Food is one of life’s joys, arguably even more enjoyable when hiking in nature. However, hiking can be strenuous, so eating and drinking well before, during, and after your trek is critical. You’ll recover more smoothly by fueling and hydrating well – just in time for your next trail!
What to Eat Before a Hike
Eating something before your hike is essential, particularly if it’s a long or strenuous trek. Like all athletes, hikers need to fuel before exercise to reduce muscle strain and improve post-hike recovery.
Benefits of Eating Before a Hike
Here are some proven benefits of eating before a hike:
- Stronger hiking
- Better post-hike muscle recovery
- More energy during the hike
Timing of Eating Before a Hike
Eat something 30 minutes to one hour before starting the hike to benefit from the release of energy.
Oatmeal and Other Examples
It’s best to fuel with carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods before a hike.
For instance, I often eat a bowl of oatmeal before a hike (oatmeal has been medically shown to improve recovery). Oatmeal gives hikers the sustained energy they need to carry weight in their backpacks and walk long distances. When I eat oatmeal before a hike, I typically only need a snack one to two hours into my walk.
Because I have a sweet tooth, I often add dates, raisins, or fruit like apples or bananas to make it yummier. People who prefer less sweet oatmeal can add peanut butter or even a savory ingredient like cheese.
However, oatmeal takes time; even if you’re microwaving an instant oatmeal packet, you’ll need at least five minutes to prepare and eat breakfast.
Another quicker, favorite pre-hike meal is plain yogurt with honey, which provides protein and natural sugar. I often choose yogurt if I have less time for a hot breakfast and want something to prepare and eat within a few minutes. Better yet, I can buy a single-use yogurt container to eat within a minute.
Alternatives to Oatmeal
Oatmeal is delicious, but several of my hiking friends don’t like it. On backpacking trips, I frequently hear my companions grumble about how much they dislike their daily oatmeal breakfast.
But there are many delicious and healthy pre-hike alternatives to oatmeal:
- Grits, cereal, or cream of wheat
- A bagel or piece of toast with peanut butter
- A bagel or piece of toast with avocado
- Omelets or scrambled eggs
- Pancakes or waffles
- Milk or nut milk
- Smoothie with fruit and vegetables
- Protein powder
And if you’re looking to explore cultural options, consider alternatives like:
- Congee, a rice porridge eaten in Asian countries like China.
- Arroz con leche, a milk rice pudding eaten in Latin America
- Uji, a red millet porridge eaten by Kenyans
Coffee and Tea
Finally, no matter what you eat before your hike, you’ll probably not want to skip the caffeine. Coffee or tea is often a must, even for my friends who can’t stomach a pre-hike meal. This paper and other medical studies show that caffeinated beverages can improve physical performance and cognitive skills. If you need proof, look at elite Kenyan marathoners who enjoy their milky, sugary tea.
Finally, trust your body, which tells you if you need more or less food. With time you’ll know what types of pre-exercise food help you hike at your best.
What to Eat During a Hike
Eating the right food can make or break how you feel on the trail. All hikers expend their energy, and it’s important to keep fueling to reduce risks, which are more common when you’re not fueled well.
For example, I tripped and twisted my ankle a few times while under-fueling my hike. When I took a break to snack and drink water, I found I was stronger afterward and could continue my walk with more sure-footedness.
Timing of Eating During a Hike
It’s essential to eat every one to two hours during your hike. Food is vital for your continued energy, even if it’s just a piece of cheese or a tangerine.
Snacks to Eat During a Hike
Great snack foods are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest but aren’t super-salty or super-sugary.
Here are some examples of snack foods you can eat during a hike:
- Trail mix, a blend that may include granola, nuts, dried fruits, or chocolate
- Meat jerky
- Nut butter
- Salty crackers
- Dried fruit and raisins
- Chocolate or candy
Most new hikers will bring trail mix, which is a popular choice. However, as I hiked more and more, I began to prepare fresher, less highly-processed snack foods. These natural, less-processed snacks include:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Fresh vegetables like carrots and peppers
- Fresh fruit like apples, tomatoes, cherries, watermelon, and oranges (I love bananas, but they quickly soften in my backpack and can make a soggy mess)
- Coconut water or fruit juice
Meals to Eat During a Hike
When you’ve reached a mid-point on your hike (like a summit), it’s an excellent time for a meal. The meal doesn’t have to be overly complicated; I’ve made many hiking companions jealous of my deli salad.
