- 1. What To Eat Before Hiking?
- 1.1. The Right Carbohydrates
- 1.2. Healthy fats
- 1.3. Just Enough Protein
- 2. Quick & Easy Pre-Hiking Meal Recipes
- 2.1. Oatmeal with Fruit
- 2.2. Date Energy Bites
- 2.3. Protein-Packed Smoothie
- 2.4. Whole Wheat Bagel Sandwich
- 2.5. Vegetable-ish Burrito
- 3. Stay Hydrated
- 4. What's next?
What to Eat Before a Hike: 5 Pre-Hiking Meal Recipes
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Hiking offers an escape from all the stressors of living in fast-paced urban environments while also being a great way to exercise; and just like you should warm up before working out, you should eat the right foods before trying to conquer any trail.
Proper breakfast builds a good energy foundation and gives your body the nutrients it need for the outdoor endeavor, and with the simple hiking meal ideas below, you’ll be on out the door in no time.
What To Eat Before Hiking?
The food we eat before a hike can significantly impact our on-trail performance, for better or for worse. Hiking is a low- to high-intensity aerobic activity that requires a steady source of fuel, so it's essential to boost your body's energy stores and nutritional status before the trip, even more so if you're planning a multi-day hiking trek.
To prevent on-trail tiredness and headaches, it's a good idea to have a delicious, nutrient-dense pre-hike meal. So, what should that meal consist of? A varying proportion of the right carbs, healthy fats, and just enough protein. What does this all mean - let's find out!
The Right Carbohydrates
To keep things simple, carbohydrates are our body's main energy source. They are converted into glucose which our cells can turn into a fuel molecule (ATP) that powers our hikes and other metabolic tasks. Any extra glucose is chained into longer molecules and stored for later use as glycogen. When our muscle glycogen stores are depleted, that's when we feel muscle fatigue.
Our brain also loves glucose, and that's why when our blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia), we feel dizziness, confusion, weakness, and other not-so-fun symptoms. Therefore, the best food to eat before a hike starts with complex carbohydrates.
Don't worry - they aren't that complex to understand.
Complex carbs contain longer chains of sugar molecules and thus take more time to convert to glucose than simple carbs. They come in the package with fiber which slows down the glucose absorption in the gut, providing a steady energy source without spiking our blood sugar while keeping us satiated for quite some time.
Some examples of complex carbs include whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley), legumes, fruits, and vegetables. The food we all know is good for us. Simple carbs, on the other hand, are found in sugary foods such as soda, candy, and white bread. The foods we love to enjoy from time to time.
With the basics of carbohydrates covered, let's move on to our next energy source.
Fats are the most energy-efficient essential macronutrient that keeps our bodies energized during our hiking trips. However, not all fats are created equal - some can improve our performance on the trail while others may impair it; but either way, they are the best energy food for hiking.
What's an essential nutrient? To put it simply, essential nutrients are nutrients our bodies need but cannot make, and so we have to get them through food.
Unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated) are considered the healthiest types of fats as they lower the risk of heart disease and provide the body with essential omega-3 fatty acids. They are found in nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts), seeds (chia, pumpkin, sunflower), avocados, olives, and plant oils. These are the best energy food for hiking on long trails and fantastic ingredients for a delicious breakfast before a hike or even a hike lunch salad.
Now, after we've added healthy fats to our complex carbohydrates, it's time to top it all off with...
Just Enough Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient made out of a long chain of amino acids. It's the building block of the body, so getting an adequate amount of it in your diet is important for muscle growth, recovery, and satiety.
Most Americans get twice the recommended amount anyway, so your pre-hike meal shouldn't be loaded with protein. As it is not an energy source, we just need the right amount to cover our daily essential amino acids requirement. The healthiest protein sources are from plants: edamame, nuts, seeds, beans, mushrooms, quinoa and lentils. Other protein options are already well known: lean meats, fish, egg whites, and dairy products.
It is always better to get your essential amino acids through whole foods instead of protein powders that lack other nutrients and minerals. Adding any of the above-mentioned ingredients to your meal is the best way meet your protein demands.
In short - for optimal on-trail performance, the best breakfast before a hike should consist out of all three macronutrients.
If you want to know all about hiking foods, check out the In-Depth Look Into Food for Hiking: Tips and Ideas.
Quick & Easy Pre-Hiking Meal Recipes
Since now you know why you should have breakfast before a hike, let's focus on what you should munch on for optimal performance on a trail.
Oatmeal with Fruit
The breakfast before any hike is the classic and versatile oatmeal. With some added fruit for natural sugars and walnuts for protein and fats, you’ll be ready for any physical endeavor.
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 2 cups of water/milk/plant-based milk
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries
- 1 or 2 bananas
- a handful of walnuts or soaked chia seeds
- Optional: 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- Optional: 2 tsp. honey or maple syrup
- Add 2 cups of water/milk/plant-basted milk in a pot.
- Add 1 cup of oats and cook until they soften and have absorbed most of the liquid.
- Turn off the heat.
