eating before going on a hike

Fuel Your Hike: What to Eat Before a Long Trek

As you’re standing on the precipice, gazing at the sun-tinted horizon, adrenaline surging through your veins, ready for a long hike, it is not just your hiking boots that matter—the fuel you give your body is equally crucial. Imagine embarking on a road trip in a car with an empty gas tank. You wouldn’t get very far, would you? The same applies to your body! Lacing up your hiking boots without properly nourishing yourself is like heading into the wilderness with a map and no compass. In this comprehensive guide “Fuel Your Hike: What to Eat Before a Long Trek,” we’ll delve into what foods are best consumed before hitting the trail, ensuring you have plenty of vigor to conquer even the toughest terrains.

To fuel your body for a long hike, it is important to eat foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and lean protein, such as a peanut butter and banana sandwich or Greek yogurt with berries. It’s also important to pre-hydrate with at least 4 cups of water before a hike and avoid heavy or greasy foods that can be hard to digest. For more information and specific examples of pre-hike meals and snacks, refer to reputable sources such as and

Nutritional Requirements for Hiking

When it comes to hiking, proper nutrition is crucial to ensure you have enough energy and stamina to complete your trek. While it may be tempting to indulge in high-calorie snacks or eat a large meal before hitting the trails, this can actually work against you and leave you feeling sluggish or crampy. So what exactly are the nutritional requirements for hiking?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that every individual has different nutritional needs based on their weight, height, age, and body composition. However, there are some general guidelines that can help hikers plan their meals accordingly. A balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables is typically recommended.

For example, if you’re planning a long hike that will last several hours or even a full day, eating a meal with plenty of carbohydrates is essential. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose which is then converted into energy. The body stores carbohydrates in the muscles as glycogen which can be released during physical activity to sustain an even source of energy throughout your hike. Lean proteins are also important for repairing muscle damage that can occur during prolonged hikes.

It’s important to note that fad diets or extreme caloric restrictions are not recommended for hikers as they often result in inadequate nutrient intake and decreased energy levels.

In addition to carbohydrates and proteins, hikers should also focus on consuming foods high in vitamins and minerals such as calcium and iron. Calcium is important in maintaining strong bones while iron helps carry oxygen through the blood vessels and muscles. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products like milk and cheese while spinach and beans are great sources of iron.

Some hikers argue that they prefer a low-carb or ketogenic diet as it promotes fat-burning rather than glucose conversion into energy. While this may work for some individuals, it’s crucial to note that carbohydrates are still the primary fuel source for physical activity and therefore should not be eliminated from the diet entirely.

Now that we understand the importance of a well-balanced diet, let’s dive deeper into why complex carbohydrates and lean proteins specifically are essential components for hiking nutrition.

  • According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, hikers should aim to consume between 25-35 calories per kilogram body weight every day when planning for extended outdoor activities.
  • Research from the University of Utah suggests that eating complex carbohydrates 1-3 hours before the hike can enhance endurance performance by preventing a decline in blood glucose levels.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for long exercises like hiking, one should consume 0.7 grams of protein per kg body weight both pre-and post-hike to promote muscle tissue repair and growth.

Importance of Complex Carbohydrates and Lean Proteins

When planning your pre-hike meals or snacks, it’s important to focus on foods that include both complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. Complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of sugar molecules which take longer to digest compared to simple sugars. This means they provide a sustained energy source throughout your hike. Foods high in complex carbs include whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, fruits like bananas or apples, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or corn.

On the other hand, lean proteins help repair muscles during the recovery process and also promote satiety to keep you feeling full during your hike. Good sources of lean protein include chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.

Think of complex carbohydrates as logs on a fire that burn slowly over time while lean proteins act as a roaring flame that provides quick warmth but doesn’t last as long. A pre-hike meal with both complex carbs and lean proteins will ensure an even source of energy throughout your trek.

For example, a breakfast option could be oatmeal with almonds and fresh berries. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate while almonds provide healthy fats and protein. The addition of fresh berries adds vitamins and antioxidants for overall health benefits. When planning snacks for your hike, consider packing trail mix which includes dried fruit (complex carbs) along with nuts or seeds (lean protein).

When choosing pre-packaged snacks or bars marketed towards hikers, be sure to read the ingredients list carefully as many can be high in added sugars or have too much protein compared to carbohydrates.