Here are some examples of readymade meals to eat during a hike that doesn’t require bringing a stove:
- Tortillas, bread, or rice cakes with nut butter, cheese, and/or jam
- Tuna-and-cracker packets
- Prepared salads
In addition, several Asian dishes are healthy and can be eaten by hand, making these meals convenient:
- Samosas, a fried Indian pastry filled with potatoes and other vegetables
- Kimbap, a Korean dish made of cooked rice, vegetables, meat or seafood rolled in dried seaweed
- Sushi rolls, a Japanese dish made of cooked rice, vegetables, and meat, or seafood
- Fresh spring rolls, a Vietnamese dish made of meat or tofu and vegetables wrapped in rice paper
However, if you want to bring a stove, here are some meals to cook during a hike that take less than 15 minutes:
- Instant noodles (like ramen)
- Instant pasta dishes
- Instant rice dishes
- Instant mashed potatoes
5-Star Snacks and Meals
If you’re looking for an alternative to trail mix and sandwiches, consider one of these five-star-rated foods that I’ve tried and loved:
- Knorr Pasta Sides: Cheddar Broccoli (Amazon)
- AlpineAire Foods Spicy African Peanut Stew (REI)
- MAYA KAIMAL Organic Everyday Chana with Coconut + Kale (Amazon)
- PEAK REFUEL Butternut Dal Bhat (REI)
- Knorr Pasta Sides: Alfredo Broccoli Fettuccini (Amazon)
- PEAK REFUEL Thai Chicken Coconut Curry (REI)
- Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken (REI)
- Mountain House Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken (REI)
Water During a Hike
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things to remember on your hike, so pack enough water for the conditions. Drinking enough is essential since dehydration impairs physical performance and can worsen your post-exercise recovery.
Everyone has different hydration needs, but here are some good rules of thumb:
- If it’s a moderate hike, drink 0.5 liters of water each hour
- If it’s a strenuous hike, drink one liter or more of water each hour
Finally, pay attention to how thirsty you are, and remember to drink when your body tells you to.
What to Eat After a Hike
Once you’ve finished your hike, you’ll need to refuel with food and water. “Hiker hunger” is real, and I’ve ravenously eaten many meals after long, strenuous hikes. A good post-hike meal with lots of protein will significantly increase muscle recovery.
Benefits of Eating After a Hike
Eating after a hike has many benefits:
- Improving muscle recovery
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Increasing muscle growth
- Restoring lost energy
Timing of Eating After a Hike
Eat and drink something 15 to 45 minutes after your hike to begin to recover smoothly.
Food and Drink After a Hike
Eating and drinking after a hike is essential to improve recovery. The standard advice is to eat protein shortly after strenuous exercise, but you should also eat a carbohydrate-rich meal.
Here are some examples of foods you can eat after a hike:
- Salads with protein
- Chicken, salmon, quinoa, lentils, or other low-fat proteins
- Quesadillas or enchiladas
- Protein drinks or smoothies
- Grilled or stir-fried vegetables
- Pasta with protein
- Omelets or scrambled eggs
- Protein pancakes or waffles
Hydrating After a Hike
Dehydration is a risk for most hikers, as you’re exercising for hours, so prepare to rehydrate after you’ve left the trail. Rehydrating after a hike means you’re less likely to wake up with sore muscles the next day.
However, if water bores you, consider mixing your water with natural fruit juice or adding powdered electrolytes. You can also opt for coconut water instead, which offers protein and naturally occuring electrolytes.
And while most hikers like to hit the bar afterward, research suggests that alcohol could impair your post-hike recovery. On the contrary, drinking cherry juice or chocolate milk are both excellent post-exercise drinks that will help you recover quickly.
Personally, I love a cup of hot chocolate after a long day of hiking, particularly if I’m backpacking in the wilderness for several days, so I’ll pack instant hot chocolate packets with me on longer hikes.
Food and Hikers
Food is a wonderful thing that unites us socially. I’ve spent hours on many hikes talking with my companions about the meal we would enjoy after our trek (Korean barbecue, anyone?). I can also remember overnight backpacking trips where my companions and I stiffly shuffled to our camp “kitchen” to prepare our respective evening dinners.
However, food can also be complicated for many reasons. I’ve listed a few unique considerations below: diabetes, celiac disease, and eating disorders.
Hiking and Diabetes
Hiking can benefit people who have diabetes, but more strenuous exercise requires detailed planning ahead of the hike. Speak with your doctor about how you can hike with diabetes.
Hiking and Celiac Disease
Hiking with celiac disease or gluten intolerance means you’ll need to plan your meals more carefully. Fortunately, many hikers have also lived with this issue, and you can find their blogs online. In addition, outdoor retailers like REI list gluten-free foods on their sites for easier planning. Most importantly, consult your doctor about hiking with celiac disease.
Hiking and Eating Disorders
Hiking is a beautiful way to connect with your body and nature, but eating food can be complicated if you’re struggling with an eating disorder. Several prominent hikers have written about their eating disorders, like Kate Siber in Outside Magazine or Aster Wells-Byers on YouTube. If this sounds like you, reach out for free support on NationalEatingDisorders.org.
In summary, whether you’re enjoying a sandwich at the summit or a burger at the end of the day, food can be one of the most memorable parts of your hike. Make sure to prepare to fuel and hydrate your body well for your next trek into nature.Dare To Be A Wildflower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.