Most day hikers consider a few Clif Bars, a Snickers, and some beef jerky a proper “trail lunch.” However, if you’re gearing up for an extended backcountry trek, it pays to pack smarter. The right meals and snacks will keep you feeling fuller longer, and, most importantly, ensure you’re energized for long days on the trail. Here are five pro tips for fending off hiker hunger.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
Contrary to the latest biohacking advice, skipping breakfast might be the worst possible decision for a day of hiking. Even those who typically don’t eat breakfast should plan a meal that balances carbohydrates and fats. A blend of simple and complex carbs provides a shot of readily accessible fuel so you’ll be ready to go. Fats are doubly good by slowing digestion and helping to keep you full. A mix of granola, oatmeal, and nut butter is an ideal way to start the day.
Eat Less, More Often
It’s obvious to recommend that eating more often will fend off hunger. The key though is eating the right nutrient-dense foods — in particular, those high in fats — at regular intervals throughout the day. Some thru-hikers suggest snacking every 60-90 minutes. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, and it rarely requires breaking your stride.
While most dieticians advise consuming one-quarter to one-third of all calories through fats, hikers have very different needs. Maintaining a diet of at least 40% fat can prove critical to staying full and energized on the trail. Keep fat-heavy snacks like nuts and chocolate bars in your pockets, so they’re accessible whenever you need them. Peanut butter is a hiker’s best friend, and anyone who’s hiked the PCT or the Appalachian Trail proudly spreads it on everything.
Beware the Sugar Crash Cycle
Relying on sugar to provide energy boosts throughout the day is a surefire way to a cycle of constant crashes. The key is tempering sugar intake with other types of nutrients. Dried fruit and energy blocks guarantee an almost instant sugar rush, but be sure to supplement them with things like nuts to slow the energy release.
Maximize Your Overnight Recovery
Not eating right on trail days can lead to uncontrollable hunger at night. This is when most hikers binge on highly processed and junk foods to satisfy the previous eight hours of cravings. The hours just before bed are key to your body’s overnight recovery. Protein helps repair torn muscles. Most studies recommend that high-intensity athletes consume around 1.6 grams of protein per two pounds of body weight. The anti-inflammatory properties of fiber also fend off sore, stiff joints and muscles in the morning. Consider foods like meats, fish (even packaged tuna), chickpeas, and lentils at dinnertime.
Eat Fresh in Town
Most long-distance hikers spend days or weeks away from civilization. That means packing foods that can literally go the distance. But, most highly processed foods lack vital micronutrients that can only be found in fresh food. Whenever possible — on days spent off the trail and in town — stock up on plenty of fruits and salad. Of course, it’s probably not the food you want, but it is what your body needs. They’ll help your body load up on fat-soluble vitamins for the days when you’re back on the trail. Also, be sure to pack a complete daily multivitamin which can help fill the nutritional gaps when your miles from the nearest market.
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