Dingle Hillwalking Club

Beautiful landscape view on hillwalking route Nutrition on the Hills by Eavan Fitzsimons

Nutrition on the Hills by Eavan Fitzsimons

What to eat or not to eat, that is the question!

This is the first in a 3 part series written by member Eavan Fitzsimons of ‘Nourish Me’. Eavan is a Nutrition and Health Coach.

In this first part we look at ‘Fuelling and Preparing the Body for the Hills’, part 2 will look at ‘Fuelling on the Hills’ and our final article will look at ‘Refuelling after the Hills’. Enjoy!

The Dingle Hillwalking Club (DHC) website lists four essential requirements for hillwalking. One of the requirements is a “packed lunch and water”. This article deals with the importance of nutrition and hydration planning for hillwalking.


The meals and water consumed days prior to, and the morning of a hike supplies the body with the fuel reserves required for an exertion. Food planning should be taken as seriously as health, safety and route planning. A nutrition plan should reflect the grade and length of the walk.

For this article, lets presume the walk is a high endurance activity in excess of 4 hours. To fuel adequately for days on the hills consider the following three factors:

  1. Hydration: Aim to drink at least 2- 3 litres of water a day leading up to the hike. Hydration is especially important in the period 1 to 2 hours before starting a hill walk. For adequate hydration drink 500ml of water with a pinch of salt on the morning of the hike to allow time for excretions of excess ingested water.
  2. Carbohydrates and fats are the bodies preferred sources of energy and fuel. Try to consume 8-10g of complex carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight for each day in the period 2 – 3 days prior to the hill walk. Increasing complex carbohydrates will improve glycogen levels which will aid endurance. Complex carbohydrates are foods like whole wheat pasta, brown rice and jacket potato (provided the skin is consumed) along with lean protein and vegetables of choice. Dietary fat is needed to provide important fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins for essential functions related to exercise, including controlling inflammation, maintaining a healthy immune system and bone health. Dietary fat are foods like avocado, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, butter and olive oil.
  3. Breakfast: Breakfast should be finished not later than 1 – 1.5 hours before the beginning of the walk to allow digestion. Keep fibre to a minimum to avoid unplanned toilet breaks. Breakfast should include 1g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight and 20 – 25g of protein. Foods such as oats, rye, multi grain or wholemeal bread, avocado, eggs (poached, boiled or scrambled), natural Greek yoghurt, granola, berries and bananas are great breakfast options. They are also good sources of carbohydrates, fats and protein. With the exception of bananas, the above foods are low GI (Glycemic Index) which provide a sustained release of energy.

Eating large amounts of food before a hike is not recommended. A full Irish Breakfast for example would be hard to digest forcing the body to work harder than necessary.

Coming up in the next article: Fuelling on the Hills

Eavan Fitzsimons email: eavan@nourishme.ie ph: 0871692952 web:nourishme.ie