TravelTrained is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. See our disclaimer.

What to Eat Before a Hike? During and After Hiking Meals 

what to eat before a hike

Before hiking, you need to eat foods that will nourish you and give you the proper energy. The best foods for hiking include lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Your body breaks down these foods more slowly to give you the right amount of fuel. 

Hiking can be difficult on the muscles and body and cause you to burn a lot of calories.

The best thing that you can do when you know you’ll be hiking is to prepare and eat a proper meal before you head out so that you will have the energy needed to complete the hike and not stress out your body too much.

Here we will tell you everything you need to know about what to eat before hiking, what you should pack with you to sustain your energy during the hike, and what type of meal you will want to eat after to recover correctly. 

Why Hiking Food Is Important?

why hiking food is important
Asian soup bowl

The type of hiking food you eat is important because your body needs the proper nutrition to compensate for the physically demanding exercise that you are performing.

If you don’t eat adequate energy food for hiking before venturing out or bring good snacks to sustain you, you may find that your stamina wanes part way through your journey.

Hiking on an empty or hungry stomach can cause fatigue and hinder decision-making, which can lead to safety issues or injuries.

In addition to solid food, hydration is also highly critical, and you should plan for this need based on the length of your hike, the weather, and other factors. 

What Should You Eat During a Hike? 

what to eat before hiking
Eating nuts mix during my hike

During a hike, you should eat nutrient-dense food that has a good mix of protein, carbohydrate, and fat options.

Examples include freeze-dried meals (for longer hikes), nut butter, trail mix, fruit, energy bars, and grass-fed beef jerky.

If you are doing a simple short day hike (4 miles or less), you want to focus more on eating a good meal before and after your hike and bringing along water and a couple of snacks.

Longer hikes will require more planning for the proper amount and options to bring to maintain your energy. 

A general rule is that you burn around 430-440 calories per hour during a moderate hike. You should consider calculating the calories of the foods you bring to ensure that you can replenish those calories.

Typically, I plan for about 3500 calories per day. Here you can calculate how many calories you need for a hike.

I pre-plan my meals and separate them into ziplock bags. This step eliminates excess packaging and helps me ensure I have enough food for each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). 

Here is some food ideas to take when going for a long hike: 

  • A few Fresh Food Options—I eat these on the first day and typically pack some lunch meat, cheese, and cut vegetables. 
  • Dehydrated food options for camp—these foods weigh the least and there are many different options. They are also easy to prepare by boiling. Some of my favorites are quinoa, rice, whole grain pasta, and oats. 
  • Snacks for actively hiking—many of these snacks are the same as for the short hikes,  such as peanut butter pretzels, beef jerky, and protein bars.  

What Should You Eat After a Hike? 

best food for hiking
Making a small BBQ while hiking

After a hike, your body needs to focus on recovering. Stick to the same types of nutritious foods that you ate before your hike, and eat protein, good fats, and carbs.

You may want to consider adding an electrolyte or amino acid drink as well to support your muscle recovery. 

A few great options that you want to consider after completing your hike include pasta, rice, lean meats, oatmeal, cheese, potatoes, nut butter, and leafy greens.

These foods help your body replace the glycogen stores that your body broke down during the hike for energy. Try to ensure you eat a good meal about 45 minutes after completing a strenuous hike. 

What Foods Should You Avoid While Hiking? 

eating instant noodles while hiking
You should avoid eating noodles when hiking

You do not want to weigh yourself down, so avoid packing items that are heavy or take up a lot of space in your backpack (i.e., canned tuna or beans).

Also, stay away from packing too many sweets and don’t pack foods that have empty calories.

Among the most popular foods with empty calories are junk food, fast food, donuts, and cakes.

Make sure that your hiking foods are nutrient-dense and able to sustain you for the day.

For example, instant noodles may seem like a quick warm meal, but it does not have the nutrients and calories to keep your energy levels up.

On the same note, chocolate may temporarily get your energy levels up, but your blood sugar will spike, and your energy levels will quickly crash. 

Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: ‘thank you!

Karen Salmansohn, Self-Help Book Author

Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Hike? 

Eating breakfast before hiking
Eating breakfast before hiking

You should eat nutrient-dense foods both before a hike and after a hike. A good breakfast of lean proteins and complex carbohydrates will sustain you during the hike.

After the hike, a meal with the same types of nutrients will help your body and muscles to recover. 

Some of the best foods to eat in the morning before hiking include greek yogurt, egg whites, peanut butter, oatmeal with fruit, whole-grain bread, and avocados.

Also, ensure that you drink plenty of water starting when you wake up. Stay away from fruit juices because they are high in sugar. 

After you complete your hike, aim to eat after about 30-45 minutes. During that time, your body is most receptive to repairing the muscles.

Eat a meal made up of lean protein and complex carbohydrates, such as salmon and sweet potatoes, or whole-grain pasta and chicken.

What Snacks to Pack for a Day Hike? 

best snacks when hiking
Eating healthy food when hiking

If you are going on a short day hike and eat well before you go, you don’t necessarily need to pack a lunch for the hike, as it could weigh you down.

Some good day hiking food ideas include nuts, fresh fruit, cheese, beef jerky, and graham crackers.

A few of my favorite short-hike “go-to” snacks include the following options:

  • Bananas—the potassium in them is a natural electrolyte that can help with cramping and hydration. 
  • Beef Jerky/Beef Sticks —these are usually high in protein and don’t take up too much room in my backpack. I like to choose grass-fed options when possible and look for ones that don’t have a lot of added sugar or sodium.
  • Apple Slices —these give me the sweet flavor that I sometimes crave when hiking and their natural sugars help to perk up my energy.  
  • A Turkey and Cheese Wrap —high in protein and more satisfying for when I’m hiking around lunchtime. I choose a low-carb, high-fiber wrap and spread some hummus inside for extra flavor. 
  • Tuna Packets and Crackers—this combination makes another good lunch option out on the trail. I spread some tuna on the crackers and they are easy to eat. 

Of course, remember to bring your water as well. 

In an effort to reduce plastic consumption, we recommend not buying one-time-use water bottles and checking these water bottles for hiking and refilling them on the way.