Hiking is a demanding physical activity, so what you put into your body beforehand matters. There are foods that boost your metabolism, supply sustained energy, and keep your mind sharp. There are others that zap your strength, cause indigestion, and can lead to heartburn. Let’s figure out what to eat before hiking to keep a spring in your step for the entire adventure.
I’ve been recreating in the great outdoors for a long time and have found some great food strategies for hiking. Proper food prep can have a positive effect on your physical and mental strength. In this article, we’ll talk about various foods and how they affect your hiking performance.
What To Eat Before Hiking
Hiking burns through calories quickly. That’s why you need balanced meals that contain extra calories and supply a boost of energy. It's important to pair all foods with lots of water. Drinking water helps you keep optimal performance levels throughout the hike. Let’s take a closer look at what you can eat to power through the toughest hikes.
Lean meats, like turkey, chicken, and fish, are great for a variety of reasons. Lean meats help increase your metabolism, which is a great way to fight off indigestion. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, lean meats help repair tired muscles. Strenuous hikes will inevitably lead to muscle soreness.
If you’re wondering about red meat, I have some bad news. Red meat is quite tasty, but it doesn’t do much to prepare you for hiking. In fact, red meat is a bad choice because it has a long digestion time, doesn’t replenish your energy tank, and could lead to indigestion. If you know that you’ll be hiking, avoid red meats and stick to lean meats.
When To Eat Lean Meats
The dinner before a hike is a great time to add lean meat to your diet. This gives you plenty of time to digest and reap the benefits before starting a hike.
Breakfast is widely considered the most important meal of the day, and it's usually the last one before a hike. For this all-important meal, there are several strategies to pursue; however, many hearty hiking breakfast options are expensive. Eggs are widely available, cheap, and provide multiple grams of protein.
Eggs not only decrease muscle damage, they (in combination with carbohydrates) can improve your recovery. Another hidden benefit of eggs is how full they make you feel. Many nutritious options like granola and yogurt are great but may leave you unsatisfied. A good breakfast with eggs will make you feel satiated, which can reduce the urge to snack on the trail.
When To Eat Eggs
You can eat eggs both before and after a hike. If you’re hungry in the morning, adding eggs and carbs to a breakfast meal will help keep you satisfied for longer. After a hike, eggs can aid in muscle recovery. They aren’t ideal during a hike because they weigh more than other snacks.
Examples of nut butter include: peanut butter, walnut butter, hazelnut butter, cashew butter, and almond butter. The main benefits here are lots of fiber, protein, and magnesium. These things help us maintain proper bone strength and can help build muscle strength.
You don’t have to eat them on their own, either. Combinations like a bagel with peanut butter or almond butter and banana slices are easy to prepare and nutritional. Additionally, regular nuts, granola, a bit of chocolate for flavor, and raisins create a great hiking snack: trail mix.
When To Eat Nut Butter
Nut butter is best during a hike. Many companies offer smaller package sizes that are delicious and very lightweight. Nut butter is a great snack on the go and especially helpful on long backpacking adventures where muscle strength and physical preservation are top of mind.
Nutritious foods like protein bars and energy bars can set you up for success both before and during a hike. Remember, though, they are not a full meal replacement. If you skip breakfast and opt for a nutrition bar, you will likely be hungry later.
However, bars are also easy to stuff into backpack pockets, and they’re lightweight, making them a great hiking snack.
When To Eat Nutrition Bars
I love taking nutrition bars with me during a hike. Bars are small, convenient, and provide a nice energy boost mid-hike, making them a great snack choice.
Does anyone remember their moms yelling at them to eat more vegetables? Well, they were right! Vegetables are awesome, high in complex carbohydrates, and can help you refuel while hiking. Carrots, in particular, boast a ton of nutritional value and are easy to bring along on a hike. Broccoli, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and snacks like dried seaweed are also good.
When To Eat Vegetables
Vegetables are good just about any time they're consumed. For hiking, they are great snacks to bring with you and provide a great base for protein dips like hummus. The only thing to watch is the cumulative weight; a bag of carrots can be heavy.
Fresh fruits are also fantastic for hiking because of their high concentration of carbohydrates and water content. Classics include apples, pears, and bananas. Dried fruit is also a wonderful hiking snack because it removes the extra weight that comes from larger fruits like apples. Combining fruits with Greek yogurt is a great breakfast combination before hiking.
When To Eat Fruits
Fresh fruits are best consumed before and after hikes. You can certainly bring them along for a hike, but the weight and bulk may make them less attractive. Instead, try bringing dried fruit or dehydrated meals with lots of fruit in them. Remember to check the ingredients and dump options loaded with extra sugar.
Grain pasta is wonderful and jam-packed with carbohydrates. It’s been used in workout and muscle-building routines for decades. Pasta is also a perfect hiking food. Carb-loading the body gives you plenty to burn through when you hit the trail. One thing to avoid is heavy sauces, which take a long time to digest. Opt for a light sauce to avoid stomach issues on the trail.
When To Eat Pasta
I love carb-loading, and incorporating both pasta and lean meats into a hearty dinner before hiking is the best way to utilize carbohydrates. Pasta is also a lightweight base for meals if you're out camping. You can also eat it after a hike. The only time it’s not convenient is as a hiking snack because it takes a bit of cooking time to prepare
Food Groups To Avoid When Hiking
There are certain food groups you want to avoid before a day of hiking because they take energy instead of providing it. I had to learn the hard way that delicious does not always mean nutritious.
Why Cheese Is Bad For Hiking
Cheese is great, but it’s not the best choice for hiking, and there are several reasons why.
Cheese is high in fat, and high-fat foods take a long time to digest. If you’re hiking with cheese in your stomach, you’ll feel slower and heavier and have some uncomfortable digestive issues. On top of all that, cheese doesn’t provide enough fuel to justify the long time it takes to digest, making it a pretty poor choice for hiking.
Why Candy Is Bad For Hiking
Candy bars have a temporary appeal because of the sugar rush, which may give you quick bursts of energy. The problem is that the energy surge leaves just as quickly as it arrives. Once the rush wears off, you’re left feeling depleted and irritable.
Candy bars also spike your blood sugar levels. This is bad for health conditions like diabetes and anyone else trying to keep their blood sugar steady.
Spices Are Bad For Hiking
Who doesn’t love spicing up bland-tasting meals? I know I do! Spices have a ton of uses, but for hiking, maybe leave the complicated stuff at home. Spices can contribute to heartburn and indigestion and take a long time to break down in your gut. If you want to spruce up meals, vinegar, citrus, salt, pepper, and oil are all good possibilities.
There are good and bad meals for hiking. If you’re unsure, err toward foods that provide energy instead of foods that have long digestive times. High-calorie foods, high-carbohydrate foods, protein-heavy foods, and healthy foods all top the list.
Great options include lean meats, pasta, eggs, nut butter, vegetables, and fruits. Try to avoid cheese and candy bars and overdoing it on the spices. Also, stay away from creamy foods, fatty foods, and greasy foods. And, of course, make sure to drink plenty of water and bring a pack to carry it all in.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.