Going on a hike is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy nature. However, in order to have the energy to complete your hike, it’s important to fuel up with the right foods beforehand. Eating the proper foods before hiking will provide you with sustained energy, keep you hydrated, and help prevent fatigue and muscle cramps. Read on to learn more about what to eat before hiking.
- Eat complex carbs and lean protein the night before
- In the morning, opt for whole grains, fruit, protein-rich foods
- Pack high-protein, high-carb trail snacks like trail mix and sandwiches
- Consume carbs and protein within 30 minutes post-hike
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after
- Avoid greasy and sugary foods before hiking
- Time meals so you digest before hitting the trail
Eating right is crucial for an enjoyable, energized hike. Fuel up wisely before and during your trek, refuel after, and stay hydrated. Follow these nutrition tips so you can fully enjoy the views from the top!
Table of Contents
What Should You Eat the Night Before a Hike?
The night before a long or strenuous hike, you’ll want to eat a balanced dinner that’s high in complex carbohydrates and lean protein. Some good pre-hike meal ideas include:
- Pasta with chicken or fish
- Rice bowl with vegetables and lean meat
- Baked potato with veggies and sliced chicken
- Whole grain sandwich with turkey and cheese
Avoid high-fat and overly processed foods like pizza, fried foods, burgers, and sweets. While they may seem appealing, these simple carbs won’t properly fuel your body for a hike.
Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, starchy veggies, and legumes. Complex carbs digest slowly, providing a steady stream of energy. Pair carbs with lean protein like poultry, fish, eggs, or plant-based protein to help repair tired muscles.
Be sure to drink plenty of water the evening before a hike to ensure you’re well hydrated.
|Carbs||Fruits, whole grains, beans||Provide sustained energy|
|Protein||Meats, dairy, nuts, beans||Build and repair muscles|
|Healthy fats||Nuts, seeds, avocados||Prolonged energy, insulation|
What Should You Eat on the Day of Your Hike?
Fuel up with a hearty breakfast full of slow-burning carbs and protein. Oatmeal, whole grain toast with nut butter, and a veggie omelet are all good options. Simple carbs like doughnuts or pastries can spike your blood sugar and leave you crashing later on.
Eat about 2-3 hours before you hit the trail to give your body time to digest. If you’re really pressed for time, a nutritious meal replacement shake can get nutrients into your system quickly.
Bring high-carb and protein-rich hiking snacks like trail mix, protein bars, beef jerky or turkey sticks, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, and dried fruit. These portable snacks will provide quick energy and help you keep moving on the trail.
Stay hydrated by sipping water frequently as you hike. Dehydration can zap your energy and lead to dizziness, confusion, and cramping. Bring along a hydration pack or water bottles and take a sip every 15-20 minutes.
How Many Carbs Do You Need to Eat Before Hiking?
The amount of carbs needed pre-hike depends on the duration and difficulty of your hike:
- Short, easy hikes (1-3 hours): Aim for 30-50 grams of carbs pre-hike. A bowl of oatmeal, piece of fruit and yogurt, or peanut butter sandwich are all good options.
- Medium distance hikes (4-6 hours): Consume around 60-100 grams of carbs. A bagel with nut butter, energy bar, banana and Greek yogurt will hit the carb sweet spot.
- Long, strenuous all day hikes: Eat up to 200-300 grams of complex carbs to fuel glycogen stores. Ideas include a big bowl of oatmeal with fruit, eggs, avocado toast, and an energy bar.
Look for healthy, complex carbs like whole grains, beans, lentils, starchy vegetables, and some fruits. Simple sugars from candy, soda, syrupy energy drinks, and some sports bars will lead to a crash.
How Much Protein is Ideal to eat Before a Hike?
Protein helps prevent muscle damage and aids post-hike recovery. Shoot for around 20-30 grams of protein before shorter hikes and up to 40-50 grams for highly strenuous, multi-hour hikes. Good protein sources include:
- Yogurt or cottage cheese
- Nut butter
- Meat, poultry, or fish
- Protein powder
- Beans, lentils, or tofu
Protein takes longer to digest, so eat protein-rich foods 2-3 hours pre-hike. You’ll also want to continue eating protein during your hike by consuming protein bars, jerky, trail mix with nuts, or nut butter sandwiches.
What Should You Eat and Drink While Hiking?
- Hydration: Sip water frequently, about 1 cup every 20 minutes. For hikes over 2 hours long, also drink a sports drink like Gatorade to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat.
- Snacks: Trail mix, protein bars, beef jerky, dried fruit, nut butter sandwiches.
- Lunch: Sandwiches, wraps, or salads with carb- and protein-rich ingredients.
