoluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Unlike carbs that have limited storage on muscle and liver, fats can be stored in various parts of our body, which is why excessive fat consumption is associated with weight gain and health conditions.

When your caloric intake is not enough to suffice your daily requirements, your body mobilizes fat to the liver to convert into fuel since it’s your energy reserve.

Finally, protein is essentially the building block of your body.

It builds muscle, repairs tissue, and improves metabolism. Even more, most biochemical reactions that occur in your body, like transpiration and urine production, require protein to do them efficiently.

However, if carbs are not available to produce energy, your body resorts to breaking down muscle fibers and other tissues to obtain energy.

In other words, your body considers protein as an alternative energy source.

Understanding the basis of nutrition, you’ll be able to fuel your body correctly without having a negative impact on your health.

This is important when partaking in high-demanding physical activity, especially because of how strenuous hikes can be.

eating before hike

What to Eat Before a Hike?

Whether you are an experienced hiker or an outdoor enthusiast, preparation is always essential when you are about to hike a mountain trail or walk for countless hours through the woods.

You must provide your body with enough energy to withstand the rigorous challenges that you might face so it can be a remarkable and joyful experience.

Proper eating is about making healthy choices that will keep your motivation and vitality up, and not all food products offer that when hiking.

Before anything, you must know that proper consumption must commence one or two days prior to the actual hiking.

It’s also recommended to perform moderate exercise a few days before ( about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise) so your body can adapt to the physical activity that comes with hiking.

As said previously, high-carb meals are the best options to fuel your body. These will allow you to create glycogen reserves needed when you are actually on the trail and boost your metabolism for better performance.

However, not all carbs are beneficial for your health because some can cause spikes in blood sugar levels or slow down your digestion.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple, and complex carbs.

Simple carbs are macronutrients that are broken down more easily and provide small bursts of energy. Because of this, they cause rapid increases in your blood sugar levels and lead to the common “sugar rush”.

However, high sugar levels are dangerous, and your body responds by releasing insulin in higher quantities. When insulin stabilizes blood sugar levels at a faster rate, you enter in the famous “sugar crash”, where you feel more tired and fatigued than before.

Hunger will strike you faster and disrupt your hiking adventure. Some simple carbs include candy, sugary drinks, and pastries and should be avoided before a hike.

Complex carbs contain more fiber and compounds that take more time to be digested.

Pasta, bread, rice, and oats are great examples of these types of carbs. Since your body absorbs them gradually, blood sugar levels remain more controlled, and fewer amounts of insulin are released.

They provide energy for longer periods of time and maintains your appetite. They also create glycogen reserves in your muscle tissue that can be utilized when energy is consumed.

Carb loading before a long hike is necessary, especially if it’s your first time.

Finally, you should also incorporate protein in your meals, because they help control your appetite and promote muscle stability. It can also reduce muscle soreness at the end of your hike.

Some meal options include:

  • Oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit and a serving of Greek yogurt
  • A ham bagel with a serving of vegetables and one or two boiled eggs
  • A nut butter (peanut or almond) and banana sandwich made with whole wheat bread
  • A rice bowl with chicken, beef or tofu accompanied with freshly made lemonade
  • One serving of pasta, lean meats (chicken, fish or beef) and a serving of salad
  • Baked potato with seasoned black beans and steamed broccoli.

It’s also important to rehydrate yourself the day before a hike by drinking approximately three liters of water.

How Long Before a Hike Should I Eat?

It’s advised to consume your breakfast or lunch (if you are hiking in the afternoon) approximately one to three hours before the hike.

During this time frame, your digestive tract can begin to digest you the food to gradually produce bursts of energy without causing any discomfort as you start to hike.

Additionally, you can consume a small snack 30 minutes prior, to fully energize yourself at the start of your hiking experience. A handful of nuts and raisins or a protein bar are good options.

You must never go on a hike on an empty stomach because you can deplete your energy reserves beforehand and hit the well-known “bonk”, where sudden tiredness invades your body as you hike.

It’s best to consume a quick fruit smoothie or a protein bar before resorting to any physical activity.

What to Consume During the Hike?

Snacking and hydrating yourself is also key as you begin hiking up a mountain or walking through the woods.

First of all, you drink water before you are thirsty. When you feel thirsty, it actually means that you are already dehydrated and this can reduce your endurance during your journey.

Therefore, you should drink between 500 and 700 ml of water two hours before the hike, and consume approximately 200 ml every 20 minutes during your long walk to keep yourself hydrated and happy.

hiking snacks

Best Hiking Snacks

You should carry lightweight snacks that contain complex carbs and appropriate amounts of protein to fuel your body during your hiking adventure.

High-fat foods are not advised because they don’t grant quick bursts of energy, and can lead to indigestion.

It’s also not wise to eat large quantities of food in one sitting because your body will prioritize digestion over physical activity and redirect the energy flow from your muscles to the digestive tract. Thus, you’ll feel fatigued more easily.

You should eat snacks every hour or so, and in small quantities to replenish your energy tank while avoiding digestive symptoms, like abdominal pain, headaches, heartburns, and indigestion.

Some great snack ideas are:

  • Proteins bars
  • Fruits, like apples and pears
  • Turkey wraps with vegetables
  • Trail mix
  • String cheese with graham crackers
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade)
  • Ham and cheese sandwich
  • Bean burrito
  • Fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk

Keep in mind that you should carry an ice pack to refrain milk-based snacks or meats from spoiling too easily and causing food poisoning.

If you’re wondering what else you should pack for your next camping adventure, I got a great article right here.

Also remember that if you deplete your carb intake, your body will break down muscle and other tissues to obtain energy. In the end, this will increase muscle soreness and discomfort.

What to Eat After a Hike?

Eating properly after a strenuous hike or a long walk is just as important as preparing for one. You need to replenish your glycogen storages to repair damaged muscle tissue and to avoid low blood sugar levels.

Experts recommend eating at least 60 grams of carbs and 10 grams of proteins immediately after a demanding hike.

Hiking Recovery Food

You can eat a turkey and veggie sandwich with a serving of fresh fruit or assorted nuts. A glass of chocolate milk is also a great option because 250 ml of milk contains about 8 grams of protein.

Other options include:

  • Whole-grain tortillas with cheese and ham
  • Beef jerky
  • A serving of Greek Yogurt with seasoned berries
  • Carrot and celery sticks with a low-fat dipping sauce
  • Egg Salad Sandwich (must be kept in a cooler)
  • Chocolate protein bars

Finally, hydration is also important because you usually lose a lot of fluids due to transpiration and heavy breathing. Drink about 500 ml of water immediately after your hike and accompany with nuts and fruits for nutritional value.

Nathan Barker

My wife and I are huge adventure seekers! We've traveled and explored over 40 countries and want to share what we have learned on our journey. We'll be talking about everything from hiking and camping, to guides, reviews and tips that we're sure will help any avid adventurer no matter what walk of life. So relax, grab a cup of coffee and we hope you enjoy the read!
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