- Optional: Add 1/2 cup of frozen berries and stir them up a bit. As they thaw, the berries will slowly release all the flavor and juices, sweetening the meal.
- Optional: Sprinkle some ground cinnamon.
- Add a handful of walnuts or chia seeds, and a sliced banana.
- Optional: Top with honey or maple syrup.
You can play with the recipe here and add a tbsp. of nut butter instead of the berries, replace bananas with raisins or other dried fruit, sprinkle the oatmeal with raw cacao nibs or coconut flakes. The possibilities truly are endless with this simple and delicious meal.
Date Energy Bites
Dates are a fantastic high-calorie fruit packed with vital nutrients, high in antioxidants, high in fructose but also high in fiber, so they won't spike your blood sugar as the fiber helps blunt the glucose absorption. Combine them with other ingredients from the recipe, and you get a fantastic source of energy. Have a few for breakfast and pack the rest for a midday snack!
- 1 cup of dates, preferably Medjool
- 1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios if you're fancy, etc.)
- Optional: 1/4 cup shredded coconut flakes
- Pinch of salt
- Pit the dates.
- Optional: If they seem dehydrated, soak them in warm water until they soften up.
- Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender or a food processor.
- Blend on high until formed into a thick paste.
- Scoop out 1 to 2 tbsp. of the paste, and form into bars or spheres
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator, a freezer, or a Tupperware container for later use.
Having a fruit smoothie before a hike gives you the natural energy needed for optimal performance, but fruits themselves don't have that much protein in them. To compensate for that - and, yes, this will sound like backpaddling on the above-stated claim - you'll have to add protein powder to ensure you cover the body's essential amino-acid requirements for the meal.
- 1 cup of water or coconut water
- 1 cup of a plant-based milk
- fresh fruit of your choice (bananas, peaches)
- frozen berries
- plant-based or regular protein powder
- soaked chia seeds
- 1 tsp. of nut butter
- a handful of nuts, crushed or whole
- Optional: baby spinach
- Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth.
- Top with some fresh strawberries for added sweetness, and crushed nuts for that crunchy factor.
Whole Wheat Bagel Sandwich
Bagels are a great source of complex carbohydrates and protein in your pre-hike meals. The recipe below includes fresh vegetables, avocado, and hummus – all providing sustenance for a before-hike snack.
Bagels with vegan cream cheese are also some of the greatest vegan camping snacks!
- 1 whole wheat bagel
- 1 spoonful of hummus
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
- 1/4 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cucumber or tomato, thinly sliced
- 1 handful of spinach
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare all the vegetables, and cut into thin slices.
- Optional: Toast the bagel to your liking
- Spread the hummus onto both slices of the bagel.
- Add the veggies and a few slices of avocado, and top with salt and pepper to taste.
Everyone loves burritos - they are a fantastic dish to have when you don't know what to eat on a hike. Or before it. Or after it. Vegetable burritos are easy to make, fit in almost any diet, and provide all the nutrients your body needs to energize itself for any outdoor activity or to recover from a strenuous hike.
- 2 large whole grain tortillas
- 1 cups cooked whole grain brown rice
- 1 can of drained black beans, preferably heated up
- 1 can of drained corn
- 1 diced red bell pepper
- 1 diced tomato
- a mix of leafy green vegetables
- 1/2 diced onyon
- 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, preferably fresh
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Optional: 1tbsp. chili powder
- Warm up the tortillas in a pan, microwave, or in the oven until they are soft and flexible.
- Finely chop tomato, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro and mix them all together. This will be your home-made Pico de Gallo.
- Drain the canned beans and corn, and chop the leafy greens.
- Mix the cooked rice with chopped cilantro in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't overdo it with salt though, you might feel thirsty when you hit the trail.
- Optional: Season second bowl with chili powder.
- Grab one tortilla and add rice, beans, corn, some leafy green veggies, and your Pico de Gallo.
- Optional: Add cheddar cheese or a plant-based alternative.
- Wrap the burrito and enjoy!
Instead of brown beans, can always add turkey or chicken breast if you have the time to prepare them, or just add any leftover meat after you warm it up in a microwave.
Being euhydrated is just as important as eating.
Water loosens stiff muscles, helps you think clearly, and keeps your stomach at ease. Drink at least 3 to 4 glasses of water before your hike and always have a water bottle within reach, especially at higher elevations. Once you’re out on the trail, don’t wait to feel thirsty and don’t forget to replenish your electrolytes with a refreshing, home-made electrolyte drink.
Also, try to limit caffeine intake in the morning as it can worsen dehydration. But I don't practice what I preach, so...
All right, now that we've covered the basics of what fuels our body for hiking, it's time you show us your pre-hike meal game and share your favorite recipes with us on Instagram @kuhl!
If you've noticed you've sized down from all the hiking and eating healthy, check out our online shop and grab a new pair of hiking shirts and pants.
Until next time, travel light and eat right.
Disclaimer: This is not professional medical advice and should not be taken as such. The author of this article is not held accountable for your health. Consult your doctor first.