1. Dried Fruit
This high calorie and carbohydrate-dense snack will keep your energy from dipping on a tough trail. When tackling a challenging uphill on your trek, your body needs a fast supply of easily digestible energy. Dried fruits are not only packed with healthy vitamins and minerals for a well-rounded diet, but also contain natural sugars that can quickly break down into energy for you to push through that difficult incline. Some popular choices might include dates, raisins, or dried apples. (9)
An additional benefit of consuming dried fruit is the antioxidant compounds often found in these snacks.(9) Antioxidants are powerful micronutrients that fight oxidative stress in your body as you age. This minimizes the likelihood of certain types of chronic and degenerative diseases from occurring, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.(11) You can find an abundance of antioxidants in dried berries including blueberries, cranberries, and goji berries.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Protein, fats, and carbohydrates—nuts and seeds have them all! During exercise that requires endurance, such as hiking, your body relies primarily on a mix of fats and carbohydrates to keep your energy up and evenly maintained throughout your hike. In contrast to dried fruit, nuts are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which specifically helps with releasing energy for your body to use gradually over time. Fat is also an important macronutrient that provides gradual, sustained energy for your body to use on a long hike. Lastly, the protein content in nuts will help supply you with the essential amino acids that are necessary to rebuild muscle during your post-hike recovery.(3) Not to mention nuts/seeds are easy to pack in your backpack and will reduce the amount of waste you need to carry with you. For an added nutrition boost, opt for a homemade trail mix consisting of nuts and dried fruit to boost your mid-hike nutrition even more!
In addition to being a great energy source, research shows that consuming nuts can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 17 percent. People who consume nuts regularly also experienced improved blood sugar control, blood pressure, metabolism of fats, and inflammation and blood vessel wall function.(2) With all the nutritional and health benefits packed into this snack, there is more than one reason to go nuts on your next hike!
3. Nut Butter and Banana Sandwich
Not only does this childhood lunch favorite taste delicious, but it’s also loaded with protein and carbohydrates. Nut butters such as peanut, almond, and sunflower seed contain about 7-8 grams of protein per serving, which helps power a variety of important functions throughout the body. Protein molecules, or amino acids, are the building blocks of skeletal muscle protein and therefore essential for recovery after a hike.(10) Getting enough protein not only during your hike, but also throughout your day will ensure your muscles stay strong and recover quickly.
Banana, nut butter’s counterpart in this snack, is the perfect hiking fuel for two main reasons: abundance of carbohydrates and electrolytes. This carbohydrate rich fruit is a great choice for the same reasons as dried fruit; it allows your body to process carbohydrates into energy quickly. This will keep you feeling energized for those high intensity sections of the trail. Another benefit to consuming bananas on your hike is that they contain high levels of potassium, an electrolyte that plays a vital role in normal muscle function. Not only does potassium keep your muscles from cramping on your hike, but it also helps maintain stability within cardiac muscle tissue.(5) From a hydration standpoint, which is highly important for hikers, potassium helps you maintain adequate fluid levels within your body to function properly. (4) Try this tasty snack to satisfy your taste buds and to keep your body happy out on the trail.
4. Hummus and Veggie Sticks
There’s a reason why this classic snack continues to be a favorite of hikers and healthy eaters, alike. Hummus, made from protein-rich chickpeas, is a delicious dip that pairs well with veggies, pretzels, or pita chips. Pairing hummus with veggies is an excellent choice for hikers, as it supplies your body with that necessary protein, fat, and carbohydrate combo. This ensures you have an even supply of energy, as well as adequate nutrients for recovery post-hike.
Veggies that complement the high protein and fat content of hummus are bell peppers, cucumbers, and carrots. Not only are these veggies durable and can hold up in your backpack, but they also contain tons of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for a well-rounded diet. Vitamin C, vitamin K, Vitamin A, and more are covered when these 3 vegetables are consumed together.(1) This well-rounded snack should be a staple of every hiker’s snack pack!
5. Dark Chocolate
If you’re looking for an excuse to pack a sweet treat for your adventure on the trails, look no further! Dark chocolate has long been known for its antioxidant properties and subsequently its health benefits. In addition, recent studies have shown that dark chocolate is also beneficial for athletic performance. This yummy treat is abundant in flavanols, which increases the bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide within your body. This is important because it allows your body to function using lower oxygen levels, therefore increasing your ability to use energy more efficiently as you are hiking.(7) Dark chocolate can also be a great addition to your homemade dried fruit and nut trail mix, gaining benefits of all three foods in one super snack!
A Note On Hydration
While fueling your body through food is an essential part of hiking performance and well-being, hydration and fluid intake are equally as important. When you begin to experience dehydration with as little as 2% body mass loss, physical performance significantly begins to decline. As that percentage continues to climb, performance will substantially decrease as well.(5) This is why water intake will keep you from feeling fatigued and alleviate any dehydration-related issues during your hike.
Exactly how much water do you need? The answer to this question is that it varies. Body water loss will differ depending on the individual as well as exertion level. If you tend to sweat more during physical activity, you will probably need more water than someone who does not sweat much. A good rule of thumb is to drink about half a liter of water per hour of hiking. Scale up to as much as 1 liter per hour if you sweat more or your hike is more on the strenuous side. Initially this will be a trial-and-error process, but eventually you will get a feel for what best suits your body’s needs.(8)
Electrolyte supplementation is also something to take into consideration when hydrating on a hike. If snacking properly during a hike, this is usually not an issue, but if you are a high salt sweater then electrolyte supplementation may be something to think about. Proper electrolyte balance is important for water retention and your body’s ability to use the water you are drinking.(8) Adding electrolyte powders to your water or drinking pre-made sports drinks are both great options.
1) Cucumber nutrition facts and health benefits, Verywellfit. https://www.verywellfit.com/cucumber-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4118563. Accessed 3 November, 2022
2) Eating nuts may reduce cardiovascular disease risk for people with diabetes. American Heart Association. https://www.verywellfit.com/cucumber-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4118563. Accessed 3 November, 2022
3) Long-Distance Hiking, Stackpole Books. Accessed 3 November, 2022
4) Overview of disorders of potassium concentration - endocrine and metabolic disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/endocrine-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-disorders/overview-of-disorders-of-potassium-concentration. Accessed 3 November, 2022
5) Hydration for recreational sport and physical activity. Nutrition Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00523.x . Accessed 3 November, 2022
6) The heart and potassium: A banana republic. Acute Cardiac Care. https://doi.org/10.3109/17482941.2012.741250. Accessed 3 November, 2022
7) Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0106-7. Accessed 7 November, 2022
8) How to Stay Hydrated on the Trail. REI. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hydrate.html. Accessed 7 November, 2022
9) Selected dried fruits as a source of nutrients. Eur Food Res Technol 247. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00217-021-03802-1. Accessed 7 November, 2022
10) Dietary protein intake and human health. Food & Function. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5fo01530h. Accessed 7 November, 2022
11) Antioxidants: Benefits and risks for long-term health. Maturitas. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.05.001. Accessed 7 November, 2022