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!).
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
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 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!
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!