Can’t seem to eat enough after a long hike? Learn why your body is craving calories and what you can do to avoid feeling starved after a hike here.
After-hike hunger is caused by not consuming enough calories. Hiking, especially with weight, can burn 500-700 calories per hour which burn rate is 500% higher than by sedentary activities. Hiking hunger can be prevented by consuming enough calories consistently before, during, and after your hike.
There really are a number of reasons you might be experiencing some serious “hiker hunger” after a hiking trip. The good news is that it’s really quite a normal experience. Continue on and you’ll learn all about why hiking can leave you feeling ravenous and what you can do to get your body into balance.
Why Is It I Am So Hungry After Hiking?
Have you ever gotten home from a long hike just to find yourself eating enough to replace the calories you burned, and then some? It’s a relatively common experience for those who hike on a regular basis.
That said, it can be a confusing issue. In some cases, hikers who experience what’s known as “hiker hunger” were certain that they ate a filling breakfast and brought enough snacks to keep the hunger at bay. However, they may still experience hunger that can multiple days after the hike.
If this sounds familiar to you, there might be something else going on that contributes to your hunger. I reviewed the opinions of several hikers on a variety of different hiking forums to get a clear view of what may cause hiker hunger and what you can do to stop it.
You Burned More Calories Than Usual
Going for a hike can burn more calories than you might think, even if you’re just walking an easy path for a couple of miles. Consequently, you might find that the amount of calories you’ve burned has fallen out of balance with the number of calories you consumed that day.
To give you a clear example, I’m using the Omni Calculator tool with a specific focus on calories burned while hiking. I entered some very basic information into the calculator just to give you an idea of how many calories you might burn on a simple hike. I’m using the example of a pretty average 150lb person in these calculations. If this hiker traveled a trail that was two miles long, with no increase in elevation, they would burn a total of about 355 calories.
Using this calculator for yourself, you can get a more specific example that applies to your own situation. Although this tool only creates estimations, it’s a great way to get an idea as to how many calories you may need that day to avoid extreme hiker hunger.
Based on the estimate I created, it can be easy to understand how easy it can be to underestimate just how many calories you’re burning. If you end up burning much more than you’re consuming, there’s a strong chance you’re going to be super hungry by the end of the day.
If you’re unsure just how long your hike is going to be, it can be tough to determine how many calories you’ll burn or how much food you’ll need. Have you ever wondered how hiking trails are even measured? How do you know how accurate those measurements are? Learn more in our article on the subject here.
You Didn’t Eat Enough During The Hike
Snacking during a hike keeps you going strong and helps you to avoid a seemingly endless pit of hunger at the end of the day. This is particularly true if you’re going on a longer hike. Naturally, spending an hour or two on a trail will have different results when compared to a day-long adventure.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have a snack every couple of hours or so. However, there’s really nothing wrong with enjoying some trail mix, dried fruit, or jerky more frequently if you’re feeling hungry. The most important part is to make sure you have enough food to keep you satisfied for the entire journey.
Unless you’re an experienced hiker, this can often mean packing more food than you might think you’ll need. Even though it might add to the weight of your pack, it’s always better to bring more food than you might need, just in case. You might find that you have to consciously stop and make yourself eat during the hike if you don’t normally have much of an appetite while you’re on the trail.
Considering that many people might choose to hike up to 12 miles in a single day, nutritious food is an absolute necessity if you’re really planning on pushing yourself. How far do you like to hike in a day? Take a look at what other hikers had to say in our article on the subject here.
Your Breakfast Was Slim
Before you head out onto the trail, it’s important to make sure you fill up on a healthy, nutritious breakfast. Remember, you aren’t eating to fuel yourself through another day at the office, but instead to help your body to get through rugged terrain for potentially an entire day – depending on how long you plan to hike.
Carbohydrates are a great place to start your morning. They allow you to create energy a bit more quickly so that you can get up and move. According to MayoClinic, some of the best carbohydrate-filled foods you can choose from include whole grains, legumes, veggies and fruits, and low-fat dairy products.
Alongside those breakfast carbs, some healthy fats are a great choice for keeping yourself from getting hungry again too quickly. The American Heart Association includes choices like nuts and vegetable oils in their selection of healthy fats.
