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Workout Nutrition 101: How to Eat for Your Best Performance and Recovery


Founder of Happy Healthy Human and nutrition PhD Samantha Attard writes this guest blog post for Trailfoody with some valuable tips for performance and recovery. She has a unique approach to her trail mixes that we love:  they’re tailored to affect your mood, and that’s why we were so excited to feature the Motivation mix. It’ll give you the extra kick you need to reach the summit!

After some workouts or outdoor excursions, you feel on top of the world. Your energy is good and you feel strong. After other workouts…you’re a little less king of the mountain. The worst is when you feel so crappy mid-workout you have to stop early.

Why do some workouts feel so good?

It turns out that a huge predictor of how you feel when you work out actually has to do with what you eat before, during, and after that workout. With a little bit of planning, you’ll start to feel and perform better more often. And lucky for you, eating for a great workout can be easy and delicious.

Because nutrition (and exercise nutrition) can be very confusing, let’s be clear about what sort of workout/activity we’re talking about today. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume your workout is about a 2 hour run, hike, bike ride or rock climbing session. You’re working up a sweat, but you can still breathe/talk to your neighbor. For short or longer workouts, I’ll provide some extra tips at the end.

Before Your Workout

About an hour before your workout, get some carbs and fat into your body. Your carbs will fill up with glycogen, priming your muscles for your activity, while the fats will provide you more sustained energy for your entire workout. Don’t overdo it on the fat (about 10 g or less should be sufficient), or else you’ll go into your workout feeling over-full and not ready to move.

Great choices: Banana and peanut butter, Kind Bar, carrots and hummus.


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During Your Workout

The most important thing to remember during your workout is hydration. Water is a major key to giving you enough energy and stamina throughout your workouts. This is true particularly if you’re eating dried fruit, bars, or jerkies. Because these foods have such a low water content, you actually have to rehydrate them in your body so they can be digested. That means you need extra water to keep your hydration in balance.

electrolyte hydration mixParticularly for these longer cardio workouts, include simple carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes for better stamina and long-term performance. Grab an electrolyte powder like PowerPak or Enduralytes to put in your water. Make sure to snack on some fruit (fresh or dried) or lower-fat energy bars to keep your activity level at your peak.

Note that I generally recommend adding food during your workout if you’re working out for longer than 75 minutes. If it’s less time, you should be fine with water and electrolytes.

For your electrolytes, I love Trace MineralsSkratch, or Enduralytes for your electrolytes. For carbohydrates:  add some delicious fruit!

After Your Workout

After you complete your workout, it’s time to refuel. This is the time to get a generous helping of protein and carbs (fat is good, too!). We often focus on getting protein after a workout, but if you don’t have enough carbohydrates to refill the glycogen in your muscles, that protein is burned for energy instead of being used to repair and build muscle.

Happy Healthy Human

As soon as possible after your workout, refuel with at least 10g protein and ~15g carbs. But getting a full meal within 2 hours of your workout is another way to time your post-workout food.

Great Choices: High protein bar or shake, Happy Healthy Human Organic Trail Mix, or a huge, beautiful salad!

Your Post-workout food is one of the main determinants for how long it takes you to recover from your workout, so take it seriously! The faster you get fuel back into your body, the quicker you’ll recover and the better you’ll feel.

How to adapt this for shorter exercise:

If you’re working out for less than an hour, it’s less important that you eat directly before your workout. In fact, some people prefer to work out on an empty stomach! However, take time to notice how you feel when you do or don’t eat before your workouts, and find the right balance for you.

How to adapt this for longer exercise:

The longer you workout, the more important it is that you fuel during your workout with enough carbs and water. Researchers have found that it’s basically impossible to eat too much when you’re running or biking. The most important thing is to not only drink water but to include electrolytes while you fuel as well.

Find out what works for you

What I’ve laid out here is a guideline. You may find that your body feels better with slightly more or less food, or that you prefer sweeter or more savory meals. That’s why things like Trailfoody are so great! You can experiment with different meal choices until you figure out what works best in your unique body!

Enjoy the feeling of having your best workouts every time!