Now that we know the importance of complex carbohydrates and lean proteins, let’s move onto planning your pre-hike meal with a focus on balancing nutrients and taste.

Planning Your Pre-Hike Meal

When planning your pre-hike meal, it’s important to remember that the food you eat will be fuel for your body during the trek. You’ll want something that is easily digestible, high in energy and nutrients, and won’t weigh you down.

One of my personal favorite pre-hike meals is a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread with a small side salad. The bread provides complex carbohydrates, while the peanut butter and banana offer healthy fats and potassium respectively. The salad adds some extra fiber and essential vitamins.

Complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa or brown rice are excellent choices for sustained energy during your hike. These foods are slowly digested by the body, releasing energy over a longer period of time without causing a spike in blood sugar levels.

Lean proteins like chicken breast, tofu or eggs are also important for muscle repair and recovery after strenuous exercise.

While some may opt for a traditional breakfast of waffles or pancakes before hitting the trails, these types of meals tend to be high in simple carbohydrates and sugars which can cause an energy crash mid-way through the hike. It’s best to save those indulgent meals for post-hike celebrations.

It’s also important to avoid greasy or heavy foods that could cause indigestion while hiking. Fried foods, fatty meats or overly-processed snacks can sap your energy and leave you feeling sluggish on the trail.

Now that we’ve covered what types of foods to focus on for your pre-hike meal, let’s talk about how to balance those nutrients with taste preferences.

Balancing Nutrients and Tasteful Options

While it can be tempting to grab a sugary snack or stop at a fast-food restaurant on the way to your hiking destination, it’s important to remember that the food you eat will directly impact your energy levels throughout the hike.

Adding flavor and variety to your pre-hike meal doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. For example, try marinating chicken breasts in a lemon-dill sauce before grilling or roasting for a flavorful lean protein option.

When planning your pre-hike meal, aim for a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. This can easily be achieved by combining a serving of complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread with lean protein like chicken breast or hummus.

For vegetarians or vegans, good protein sources include beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds. Healthy fat options include avocado, olives or nuts.

While it’s important to focus on nutrient-dense foods for your pre-hike meal, it’s also okay to indulge in some tasty treats that will help motivate you on the trek. Some examples include trail mix with dried fruit and dark chocolate chips, roasted chickpeas, or even a small serving of your favorite dessert.

However, it’s important to keep portions in mind and balance indulgences with wholesome options.

Now that we’ve discussed balancing nutrient-dense foods with tasteful options, it’s important to consider timing when planning your pre-hike meal.

Overall, fueling properly before a long hike can make all the difference in terms of energy levels and overall enjoyment of the trek. By focusing on complex carbohydrates and lean proteins while keeping taste preferences in mind, you’ll be able to tackle those trails with ease and confidence.

Planning a well-balanced pre-hike meal is essential to maintain energy levels throughout the hike. Incorporating delightful and nutritious options such as marinated chicken, whole-grain bread, beans, nuts, and seeds can provide a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It is also okay to indulge in treats like trail mix or dessert but it’s important to keep portions in mind. Timing is also essential when planning a pre-hike meal. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods while keeping taste preferences in mind, hikers can enjoy the trek with ease and confidence.

Timing Your Pre-Hike Meal

When planning your pre-hike meal, the timing of your meal is critical to ensure that your body has enough time to digest and use the nutrients before you start hiking. A general rule of thumb is to have your last full meal 1-3 hours before you hit the trails. However, there are some factors to consider when deciding the optimal time for your pre-hike meal.

For instance, if you have a sensitive stomach or are prone to indigestion, it may be best to eat your pre-hike meal at least three hours before your hike. This will give your body enough time to digest the food and prevent any discomfort during the hike.

On the other hand, if you wait too long after having a meal, you risk feeling hungry and low on energy during the hike. This might make it harder for you to complete your trail or reduce your performance. The key is to strike a balance between having enough energy while also ensuring that you don’t feel weighed down by a heavy meal.

While some hikers prefer to eat two or three smaller meals leading up to their hike instead of one big meal, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to timing pre-hike meals. It’s essential to experiment with different timing strategies based on what works best for you.

Next, let’s take a look at some tips on how to hydrate effectively before hiking.

