Fueling through New Hampshire’s 4000 Footers

New England Dairy & Food Council Registered Dietitian, Hilary, on Mount Osceola

I’ve always liked hiking, but it didn’t become a major part of my life until last year. To make a long story short, I decided to hike all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footer mountains before my 30th birthday, giving myself about 15 months (learn more about the NH 4000-footer challenge here).

My partner generously agreed to give up his weekends and complete this whim-of-a-challenge with me. We started our journey by spending three days in the mountains, hiking over 30 miles and ambitiously climbing five 4000-footers. We learned a lot on our first trip, like there is such a thing as too much trail mix (heavy!) and it’s OK to laugh at yourself when you fall in a 3-foot mud pit.

Fueling on a Hike

Over the course of those 15 months we ate a lot! Hiking is tough work and requires eating and drinking food and beverages that fuel your trip up and down a mountain (sometimes multiple mountains!).

Always eating! Enjoying a granola bar on Mount Bond

Before a hike or another workout, make sure to eat carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy needed to support physical activity. My favorite pre-hike, high-carbohydrate meal was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread. The whole grain bread helped to provide longer-lasting energy from the fiber, the fat in the peanut butter was satisfying and provided a lot of calories, and the jelly provided fast energy to kick-start the hike!

It’s important to remember that fueling doesn’t stop when the hike starts. Eating high-carbohydrate foods and hydrating with fluids will help your body maintain energy throughout the hike. Some of my favorite hiking foods include:

  • Trail mix with dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts
  • Granola bars
  • Graham crackers with nut butter

Cheese, please!
Another favorite of mine? Cheese! When the weather was cold enough to keep the cheese at a safe temperature (41°F or below), it always found a place in my backpack. It was a satisfying and filling snack when I reached the top of the mountain. They even make individually wrapped cheese snacks that are super convenient and prevent you from having to lug a whole block on the hike! Because cheese is low in carbohydrates, make sure to pair it with high-carbohydrate foods.

Refueling with cheese on Mount Tom

Refueling After a Hike

While it’s incredibly important to eat and hydrate before and during a hike, it’s just as important to properly refuel and rehydrate after. What you eat and drink after a hike or hard workout can really affect your  recovery and I want to make sure you’re ready for your next adventure!

Refueling with chocolate milk

The main fueling goals after a hike or hard workout are to restore energy levels, rebuild muscle, and replace fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat. Flavored milk, such as chocolate and strawberry, is a great recovery drink. In addition to being delicious, it contains a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein: carbohydrates to replenish energy stores, and protein to help rebuild muscle. Important electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium are lost through sweat when we exercise. Being a leading source of nine essential nutrients, including potassium and magnesium, milk is a great choice for replacing those electrolytes. While milk wasn’t something that we could keep cold in our car during a hike, we always sought out the nearest grocery store or gas station to get our chocolate milk fix post-hike!

Other delicious dairy ideas for optimal recovery include:

  • Greek yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Cottage cheese and canned pineapple for a sweet and salty combination
  • Iced latte and granola bar for an easy, on-the-go snack

As you plan your next hiking adventure, remember that fueling needs before, during, and after a work out vary from person to person. No one food or meal is ideal for everyone; personalize choices with what you are comfortable with. Also, don’t forget to hydrate and have fun!

Check out the New England Dairy & Food Council and other posts on our blog to learn more about dairy’s role in sports nutrition.

Hilary and Alex on Mount Washington, the highest mountain in Northeastern United States at 6,288 feet