5 Nutritional Guidelines to Feel Your Best on the Trail

Trail Nutrition

The summer season is right around the corner, and for many of us, that means adventure season is here! If you're as excited as I am to go backpacking, trail running, and hike 14-ers, you've no doubt been preparing for your planned endeavors.

We've got the gear. Our training is under way. But there's one other component we also need to focus on: FOOD!

It's no wonder that entire aisles of outdoor stores are lined with on-the-go meals and snacks, as adequate fueling is a very important component of every outdoor adventure.

To make the most of your adventure, you'll want to fuel for it properly.


Nutrition guidelines


  1. Prioritize Carbohydrates.

Not only do your trailtime adventures test your endurance, your strength, and your will, but they also burn a lot of energy. Our bodies preferred source of energy is carbohydrates.

The liver can store between 80-100 grams of glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in the body from carbohydrate. The muscles can store between 300-600 grams of glycogen.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests consuming a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrate (about 11 bananas, or almost 3 bagels) just to meet basic energy needs!

Make sure you consume a breakfast or pre-workout meal that's high in carbohydrates, to keep your body's preferred source of energy topped off right off of the gate. In fact, my go-to pre-trail adventure breakfast is a big bagel sandwich.




In addition, make sure to consume a carbohydrate-heavy meal after your work to promote sufficient recovery and rebuilding for your next bout of work.

Lastly, consider consuming a sports beverage or easily digestible snacks during your physical feat.

Oatmeal, energy bars, and dried fruit are all good sources.

  1. Avoid "New Foods" Or Foods That Provide Discomfort.

If you're in the middle of a national park with a heavy backpack strapped to your back, with 8 hours of hiking until your next campsite, the last thing you'll want to deal with is gastrointestinal stress. Luckily, this can be fairly controllable, as long as you put a few guidelines into practice, and know what is and isn't "safe" for you.

Trail adventures provide a thrill; an adrenaline rush. It's one reason we set out for them! This means we can become hyper stimulated, which leads to even more difficulty tolerating those hard-to-tolerate foods. For example, if you know you do well on certain quick-fuel sources, don't try out a brand that you’ve never had before the day of your excursion.

In general, avoid foods that make you feel 'heavy,' and try a practice run of some of the foods you intend to consume a few weeks before your event.

honey stinger Honey Stinger Waffles are an example of a light food that is great for a quick snack on the trail.



  1. Don't Forget About Protein (and then Fats.)

Protein is also crucial for cell repair and recovery, and consuming protein is crucial for amino acid replenishment. Eating some protein with fat will promote stable blood sugar throughout your endeavor and optimize your performance. Consider protein sources like beef jerky, protein bars, and supplements, and easily digestible beans and legumes.


protein fat


Fats are a very energy dense form of fuel and provide energy for low-intensity bouts of exercise. Remember that fat is typically harder to digest than carbohydrate and protein. I try to prioritize carbs and protein over fat most of the time when I'm on the trail. Think mixed nuts, trail mix, and nut butters.

  1. Consume Nutrients at the Proper Time.

As I mentioned in tip #1, it's important to consume a carbohydrate-heavy meal along with some protein before you set out for the day's adventure. That said, if you eat your meal at 6am, and don't head out until noon, then you'd likely need additional fuel. Aim to eat your pre-workout/activity meal 1-2 hours before you start.

If your hike or time on the trail is rigorous, you'll likely need quick carbs along the way, in easily digestible sources. You'll need to restore your glucose supply, along with energy (aka — calories) that you've burned along the way.

  1. Hydrate Adequately.

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you stay adequately hydrated during your adventure.

As a rule of thumb, begin hydrating as soon as you wake up the morning of your adventure by sipping water throughout the morning. If you're heading out in the morning, make sure to sip water throughout the evening before.

During your hike, sip water every 10-20 minutes, or when thirsty. If you'll be doing rigorous hiking or activity, consider adding a sports drink with electrolytes to your water to replace nutrients lost, such as carbohydrates, sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Another rule of thumb is the urine test: it should resemble lemonade more than it resembles apple juice.

Even if you follow all of the 5 nutritional guidelines above, it's also very important to use common sense. How do you feel? If you’re feeling fatigued, low on energy, thirsty, hungry, or dizzy, it’s time to get in some fuel and hydration.

And when the trip is over, focus on getting in quality nutrition every day. Convenience food like bars, jerky, and gu's are great for backpacking, biking, and hiking, but when you do have access to a fridge, focus on eating lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables with every meal. This will promote adequate nutrition and decrease the chance of any nutritional deficiencies.


Honey Stinger
Electrolyte Replacement
posted by
Paige Kumpf
Blogger at Your Trainer Paige
As a member of #TeamSierra, Paige Kumpf receives promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post. Paige is a personal trainer, fitness expert, and fitness instructor in the wonderful state of Colorado. Her passion in life is to empower women to find joy and fulfillment through living a healthier, happier life. Learn more on her blog, Your Trainer Paige or on Twitter. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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