If you’re finding that your usual hiking breakfasts aren’t including a balance of healthy carbohydrates and fats, that may be a cause as to why you end up with an intense appetite after a hike.
Your Body Is Trying To Keep Up
Human beings are highly adaptable. It’s this trait that has allowed us to thrive and evolve over the course of time. We’re consistently able to discover new challenges and adapt to them, sometimes at a level that doesn’t even require conscious thought.
When a hiker spends a day out on the trail, their body uses up a higher number of calories than it would under normal circumstances. After stopping for the day and heading home, your body may not understand that it’s time to go back to normal calorie consumption. Consequently, you may feel ravenous after a hike and might even experience an elevated appetite for a few days after.
This is really just because your body is trying to continue fueling you for more hiking. It’s attempting to adapt to a new level of calorie consumption so that you can be ready to hike the same amount of time every day. So if you’re someone who does experience a heightened appetite for a few days, just making sure to get some more exercise to balance out the extra calorie intake is enough to avoid accidental weight gain.
Your body might need more calories to get through your hikes if you’re going out in cold weather. If you love to hike and feel bummed out having to stay in during the colder months, you might start to wonder just how cold is too cold to be hiking? For some excellent tips on hiking in cold weather, check out our article here.
Excellent Snacks For Hiking To Avoid The Energy Crash
You can’t just bring along any kind of snack and assume it’s going to keep you going steady throughout the entire hike. Some snacks can ultimately lead to energy crashes, or the snacks you choose might just not be enough to keep the hiker’s hunger at bay.
Nutrition is the name of the game when it comes to bringing along the best snacks for a hike. Your top choices should include healthy fats, protein, and a smaller amount of sugars and carbs to give you an extra boost. Using all of these options in a balanced way will keep your energy level and metabolism as steady as possible.
Some of the ideal food choices to bring along on a hike include:
- Granola bars or protein bars
- Dried fruit
- Nut butter
What’s most important is making sure you have a good variety to get you through the day. While Pop-Tarts and candy might sound like the most fun choices, you’ll likely end up crashing or otherwise feeling off if you’re missing out on the other food groups your body needs to keep going strong.
Instead, focus mainly on proteins and fats while only adding in a sprinkle of sugary options. With time and practice, you’ll pick up the perfect balance to make it through your hike and avoid feeling starved once it’s time to head home.
Why Are Some People Not Hungry While Hiking?
An issue some hikers may run into is simply that they don’t have an appetite while they’re actually on the trail. Although they know it’s important to take the time to eat for the sake of keeping their body going, it may be annoying or even nauseating to do.
I’m actually one of these people. During a tough hike I lose my appetite.
Why is that?
Well, there are a few reasons this might take place. At the most basic, it could just be that the eating schedule someone uses on a hiking day is too different from their regular eating schedule. Our bodies often get used to certain schedules, and eating outside of that schedule can be a chore.
A few other reasons this can happen include feeling rushed to finish the hike, not being interested in the foods you’ve brought for the trip, and just the act of hiking and looking at nature keeping your mind busy. Compare your hiking trip to a day at home or in the office. When you have less to focus on, eating becomes a more exciting prospect.
It’s also often the case that our bodies just aren’t in “eating mode”, so to speak. If your body is working hard to get away from a predator, it’s not in its best interest to stop for a meal. Likewise, if you’re on a serious hike, your body may not actually want to stop in order to consume food.
One study measured hunger response for people who sprinted, and then again after they did long endurance exercises. The perception of hunger wasn’t as sharp for those who did long endurance exercises and so there was a higher calorie deficit after all the exercise since the hunger pains didn’t set in immediately for endurance exercisers.
Hiking is an endurance exercise, and if you’re hiking 6 or more hours a day you’ll be burning a lot of calories at medium to high intensity over a long period of time, so your body might not send the hunger signals very sharply as it would if you were sprinting or other extremely high-calorie burning activity.
In some cases, you may just have to tough it out and force yourself to eat. Bringing along foods you enjoy, even if they aren’t the typical staple foods for hiking, can also be helpful. Additionally, bringing along something that is easy to consume, like a nutrition shake or bar that packs everything your body needs into a smaller package can be a great solution.
I know for myself that even if I don’t want to eat I can usually chew on some jerky since it’s so delicious.