Zé’s Guide to Hiking – Breakfast

John has posted his take on the importance of breakfast before hiking, now it’s my turn.

The Short Take



The longer the hike, and/or the more intense pace you are gonna move, the more important breakfast becomes. And in that case it should be a few hundred calories, mostly fast absorbing carbohydrates.

The Long Take

The intensity of a hike can vary a lot. It may be to take a nice stroll, or it may be to push oneself nonstop for hours, gaining multiple thousands of feet of elevation. As we move to the latter, the more like other endurance activities hiking becomes.

I’ve talked a bit about what you should eat in a previous post. You should read that too.

There are many, many studies about the most important things to consume to do well during high-intensity or long duration exercise. The two most important:

WATER: You need to be hydrated. I can’t emphasize how underrated this is. When you wake up, you will not be fully hydrated. You may very well have a decent amount of dehydration. Dehydration makes you feel fatigued, drowsy, move slower, and for sure not perform as well during exercise. Cell function and neural activation depend strongly on amount of water and concentration of ions, so make sure you are set.

Since you usually hike not too long after breakfast, you need to be consuming a good amount of water at breakfast to “catch up” after spending probably 10 hrs not drinking any! Shoot for 2 full glasses before the hike.

Electrolytes are more of an issue after you sweat a lot, i.e. later on during exercise, so you won’t have to worry about them that much at breakfast.

Caffeine definitely has some beneficial effects on exercise, but this depends on the intensity and duration. And it also is a diuretic, so it acts to make you more dehydrated. So you need to be careful about how much caffeine you consume as it may just end up having negative effects

CARBOHYDRATES: Simply, you need to be eating a bunch of carbs to do well on a tough hike. However, most of that should be done in the days prior to the hike. Please take a look at this article, for example.

If your glycogen stores are low the morning of a hike, well, you’re probably screwed. Breakfast won’t save you. However, in all cases you want to eat a few 100 calories per hour (depending on your mass) mostly of high-glycemic index carbs that can be readily absorbed and used for energy. If you are really hungry the morning of, eat a bunch of food with high glycemic index ratings. Doesn’t have to be sugar, but bread without much fiber works well too, for instance.

If you are probably fed the days up to the hike, then eating something at breakfast probably won’t do much help for you. It is always good to have something to make sure your blood sugar levels are decent.

However, you do not want to eat TOO MUCH. Food in the stomach waiting to be digested takes up blood; blood that could otherwise deliver oxygen to muscles. This can cause cramps, and is the whole “don’t swim for 1/2 hour after eating” thing.

Now, if you are not pushing it intensely (not breathing at a high rate / high heartrate), this stuff won’t matter as much. Instead of using carb storage, you’ll rely more on fat metabolism. You won’t move as quickly though. And if you are not moving fast, you’ll use less blood, and you can eat a big breakfast without it bothering you. But of course, you’ll probably not need to eat a big breakfast since you’re not gonna burn that many calories.

Alas, breakfast is not the most important meal before a hike. You want to be prepared before the morning of. Simple carbs digest the best. Fiber will just make the food digest slowly, and make you more likely to share some special alone time with nature.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 13th, 2009 at 3:10 pm and is filed under Exercise & Nutrition, Zé’s Guide to Hiking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Zé’s Guide to Hiking – Breakfast”

SocalHikes.com - Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Layman’s Guide to Hiking - Pace

SocalHikes.com - Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Layman’s Guide to Hiking - Pace June 10th, 2009 at 12:02 am

[...] get off nutrition and move onto something a little more informative. I think the last post “Breakfast” covered hiking nutrition [...]

Jeff Hester

Jeff Hester July 21st, 2009 at 11:33 am

This is great! Do you have some specific examples of other simple carbs (besides just bread)?


July 23rd, 2009 at 4:12 pm

so morning/day of hike = simple carbs. bread, sugary cereals, orange juice. anything with lots of sugar, or carbs w/o fiber.

the day before (more important) for performance = complex carbs. more pasta, whole grains, carbs with fiber. you can have simple carbs here too, but you want a mixture to avoid spikes in insulin.

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