Stick to whole foods rather than processed snacks as much as possible. Pack them in light containers (reusable snack bags, for example) in the sides of a pack for easy access and consider compostable cutlery. If you’re bringing perishable items, carry a small ice pack along.
Two hours before any hike, drink 17 to 20 ounces of water and sip at least one liter per hour on the trails, says Lauren Deluca, a Tier X coach and certified sports nutrition specialist at Equinox Gold Coast in Chicago.
Easy Hike: Less than 5 miles with elevation gains of less than 800 feet
Intermediate Hike: 5 to 7~ miles with elevation gains of less than 2,000 feet
Advanced Hike: 7+ miles with elevation gains of 2,000+ feet
Nutrients needed: Carbs provide energy for all hikes, due to your body’s ability to easily tap into them. Protein adds some energy but also will help with recovery, Deluca says. But since you’re not going to be out for very long, you don’t need to overdo it on either macro.
Snack suggestion: An apple with beef jerky; carrots with a hard-boiled egg
Time it right: Snack as needed depending on how you feel, suggests Deluca.
Nutrients needed: As a hike gets more intense, your needs will shift a bit more toward carbs and fat—both of which your body can use for a good amount of power, says Deluca. “Having a mix of the two macros balances energy levels.” Go for a 1:1 ratio of carbs to fat, airing slightly heavier on the carbs.
Snack suggestion: Pre-cooked oatmeal with a nut butter package or seeds; crackers with Babybel cheese or tahini dip
“In addition to healthy fats, tahini is high in calcium, which could help with focus,” says Tricia Williams, New York City-based chef and co-founder/CEO of Daily Dose. Seeds such as nigella, chia, and flax can help with blood sugar regulation (which can keep energy levels stable) and may help fight inflammation due to effort on your hike, Williams adds. Her melted leek and farm egg frittata (which will be an option on Equinox’s spring day trip lunch menu) includes nigella seeds for this reason.
Time it right: Fats release energy slowly, so eating them every hour or so can keep hunger at bay, Deluca says.
Nutrients needed: The focus should still be on carbs and fats for energy, but double the carb intake of an intermediate hike (so a 2:1 carb to fat ratio) for more intense hikes, says Deluca. Add in salty foods, too, which help you stay hydrated, she suggests. You can also replace electrolytes with tablets such as Nuun.
On a longer trip, you may crave a meal with more substance that represents all three macronutrients mid-way through. “Once you reach your peak destination, spend 30 minutes taking in the view with a short picnic to give the body some time to refuel and start to digest,” says Deluca. “Keep the meals smaller than average so you don’t feel sluggish on the way back down.”
Snack suggestion: Trail mix with salted nuts and dried fruit; chicken (or tofu) with veggies and noodles or rice
Williams suggests a dish like her cordyceps chicken pad Thai as a more substantial mid-hike meal. “Cordyceps mushroom can increase the body’s ATP production and boost exercise performance,” she says.
Time it right: Eat every 45 to 90 minutes depending on hunger levels, Deluca suggests. At the halfway point, swap the snack for your meal.