How I Fuel for Long Hikes

Packing enough food for a long hike is so important. Fueling adequately beforehand is also key. It is not fun to “hit the wall” during  a long hike. Muscles need glucose (sugar) to form glycogen (the storage form of glucose) which serves as fuel during your hike. When you run out of glycogen, you “hit the wall”, which can lead to extreme fatigue (the same thing can happen during long distance running or cycling!)  Nobody wants to feel like that on a hike, so fueling appropriately before, during and after your hike is very important. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy for your muscles, while proteins provide the body with essential amino acids to help build and repair muscles. Making sure you pack enough quality foods for your hike is essential!

Breakfast

Before a long a hike, a mix of protein and carbs is best. Usually I have an egg and cheese sandwich on a roll. When I was hiking the 46, I was getting up before sunrise and didn’t have time to prepare breakfast. If I was really ambitious I would microwave an egg to have on a bagel to eat on the way up, but I rarely had time for that. Stopping on the way for a grab-and-go egg and cheese was usually my best bet. I knew I’d be expending a lot of calories and I wanted to eat something that would stick, keeping me full for a the first few hours of hiking.

Snacks/Lunch

If I was feeling a little bit hungry on the drive up, I’d snack on an apple or a mini cliff bar before starting the hike. Both of these provide carbohydrate. For lunch I would usually bring a bagel with cream cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread. For other snacks high protein snacks, I’d bring hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, nuts, even some cheese to enjoy on the summit. Eating a snack high in protein helps repair your muscles after an intense climb. Sometime’s I’d even bring a Gu or another type of energy gel for quick and easy energy. They provide fast and easily digestible carbohydrate that can be eaten while hiking. Honey packets or applesauce/pureed fruit packets are also great options for quick, easily-transportable energy. In the winter, I always make sure to bring a thermos of vegetable lentil soup, which provides salt, protein, and some carbohydrate, plus–there’s something special about having a hot meal on a cold day in the mountains!

Hydration

Bringing enough water during your long hike is key, especially during warm weather. In the summer, during long hikes I bring 4 liters of water (3 L bladder + 1 L bottle) along with a water filter so I can filter water from a stream if it’s needed. When I hiked the Dix Range last summer on a hot day, I drank the entire 4 liters. If you find you are a salty sweater, it wouldn’t hurt to bring some electrolyte tablets, such as Nuun, a bottle of Gatorade, or even salt tablets. On a super hot day, I keep a frozen bottle of Gatorade in my pack next to my hydration bladder. It keeps the bladder cold and eventually thaws, leaving a nice cold beverage. Rehydrating (with something other than a craft beer!) after your hike is also extremely important–so leaving a cooler full of ice cold water and gatorade in your car for post-hike rehydration is a fantastic idea!

Hiking Snack Ideas

What are some of your favorite snack ideas for hiking?

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