Trail Food - Energy That Lasts


If you're like us, from Wednesday onward you're planning your weekend escape. Our thinking often goes like this - Who's up for it? How long have we got? What kit do we need? How much cash do we have left? How will we fuel it?

Often overlooked the 5th question has been the route of several adventures gone bad. So to make sure we're better prepared in future we've recruited the help of performance nutritionist Rebecca Dent. We thought we'd walk before we run and ask Rebecca to tackle how we fuel for a day walking in the hills.

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For all day energy it’s best to pack whole foods and ditch the sugary snacks. When out hiking the hills your body will generally use a mix of fat and carbs for energy. Adding some protein will not only add flavour, it’ll also help slow how quickly the food is digested, prolonging energy levels, whilst kick starting the recovery process at the end of the hike.

Ditch the sports drinks, bars and gels. They're simply not needed for a hike in the hills. Although tempting Solely relying on sugar-laden drinks, bars, gels and sweets can reek havoc with your stomach and likely lead to spending the day chasing energy crashes.

How many calories?

Old School = The exact amount of calories per hour depends on your size, gender, fitness, the terrain, the load you are carrying, distance and so on. It’s not an exact science but using MET minutes (1) can provide a guideline. A 75kg person for one hour hiking cross country will burn 450kcals per hour, for the same person hiking hills it’s 550kcals/hour

New Tech = If you track your energy expenditure using wearable technology (Garmin, Sunnto, Tom-Tom, Fitbit)  this can be used as ‘rough’ guide to calculating energy requirements for the day, if repeating similar hikes. Research and experience shows that energy equations and technology can both over or underestimate on ‘calories burnt’ (2). So take heed of this and your gadget’s limitations (3).


Sample food ideas

Wholegrain sandwiches with tuna/egg/cheese/chicken, Peanut butter and banana sandwich, small cheese portions, sweet or savoury oat cakes, home made trail mix (salted cashews/almonds, dark chocolate, apricots and prunes), boiled eggs, oat cakes + cheese/peanut butter, peanut butter sachets, oat, seed and protein based snack bars;

From around 60-90mins into your walk, to keep energy supplies steady, drip feed taking small mouthfuls of food every 30mins (e.g. 1/4 sandwich, 1 handful of trail mix, 1/2 cereal bar).

Being prepared and planning your nutrition and hydration to take on the hill, is the best idea to make sure you have enough food and will also save you money, especially if you frequently go hiking.

It’s always worth packing some jelly sweets, gums or a chocolate bar for those ‘just in case of an emergency moments’, you get lost, weather comes in, an injury occurs or you are out for longer than expected. At these times you'll thank me for a quick energy hit or a sweet treat for that psychological boost!

Calorie Deficit

If you are going for a social day on the hills you don't need to worry about meeting your exact requirements. Burning more calories ahead of the evening feast is the reward for many! Aim to eat approximately 150-200 calories per hour (e.g. large handful of trail mix, 1 cereal bar, 1/2 sandwich, 2 oat cakes + mini cheese portion).

To choose your hiking foods aim for about 50:50 carbs:fat ratio (4,5) ,

Now you’ve decided where you are going hiking and approximately how many calories you will need for the day, it’s time to plan your hiking menu!

#Fat rich energy foods

Nuts (cashews, macadamias, brazils, almonds), seeds, avocado, dark chocolate (75% cocoa or more), nut butters, nut butter sachets (e.g. Meridian, Pip&Nut), chorizo, mini cheese portions.

#Carb rich energy foods

Whole grain bread (rye, granary, pumpernickel), oat based cereal bars, fruit bars, oat cakes,  dried fruit (prunes, apricots, dates, figs).

#Protein rich foods

Boiled eggs, jerky (salmon, chicken or beef), cheese, mini cheese portions, chorizo, Fori bars, nuts and seeds, tinned fish.



1)   Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Aug;43(8):1575-81. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821ece12. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: a second update of codes and MET values. Ainsworth BE1, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, Meckes N, Bassett DR Jr, Tudor-Locke C, Greer JL, Vezina J, Whitt-Glover MC, Leon AS.

2) Accuracy of wearable devices for estimating total daily energy expenditure.,

3) Wearable technology for athletes information overload and pseudoscience?

4) Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration.,

5) The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans.