Hiking—no matter the distance—is an activity that requires energy-boosting fuel. But getting that fuel isn’t as simple as downing a caffeinated drink or energy bar. For stamina and strength on the trail, you need to load up on nutritious whole foods that will help you go the distance. Here’s how and what to eat before a hike.
How to Eat Before (and During) a Hike
Before we dive into specific foods and recipes, it’s important to consider not only what to eat before a hike but how to eat. As you’re planning what to pack and choosing pre- and post-hike meals, consider these tips.
1. Stay hydrated.
Water might not be a food, but it is a vital fuel and will help keep you going. At least two hours before your hike, drink 14-22 ounces of water. Then during the hike, aim to drink about a cup of water (8 ounces) every 15-20 minutes. (If the weather is hot and you’re sweating, you should drink even more.) And remember to drink before you’re thirsty—thirst is an early sign of dehydration and dehydration equals lower energy.
2. Eat before you go.
Long hikes often have early start times but don’t use this as an excuse to skip breakfast. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast before you hit the trail. A good guideline for a pre-hike breakfast is to choose a meal that’s low in fat and fiber, has some protein, and is high in carbohydrates.
3. Eat every hour.
To stay fueled while you hike, try to eat once per hour but keep portions small. A few hundred calories at a time is all your body needs to keep going. That’s why a good supply of hiking snacks is important.
What to Eat Before a Hike
The best pre-hike meals include carbohydrates and protein. Here are some quick-and-easy options followed by some recipes for make-it-yourself meals:
- Wheat bagel with natural peanut butter and banana slices
- Microwave oatmeal with nuts and dried cranberries or raisins
- Granola parfait with Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola
Ham & Broccoli Frittata
This savory breakfast will give hikers the protein they need. This recipe serves one, but it can easily be doubled (or more) to serve more people.
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 2-3 eggs
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- ½ cup chopped fresh broccoli
- ¼ cup diced ham
- ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese (or more if you prefer)
- Preheat oven to broil.
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Place the butter in a (oven-safe) small frying pan and melt over medium-low heat.
- Add the chopped broccoli and diced ham to the pan. Sauté over medium heat until the broccoli is tender.
- Remove the frying pan from the heat. Pour the beaten egg over the broccoli and ham. Rotate the pan until the eggs cover the bottom of the pan and the broccoli and ham. Finish by sprinkling the shredded cheese over the top.
- Place the pan in the oven under the broiler and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the egg is puffy and set.
Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie
A protein-packed smoothie is a fast way to get an energy boost.
- ½ cup milk (any type)
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 scoop vanilla-flavored protein powder
Place all the ingredients in a blender in the order listed. Blend on high until thoroughly mixed and creamy. If the smoothie is too thick, add more milk. If it’s not cold enough, toss in a few ice cubes and blend until smooth.
What to Eat During a Hike
Whether your hike is long or short, it’s smart to pack some snacks to eat along the way. Choose snacks that have carbs, protein, and natural sugars or sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
- Energy bars
- Fresh fruit such as an apple or banana
- Nuts and dried fruit
Peanut Butter Energy Bites
Energy bites have become a staple for campers and hikers. This peanut-butter version has chocolate chips and dried cranberries but feel free to experiment with different mix-ins and nut butters.
- ½ cup natural peanut butter
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- ¼ cup mini chocolate chips
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the peanut butter and honey until combined.
- Add the oats, ground flaxseed, mini chocolate chips, and dried cranberries. Stir until combined.
- Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls and set each ball on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. (If the mixture is too sticky, refrigerate it for 30 minutes before rolling into balls.)
- Place the bites in the refrigerator until set and slightly hardened. Store the bites in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (When hiking, pack them in an airtight container too.)
Trail Mix Granola Bars
Turn a traditional hiking snack into sweet and salty granola bars.
- 1½ cups old-fashioned oats
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup dried blueberries
- ¼ cup shelled pistachios
- ¼ cup pepitas
- 2 tablespoons shelled sunflower seeds
- ⅓ cup peanut butter (or any nut butter)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Line an 8×8-inch pan with wax paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, almonds, cranberries, blueberries, pistachios, pepitas, and sunflower seeds.
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the peanut butter, honey, coconut oil, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon. Heat on high for about 30 seconds or until the mixture begins to bubble.
- Stir the peanut butter mixture well, then pour it over the dry ingredients.
- Mix the dry and wet ingredients until thoroughly combined.
- Press the mixture into the 8×8-inch pan. Place a second piece of wax paper on top and use the back of a large spoon to firmly press the mixture into place.
- Refrigerate the mixture for at least two hours. Once set, slice into bars.
What to Eat After a Hike
Now that you have an idea of what to eat before I hike, it’s equally important to be mindful of what you eat after a hike. After a long hike, it’s natural to want to reward yourself with something unhealthy like a cheeseburger or pizza. But before you reach for the junk food, consider what your body needs. The 30-minute window after exercise is when your body is repairing muscle tissue. This is a good time to eat some protein whether it’s a protein shake or a quick snack like beef jerky. In the long run, fueling your body’s recovery will help you feel better physically. (And of course, you can always have that cheeseburger later.)