Don’t forget to keep refueling during your hike! Your body is burning calories and needs regular influxes of carbs and protein to keep going strong.
What Should You Eat After a Hike?
Replenish glycogen stores post-hike by eating carb- and protein-rich foods within 30 minutes of finishing your hike:
- Yogurt and fruit
- Protein smoothie with milk, yogurt, nut butter, protein powder, and fruit
- Turkey sandwich with cheese
- Veggie omelet with avocado toast
- Stir fry with brown rice and lean meat
Consuming carbs and protein soon after hiking will help decrease muscle damage, reduce soreness, and speed recovery.
Be sure to continue hydrating and eat a balanced meal 1-2 hours later to help your tired muscles fully recover. Foods like salmon, lean meats, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all excellent choices.
How Long Before a Hike Should You Stop Eating?
- For short hikes under 3 hours, you can eat a light meal about 1 hour before starting.
- For longer day hikes, stop eating 2-3 hours before hitting the trail. This gives food time to digest so you won’t have gastrointestinal issues.
- Don’t eat right before an early morning hike. Instead, fuel up with a substantial breakfast 2-3 hours prior.
- Hydrating with water in the hour before a hike is fine and recommended. Just don’t guzzle a ton right before you start.
- Avoid greasy, high fiber, high fat, or super sugary foods in the 3-4 hours pre-hike as they take longer to digest.
You want time to digest a bit before exercising to prevent indigestion, cramps, nausea, and diarrhea on the trail. But don’t go longer than 3-4 hours without refueling or you’ll feel fatigued and sluggish.
|Type of Hike||Meal Recommendations|
|Short hike (2-3 hours)||Light snack 1-2 hrs before (energy bar, yogurt, fruit)|
|Day hike (4-6 hours)||More substantial meal 2-3 hrs before (oatmeal, sandwich, quinoa bowl)|
|Strenuous hike||High protein, high carb meal 3-4 hrs before (pasta, rice, lentils)|
|High altitude hike||Complex carbs & protein 2-3 hrs before. Hydrate well.|
|Backpacking trip||Big dinner before & high protein breakfast. Pack snacks.|
|Thru-hike||High-calorie snacks constantly – nuts, bars, jerky every 1-2 hrs.|
What Foods Should You Avoid Before Hiking?
Steer clear of these foods in the 24 hours leading up to a big hike:
- Greasy foods like burgers, pizza, fries, sausages, bacon, fried chicken
- Sugary baked goods and candy
- High-fat dairy like ice cream and heavy cream sauces
- Carbonated drinks which can cause bloating
- Excessive fiber from beans, bran, raw veggies
- Gas-producing foods like cruciferous vegetables
- Very spicy foods which may cause GI distress
- Large portions can lead to GI issues
Stick to easily digested carbs, unsaturated fats, and lean proteins. And don’t try new foods pre-hike; eat familiar foods your body can tolerate.
|Foods to Avoid||Reasons|
|Greasy, fatty foods||Can cause indigestion and GI issues|
|Sugary snacks and drinks||Lead to blood sugar crashes|
|Large portions||Overeating causes discomfort|
|High-fiber foods||May cause bloating and gas|
|Carbonated drinks||Can cause abdominal cramping|
|Raw veggies||Hard to digest, may cause gas|
|Too much protein||More than 30-40g tougher to digest|
|Caffeine||Increases urination, can cause crashes|
|Unfamiliar foods||Risk of allergic reaction or intolerance|
Hiking hydration ─ How a hiker can stay hydrated on a day hike?
When you’re hiking, hydration is essential to your performance and enjoyment. Dehydration can sap your energy, make you feel lightheaded, spike your body temperature, and even make you want to cut your hike short. Proper hydration ensures your body can regulate temperature, avoid fatigue, and keep moving on the trail. Here’s how to stay hydrated when hiking:
- Drink at least 12-16 oz of water in the 1-2 hours before your hike. Hydrating well before you start prevents dehydration later.
- Eat fruits like watermelon, grapes, and oranges which have high water content. Their juices will also help you stay hydrated.
- Pack plenty of water – plan to drink about 1 liter per 1-2 hours of hiking. Bring along a hydration reservoir or bottles and make sure to drink consistently every 15-20 minutes.
- Make sure to drink water before you feel thirsty. Thirst is a late indicator of dehydration – don’t wait until you feel parched. Stay ahead of thirst by sipping frequently.
- Avoid sugary sports drinks which can dehydrate you further. Stick to plain water to replenish your energy stores and rehydrate effectively. Electroyte tablets can be added to water for longer hikes.