Hydration before a Long Hike

Before heading off for a long hike, it’s vital to make sure that you are hydrated. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue and headaches, especially during strenuous activity like hiking. Here are some useful tips on how to stay hydrated before hiking:

Think of your body as a plant that needs water before exposure to the sun. Drinking plenty of water before you set off on your hike means that you’re starting with a full tank, and will help you stay energized throughout your trek.

Pre-hydration is also crucial – consume at least 4 cups of water in the hours leading up to your hike. This helps ensure that you start the hike with optimal fluid levels. Electrolytes are also essential as they help replace what is lost through sweat.

After pre-hydrating, continue drinking water at regular intervals while hiking to maintain hydration. Consider investing in a hydration system that allows you to carry water on the hike, which may come in handy for longer hikes.

Sports drinks can be an excellent option since they contain electrolytes critical for staying hydrated during prolonged exercise. However, it’s worth noting that sports drinks often come with added sugars and calories, which should be factored into your overall daily consumption.

Pre-hike Hydration Guide

Hydration is crucial when it comes to fueling your body before a long hike. Proper hydration helps to keep your muscles energized and keeps your body from becoming overheated on trails. Experts recommend drinking at least 4 cups of water beforehand, but how much should you drink specifically? The answer is not straightforward, as it depends on various factors such as the intensity of the hike, weather conditions, and individual sweat rates.

Anecdotal evidence shows that personal hydration needs vary greatly depending on the hike or intensity levels. For instance, if you’re going for a quick hour-long hike in mild temperatures, you may only need just two cups of water or fewer. On the other hand, if you’re facing a more rigorous trail or exposed to high-heat for an extended period, you may need closer to 6 – 8 cups of water.

The general guideline is to drink enough water so that your urine remains pale yellow and clear. If it appears darker than usual, it’s typically a sign of dehydration which can slow down your energy output and hinder strenuous activity on the hike.

Think of your hydration as gas in a car tank. You wouldn’t expect a car with an empty fuel tank to run correctly or be efficient; likewise, if you’re dehydrated during a hike, your performance will suffer.

Additionally, proper pre-hydration puts less burden on your body when it comes to regulating temperature since sweating becomes more efficient with sufficient fluids. According to dietician experts working with health and human services agencies around San Diego County– where hot weather is relatively common – dehydration has been linked to severe health concerns in many hikers.

Some argue that thirst is an excellent indicator of having consumed adequate fluid for hiking activities; however, waiting until you feel thirsty to drink is often too late, as thirst only comes up when your body is already dehydrated.

The idea behind pre-hydrating with water is to balance the loss of fluids that happens during hiking activity beforehand. While it’s necessary to hydrate while on the hike, water consumption doesn’t recover lost fluid within a few minutes. Dehydration can lead to fatigue at best and heatstroke or worse at worst.

A hiker in San Diego tells the story of her first hike that resulted in heat exhaustion. During her pre-hike preparations, she had just two cups of water and ate some fruits. She started running out of energy faster than she thought despite being an experienced runner; eventually, she passed out halfway through the trail because she wasn’t adequately hydrated. The dehydration disrupted her body’s cooling process, which led to overheating and collapsing. It was a scary situation that could have been avoided through proper hydration ahead of time.

In conclusion, pre-hydration before a long hike is vital for performance improvement and overall health safety concerns. The aim is not just drinking plenty of liquids but sufficient essential electrolytes and minerals such as sodium and potassium for efficient body functions during the trek. Planning ahead will help determine how much water you need by knowing your individual sweat rates, activity type, duration, weather conditions, and other factors that affect your hydration status during hiking activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any foods that should be avoided before a hike?

Yes, there are certain foods that should be avoided before a hike as they can lead to discomfort or even digestive issues during the trek. Foods high in fat and protein, such as fried foods and fatty meats, take longer to digest and can cause sluggishness or nausea during physical activity. Additionally, foods high in fiber, like beans and cruciferous vegetables, can cause bloating and gas which can be uncomfortable during a hike.

In general, it’s best to avoid foods that are heavy or difficult to digest before a long trek. Opt for easily digestible carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming carbohydrates before exercise increased endurance performance by 2-3%.

It’s also important to stay hydrated before a hike, so avoid too much caffeine or alcohol which can dehydrate you. Stick to water or sports drinks with added electrolytes.

