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April 20, 2011

Hearty, healthy hiking

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a post on nutrition topics. This week, dietetic intern Lynsie Daras, (pictured) weighs in on foods for hikes.

Taking a hike is a perfect way to start moving and enjoying the outdoors. Whether you are going for a leisurely walk on a local trail or backpacking on a strenuous mountain range, it’s important to stay hydrated and bring the proper nutrition to fuel your hike. When deciding on which snacks to bring along with you, it is important to keep in mind that your food should be durable, nutritious and portable.

Staying hydrated
It’s important to drink enough while hiking, especially during the hot summer months. Your body is made of mostly water and needs plenty of fluid to work properly. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, dizziness and little to no urination. Drinking plenty of water helps to lower your body temperature and replace any water you lose through sweating. It’s not only important to remember to drink more than enough fluid during your hike, but to drink plenty of fluid before and after your hike too.

Healthy snacks
When deciding what to pack for your hike, choose foods that will help fill you up and give you the energy you need. Your snacks should contain a healthy balance between carbohydrates, protein and fat. Aim for snacks that are mostly carbohydrate, these foods break down to glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. Try choosing complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereals. You may feel fuller longer and your blood sugar may be more stable throughout the day. Protein, such as meat, cheese and nuts, is needed for building and repairing muscles. Eating too much protein can cause dehydration and may be stored as body fat. On the other hand, eating too little protein can cause weakness and muscle damage. Finally, dietary fat is an important nutrient for energy and is metabolized during exercise. Fat provides energy during long periods of low to moderate exercise and helps reserve protein stores for muscle.

Some healthy, energy-filled snack ideas include:
Trail mix: avoid commercial brands that are heavy on candy. Try making your own trail mix using an assortment of nuts, popcorn and dried fruit.

Granola with nuts: Look for brands lower in fat and sugar.

Peanut butter on vegetables or whole-wheat mini bagels — full of healthy fat, protein and complex carbohydrates.

Fresh fruit with low-fat string cheese: Fruits, like grapes and watermelon, are full of water. And fruit gives you energy and helps add to your hydration needs.

Energy bars: Choose bars with a good mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Avoid packing energy bars made with chocolate as they may melt during hikes on warmer days. Also, limit your consumption of energy bars with sugar alcohols in the ingredients (ie. xylitol, maltitol, sorbitol, erythritol) as these may have laxative-like effects.

Nutrition for short hikes vs. long hikes
Now that you know what to eat on your hike, your next question may be how much to eat. Your calorie needs depend on how many calories you burn. For instance, a 150-pound person going on a light hike for two hours will burn about 400 calories. Examples of good snacks for this person are a large apple with a reduced fat string cheese or one tablespoon of peanut butter on a mini whole-wheat bagel. For an estimation of how many calories you may burn during your hike visit:

When it comes to hydration, water is a great, calorie-free way to replete your fluid losses. However, when hiking for more than an hour, sports drinks are a suitable option to replenish nutrients lost from sweating. Keep in mind, sports drink do contain around 150 calories per 12 ounces. They are not necessary for the average exerciser as electrolytes lost during a light hike can easily be replaced by eating a healthy balanced diet.

Since it’s easy to lose track of time while enjoying your hike, be sure to always pack more water and food then you anticipate needing. So, grab your healthy trail mix, large water bottle and map and hit the trails.

Some websites below for great hiking spots in Maryland:,, and

So, fellow hikers, what are your favorite hiking foods? Where do you like to hike? Share in the comments.
Posted by Kim Walker at 6:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Nutrition


Lynsie, thanks for the article, but you really need to get out of the book and into hiking. As an intern you are forgiven, but if you really think about hiking, not too many people carry watermelons or mini-whole wheat bagels (are regular bagels ok?) on a hike. Best of luck.

Lynsie, thank you for the awesome article. I have one additional question in regards to hydration in animals. Is water the only liquid I should give to a dog on a long walk, or could electrolyte sports drinks be safe or helpful? Perhaps you'd be available to give some personal guidence on the manner.

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About Exercists
Andrea Siegel, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, covers mostly crime and courts in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, as well as legal issues. She wishes she was more physically fit, and, as she's more fond of chocolate than exercise, fitness is a challenge. Her partner on a one-mile-plus daily walk is the family dog, a mixed breed named Moxie, and she exercises at the gym where the D.C. snipers once worked out.
Jerry Jackson has been a photo editor at The Baltimore Sun for 14 years and an avid cyclist for more than 30 years. Inspired by the movie "Breaking Away," he started racing as a teenager in Mississippi when leather "brain baskets" were still the norm. He regularly commutes to work by bike and still enters several mountain bike races a year for fun.
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Patrick Maynard, who will be writing about running and walking, has been a producer for since 2008. In 2009, he tweeted on-course for the Sun from the Baltimore Marathon, finishing in just under 4 hours and almost managing to run the whole time. He sometimes walks to the Sun offices on Calvert Street.
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Leeann Adams, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun, also dabbles in content for the mobile website and iPhone app and covers the Ravens via video. She did a triathlon to celebrate her 40th birthday and continues to swim, bike and run -- none of them quickly, though. Her biggest fitness challenge is to balance working, working out, spending time with her husband and being a mom to a 6-year-old boy.
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Anica Butler, the Sun's crime editor, is a former high school runner and recovering vegetarian who spent more of her early-adult years on a bar stool than working out. She is currently training (though poorly) for a half marathon and is trying to live a generally healthier lifestyle. She also hates the gym.
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