- Eat snacks that are easy to prepare like nutrition bars, trail mix, and dried fruit. They will provide an energy boost without needing water for preparation.
- Schedule breaks to drink and have snacks that contain water like fruits and veggies. Use your breaks to rehydrate before continuing your hike.
- Monitor your urine color – if it’s dark yellow you need to drink more water. Light, clear urine means you’re well hydrated.
Staying hydrated while hiking ensures your muscles function properly, your body doesn’t overheat, and you feel energized to complete your day on the trail. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike.
|Beverage||When to Drink||Benefits|
|Water||Steadily, starting 1-2 days before||Hydrates body, prevents dehydration|
|Electrolyte drink||30-60 min before||Replenishes electrolytes, primes body|
|Water||2-4 hours before||Tops off hydration right before hike|
|Water||Final 30-60 min||Small sips to fully hydrate, avoid overfilling|
Meal Ideas and Sample Menu for Before and During a Hike
Here’s a sample pre-hike meal plan:
The night before:
Dinner: Quinoa stuffed peppers and roasted sweet potatoes
Morning of the hike:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, whole grain toast with almond butter, banana, yogurt
- Trail mix – nuts, seeds, dried fruit
- Nut butter and jelly sandwich
- Turkey sticks
- Energy bars
- Bananas, oranges, apples
After the hike:
Recovery meal: Grilled salmon, roasted potatoes, avocado, steamed veggies
This provides balanced nutrition with enough carbs, protein, fat, and hydration to fuel a long day hike. Adjust quantities and items based on your personal calorie needs and food preferences.
FAQs: Nourishing Your Body for Hiking Adventures
What food should you eat before a hike?
Before a hike, focus on eating complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole grain toast, or quinoa to fuel your body. Add protein from eggs, yogurt, nut butter, or lean meat to help build muscle strength. Eat 1-2 hours before hiking to allow for digestion.
Is pasta good to eat before hiking?
Pasta is an excellent source of carbohydrates to eat the night before or morning of a hike. The carbs provide energy and the pasta has a long digestion time, so it will fuel you for hours on the trail. Pair it with chicken or plant-based protein for a nutritious pre-hike meal.
How do I prepare my body for a long hike?
Eat a high-carb meal with whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, or beans the night before. In the morning, eat a protein-rich breakfast with eggs, nut butter, or yogurt. Stay hydrated by drinking water and packing extra for your hike. Bring snacks like trail mix, protein bars, and fruit to fuel up when hiking.
Is a banana good to eat before a hike?
Yes, bananas are great hiking fuel. They provide key nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Bananas are conveniently portable, digest easily, and give you an energy boost from their carbohydrates and fiber. Eat one about an hour before your hike.
What not to eat before hiking?
Avoid greasy, fatty foods like burgers, pizza, or fried foods which can cause GI issues on the trail. Skip the candy and sugary baked goods, which lead to an energy crash. Also, avoid high-fiber foods, excessive protein, or spicy foods pre-hike.
Should you carb load before a hike?
It’s a good idea to carb load or eat extra carbs before a long, strenuous hike. Try to consume around 200-300 grams of healthy complex carbs the day before and the morning of your hike. This gives your body an ample supply of glycogen for energy.
Are eggs good before hiking?
Yes, eggs are a fantastic pre-hike food. They digest fairly easily and provide protein to help prevent muscle damage while hiking. Have scrambled, hard-boiled, or poached eggs a couple hours before you hit the trail.
What is the best meal the night before a hike?
The night before, opt for a high-carb, lean protein meal like a quinoa veggie bowl with chicken or fish. Whole-grain pasta with marinara sauce and vegetables is another good option. These complex carbs and protein will fuel you up.
Should you eat a lot before a long hike?
It’s important to properly fuel up before a long hike, but don’t overeat. Have a hearty breakfast, but don’t stuff yourself—going on the trail overly full can cause GI distress. Focus on nutrition rather than large quantities. Bring plenty of snacks to power you through your hike.
The joy of hiking is getting outdoors, challenging yourself, and taking in beautiful scenery. But none of that is possible without proper fueling before, during, and after your trek. Now that you know how to eat to energize your body for the trail, it’s time to put these tips into action!
Start planning your next hike adventure and prepare nutritious meals ahead of time. Stock your backpack with plenty of water and snacks to power you along. Fuel smart so you can fully immerse yourself in the peaceful beauty of the wilderness, push yourself further, and come home strong.
The trails are calling – it’s time to lace up your boots and eat your way to an epic hike! Let us know how these nutrition tips worked for you, and recommend your favorite foods for fueling hikes in the comments below. Happy trails!