Overall, it’s important to listen to your body and find what works best for you personally before a long hike. It may take some trial and error to find the right mix of foods that provide energy without causing discomfort.

What types of foods provide sustained energy for long hikes?

When it comes to sustained energy for long hikes, there are a few types of foods that are the most beneficial. Firstly, complex carbohydrates like brown rice and whole grain breads release energy slowly and steadily, providing reliable fuel for your muscles. Secondly, protein-rich foods like nuts, seeds, and lean meats break down more slowly than simple carbs and help maintain muscle mass during periods of extended exercise. Lastly, healthy fats like avocados and olive oil provide an additional source of energy and can help prevent inflammation.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, consuming a meal high in carbohydrate beforehand resulted in better endurance performance than eating one high in fat or protein. Additionally, a review published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that maintaining moderate to high levels of carbohydrate intake during prolonged exercise can improve performance.

It’s also important to note that individual dietary needs may vary based on factors such as age, gender, weight, and level of physical activity. Consulting with a registered dietitian can help ensure you’re fueling your body properly for your specific needs.

Overall, consuming complex carbohydrates, protein-rich foods, and healthy fats before a long hike can provide sustained energy for your body throughout the trek.

How long before a hike should one eat to properly fuel their body?

As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to eat a high-carbohydrate meal three to four hours before a long hike to properly fuel your body. This timeframe allows your body to digest and absorb the nutrients from the food and convert them into energy for sustained physical activity.

Studies have shown that consuming a high-carbohydrate diet before exercise enhances endurance performance by maintaining blood glucose levels and delaying the onset of fatigue (1). Carbohydrates are the primary source of instant energy for our bodies, making them essential in preparing for any strenuous activity.

However, the timing of your meal also depends on personal preference and digestive habits. If you have a sensitive stomach or prefer to eat closer to your hike time, aim for a light snack with easily digestible carbohydrates 30 minutes to an hour prior to your hike.

In summary, plan to eat a high-carbohydrate meal three to four hours before your hike for maximum energy levels during your trek. Remember to listen to your body’s needs and adjust accordingly. Happy hiking!


1. Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrate intake during exercise and performance. Nutrition. 2004;20(7-8):669-677. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.017

How can hydration play a role in fueling the body before a hike?

Hydration plays a crucial role in fueling the body before a long hike. In fact, dehydration can lead to decreased performance, increased fatigue, and even heat exhaustion or heat stroke. According to the American Council on Exercise, even mild dehydration of just 2% of body weight can negatively affect physical and cognitive performance (1).

To ensure proper hydration for a hike, it is recommended to drink water consistently throughout the day leading up to the hike. This includes at least 16-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours prior to hiking, as well as additional water during the hike itself (2). Electrolyte drinks can also be helpful in replenishing lost minerals during a strenuous hike.

In addition to preventing dehydration and its negative effects, proper hydration can also aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Staying hydrated allows for efficient breakdown and transportation of nutrients throughout the body, including carbohydrates for energy.

Overall, hydration is a critical component in fueling the body before a long hike. Don’t overlook its importance – make sure to prioritize staying hydrated in your pre-hike preparations!


1. American Council on Exercise. “Exercise Water Requirements.”

2. Harvard Health Publishing. “How much water should you drink?”

What are some easy meal options for hikers on the go?

When it comes to fueling your body for a long hike, convenience is key. Luckily, there are plenty of easy meal options that will keep you going on the trail.

One popular option is trail mix, which can be easily packed and sipped on throughout the day. According to a 2018 study by the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, nuts and dried fruits found in trail mix provide sustained energy and nutrients needed for endurance exercise.

Another great option is energy bars, which are designed specifically for active individuals and come in a variety of flavors and brands. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that certain energy bars can improve exercise performance and delay fatigue.

Lastly, pre-packaged meals such as freeze-dried backpacking meals or meal replacement shakes are easy to prepare and offer complete nutrition for hikers on the go. According to a 2022 study by Food Science & Nutrition, these options can adequately fuel athletes during extended periods of physical activity.

In summary, trail mix, energy bars, and pre-packaged meals are all easy meal options for hikers on the go that provide sustained energy and adequate nutrition. So next time you hit the trails, don’t forget to pack some convenient snacks to keep you fueled up!