As a fitness professional and nutrition enthusiast, I know just how important it is to stay properly fueled during a workout, be it a gym-based jaunt on the treadmill or an outdoor trek in the trails. The latter comes with its own unique set of challenges; however, you want to make sure your hiking snacks are portable and lightweight enough to enhance — as opposed to detract — from your hike.
“Snacks should be thought of as a way to fuel the body during long treks when food isn’t readily available,” says Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and author of “Hold On to Your Muscle, Be Free of Disease.” “The major nutritional consideration is that they are long-lasting fuels rather than quick energy.” So, what does that mean? Iafelice explains that hiking and other high-intensity outdoor activities predominantly burn fat for fuel. You’ll thus want to reach for snacks that regulate your blood sugar while providing satiety, including the likes of protein, fiber and heart-healthy fats. Unless your hike devolves into a series of sprints, he says sugary snacks for quick energy are not necessary.
While it may be tempting (and convenient) to reach for the nearest carbohydrate-based snack like crackers, chips, cookies, pretzels or dry cereals, Iafelice explains you run the risk of a blood sugar spike, which releases insulin to reduce your blood sugar to baseline levels. “The high amount of insulin overcompensates and drops blood sugar levels too low, resulting in reactive hypoglycemia or low blood sugar,” he says. “Low blood sugar can cause a variety of symptoms, including lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, listlessness, irritability, shaking, dizziness, weakness and hunger. The affected person then reaches for another carb or sugary snack to feel better. This then spikes blood sugar again, and a vicious cycle ensues.” This doesn’t mean you have to leave your favorite carb-based snacks at home. Simply offset this vicious cycle by pairing your favorite carb with protein and fat, like nut butter or cheese.
Sugar-free snacks enhanced with sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol and maltose syrup may sound like a wise alternative, but Iafelice says, “The problem with these sweeteners is that, in some people, they can cause excessive gassiness.” And that’s not something you want to contend with out in the wilderness.
While nutrition factors are crucial for your overall performance, there’s lots more to consider when snacking in nature. “Whatever the food you pack, wherever your hike takes you, please, please, please leave no trace,” says Linda Murphy, founder of thehealthyhiker.ca. “If you pack it in, you pack it out.” Anne Hildebrand, secretary of American Long Distance Hiking Association — West, recommends packing out even the skins and pits of your snacks since “food waste should not be left in the backcountry.”
Like all things related to your hike — from your clothing like socks and boots to your hiking gear — you’ll get the best result with trial and error. “Look for things that you will actually want to eat while on trail,” says Hildebrand. “The best way to know what that is is to experiment. Sometimes what sounds like a good idea to pack when you’re at home does not sound tasty when you’re in the backcountry.”
Here, the best expert-approved lightweight and portable snacks to help fuel your journey.
“Be careful what kind [of crackers] you bring along as you could end up with a baggie of crumbs,” says Murphy. “Triscuits travel best and have the most volume with regards to fiber.”
“Traditional healthy snacks like nuts and seeds are the best options,” says Iafelice.
“For nuts, a handful or two is all you need. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts and pistachios are all good sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These are great satiating foods that provide the sustained energy needed for hiking and camping. Note: I would suggest pistachios in the shell since it’s easy to overconsume them otherwise.”
Iafelice recommends this blood sugar-maintaining chocolate truffle for its low sugar content, 3 grams per serving, 20 grams of protein, and delicious flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Deluxe, and Chewy Chocolate Chip for an on-the-go dessert.
Functional Powder Drinks
For a satisfyingly sweet beverage option that’ll also keep you full, thanks to the addition of protein and fiber, opt for these portable plant-based smoothie pouches in mouthwatering flavors like Cherry Acai and Blackberry Vanilla.