Need to Know: What Should I Eat Before, During & After a Hike?

“What should I eat before a hike?” If you find yourself asking this question, you’re in the right place.

We’ve always been taught the importance of eating a good breakfast to start the day, but what about before hiking?

Believe it or not, what you eat before, during and after a hike has a lot to do with how you feel and how much energy you have during and after a hike.

It also plays a vital role in how well your body and muscles recover after a long or strenuous hike.

Eggs and Toast - What to Eat Before a Hike

What most people don’t know is that proper hiking nutrition and hydration begins well before a hike, including the day before a hike.

So, what should you eat before your day hike? What should you have for dinner the night before or breakfast the day of a hike?

Do you have to skip your beloved morning coffee? So many questions!

In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about what to eat before a hike, as well as what to eat during and after a day hike.

Not only that, you’ll also learn how to properly hydrate, what kind of food your body prefers for fuel and what to eat to help your muscles recover.

We also threw in some hike meal and snack ideas, plus a super handy list of foods to avoid before hiking. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Is it Better to Eat Before or After a Hike?

Bananas - What to Eat Before a Hike

Ideally you should eat both before and after a hike. Eating complex carbs and lean meats or proteins before a hike helps fuel you for your adventure.

While hiking, your body needs adequate fuel. The best place to get that is from food. Caffeine helps, but healthy foods are essential.

If you are planning a long hike or strenuous hike, it’s also a good idea to have snacks and food to eat on the trail, like dried fruits or trail mix.

For long hikes and difficult terrain, your body will burn a lot of energy. It’s essential to keep some high-energy snacks in your backpack to refuel.

After hiking you should also consume lean proteins and complex carbs to replenish what you used up while hiking.

Replenish your body with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This combination will replace muscle energy, as well as repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

How Much Should I Eat Before a Hike?

Nuts - Eating While Hiking

Your before-hike meal shouldn’t be too heavy or too filling. The last thing you want to do is feel bogged down from feeling overly full. 

It’s ideal to eat 1-3 hours before your hike to give your body some time to digest and turn food into energy.

Don’t go all-out and eat an entire feast right before hitting the trail. All that will do is make you want to take a nap.

Aim for 300-500 calories for your pre-hike meal. Be sure that you eat at least an hour before heading out so you can properly digest your food.

Your body can only process a limited number of calories per hour, so you don’t need to eat a huge meal before hiking.

Instead, a small meal before and a snack every hour during your hike is the best strategy for optimal energy levels.

Your breakfast or pre-hike meal should contain plenty of complex carbs and lean protein. Fiber is okay, but focus on carbs and protein.

We’ll cover what that means and give ideas for some specific foods and meal ideas in the following sections.

Is it Okay to Hike on an Empty Stomach?

Peanut Butter Toast - What to Eat Before a Hike

It’s not recommended to hike on an empty stomach. If you don’t eat before hiking, you’ll have much less energy and stamina than if you ate.

Your body’s preferred energy source when hiking or exercising is carbs. If you don’t fuel your body with carbs, it will instead burn body fat and muscle.

This might sound great if you’re trying to lose weight, but it’s not recommended for hiking in the wilderness.

If you want to exercise on an empty stomach to burn fat, stick to the gym and not out on the trail.

What Should I Eat the Night Before a Hike?

Pasta - What to Eat the Night Before a Hike

The night before a hike, eat a meal full of complex carbohydrates, like those found in starchy foods including whole grain pasta, rice, sweet potatoes and beans.

Complex carbs are important for hiking because your body digests them more slowly than simple carbs, like in fruit.

When you eat complex carbs your body will break them down slowly for a sustainable energy supply.

Carb loading the night before the hike can help with overall energy levels the next day. For dinner the night before, consider a big plate of pasta.

Hydration is also key. Staying hydrated means drinking before you feel thirsty, and this should begin the night before you hike.

You might be tempted to have some celebratory drinks the night before a hike, but alcohol is a diuretic and is best to avoid for hydration purposes.

What Should I Eat the Morning of a Hike?

Oatmeal - What to Eat Before a Hike

The morning of your hike, first be sure to drink plenty of water. As soon as you wake up, start preparing your body by hydrating.

For breakfast, consider a small meal with plenty of complex carbohydrates and lean protein, like a bowl of oatmeal with bananas and peanut butter. 

Other options include dried fruit, scrambled eggs on a tortilla and granola bars.

What Should I Not Eat Before a Hike?

Fried Chicken - What Not to Eat Before a Hike

You shouldn’t load up with a huge breakfast the morning before a hike. This will make you feel bogged down and can hinder your energy levels. Avoid:

      Greasy, fatty and deep-fried foods

      Cheese or excessive dairy

      Candy or candy bars

      Carbonated beverages and soda

      Sugary beverages and juices

Should you drink coffee before a hike? The answer is hotly debated by many.

Honestly, if a morning coffee is a part of your daily routine, it’s fine to have it the morning of a hike. If you normally have an extra large, try a regular coffee.

However, if coffee or caffeine isn’t part of your daily routine, it won’t do you any favors on the trail.

If your body is used to coffee and you consume it with plenty of time to use the restroom and drink water before hiking, you will be fine.

What Should I Eat While Hiking?

Trail Mix - What to Eat During a Hike

Try to have at least one snack per hour once you start hiking. When considering what food to bring on a hike, look at energy content and pack space.

High-energy snacks are among the best things to bring on a hike. Here are a few ideas for your hiking fanny pack

      Beef jerky


      Peanut butter and bananas

      Nuts and seeds

      Trail mix

      Dried fruits

Be sure to drink plenty of water while hiking and consume enough salt to help keep your electrolytes balanced.

If you’re hiking in hot weather, you will also need to replenish your electrolytes during the hike.

You can do this with electrolyte supplements and water additives as well as salty snacks during the duration of your hike.

What Should I Eat After a Hike?

Turkey Wrap - What to Eat After a Hike

As mentioned above, the 30-45 minutes after a hike is when your body is most receptive to replenishment and muscle repair.

After hiking, eat a meal of complex carbohydrates and lean protein. This time period is essential for helping your body recover from exercise.

Some ideas for what to eat after a hike could be a turkey wrap on a whole grain tortilla, string cheese with pretzels or crackers, or chicken alfredo.

Aim for a 4:1 ratio of complex carbs to lean protein, like chicken or turkey.

Complex Carbs and Lean Protein

Salmon - What to Eat After a Hike

Complex carbs include:

      Whole grain pasta and breads


      Lentils and beans



      Potatoes and sweet potatoes

      Other starchy foods and vegetables

Lean proteins include:

      White meat poultry

      White-fleshed fish or salmon

      Peanut butter

      Greek yogurt

      Light tofu


Hiking Hydration

Water Bottles - Hiking Hydration

Hiking hydration should always start the day before a hike. Drink little bits of water throughout the day.

The day of the hike, wake up with a glass of water. After that, periodically drink a little water every hour.

During your hike you should drink 6 to 12 ounces of water or a sports drink about every 20 minutes.

If it’s hot, bring along a sports drink or electrolyte drink mix for electrolyte balance. You lose electrolytes when you sweat on hot days.

After your hike, it’s good practice to drink around 20 oz of water every hour for a few hours to fully rehydrate.

Wrap-Up: What to Eat Before a Hike

Eggs - What to Eat Before a Hike

Providing your body with proper fuel, nutrition and hydration should begin the day before a hike.

Be sure to drink a little water every hour and eat a dinner full of complex carbs and a bit of lean protein.

The day before your hike, have a small breakfast of complex carbs like oatmeal with nut butter or a nutrition bar, and plenty of water.

During your hike, you should treat yourself with a hiking snack every hour to replenish your energy stores.

Last, recovery is all about eating the proper foods in the hour after your hike.

Focusing on proper hiking nutrition is key to feeling great during and after your hike and helps your body recover faster – and don’t forget to hydrate.