Samantha AttardAbout the author

Samantha Attard is a nutrition PhD and founder of Happy Healthy Human, a company dedicated to helping people eat, move, and live with intention. Her line of organic trail mixes are meant to help you personalize your diet and can be found in our July Trailfoody box. Stay up to date with her yoga events and workshops, or contact her for one-on-one coaching at

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Top 5 Essential Foods for Any Outdoor Adventure

Everyone knows that a day’s journey out in the wild requires the proper sustenance to keep you on the move, but many often wonder which food items, exactly, are essential to have on hand.

While choosing the right food is key, it’s also important to have a variety of snack items that can be eaten separately in small amounts to provide you with a constant flow of energy.

So, we’ve put together a list of the top five must-have food items that will work best to fuel your next adventure!

KIND energy bar

1. Energy Bars – Energy bars contain the complex carbs necessary for quick bursts of energy. They work to keep you going and are perfect for recharging your body. When eaten within 30 minutes of finishing a day’s physical activity, these complex carbs even work to restore the energy necessary for the following day’s adventure.

Conundrum Trail Mix

2. Nut Mixes/Trail Mixes – Nut and trail mixes are full of dense energy that usually provide both a little fat and protein, which combine to provide long term, endurance energy.

3. Jerky – Jerky primarily provides protein, which works to repair and build muscle tissue. Since protein is largely for muscle repair, only a small percentage of calories from this source is necessary.

Mestrength electrolyte drink

4. Electrolyte Hydration Mixes – Electrolyte hydration mixes work to replenish the electrical energy necessary for many bodily functions, including muscle contractions. They largely prevent cramping and are meant to optimize performance.

5. Dried Fruit – Dried fruits are high in fiber and contain a significant amount of calories per serving. The fiber works to help your digestive system run smoothly while the calories provide a natural source of quick energy for those who need it.

Having the right variety of trailfoods can mean the difference between feeling energized and drained.

Trailfoody makes it easy to fuel up with the right food for adventures. It’s the 93-octane gas your uncle Jim insisted on putting into his Outback, only, this fuel has some serious foody flare.

Learn more about how you can sign up for Trailfoody and get new trailfoods shipped to your door each month, in a stuff sack, ready to go–making it a cinch to get out there and explore.

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What’s the Best Food to Take Hiking?

food for hiking

With mountains of freeze-dried food to choose from, dinner ideas for backpacking and camping are hard to miss, but most outdoor adventurers actually log more hours on day outings. Coming up with good hiking lunch ideas (or camping lunch ideas, or backpacking lunch ideas, or rock climbing lunch ideas—you get the picture) has always been the harder nut to crack.

Here’s why: hiking food has some pretty steep requirements—it must be:

  • Full of good, healthy energy
  • Packable and lightweight
  • “Shelf stable,” meaning it doesn’t require refrigeration
  • Easy to consume without having to stop, set up a stove, and cook
  • Tasty!

You’re Depending on Your Body—Fill it with Good Fuel!

Good fuel = good performance. That means you should avoid foods with a lot of artificial preservatives, additives, processed sugar, and chemicals you can’t pronounce. But, you also need a balance of nutrients.

Carbohydrates—which are found in fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, and pasta—are probably the most important nutrient because they digest quickly and provide the body with a steady stream of fuel. Carbohydrates, if consumed regularly, can also prevent fatigue and prevent injury.

Healthy Fats—found in nuts, fish, oils, and olives—are what gives your body that satisfied feeling after a meal. They’re also a great way to get needed calories and they help your body absorb other nutrients.

Protein—found in meats, nuts, and some grains and seeds—are needed to build and repair muscles. Your body also uses proteins for fluid balance and as a minor fuel for endurance activities.

To sum up: you need to consume quality foods. You need to balance what you eat between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, with an emphasis on carbohydrates. But, the main mistake many outdoorspeople make is that they do not consume enough calories.

How Much Energy Do You Really Need, Anyway?

According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the energy needs, in calories, for common outdoor activities.

160 lb. person 200 lb. person 240 lb. person
3-hr hike 1,314 1,638 1,962
6-hr backpack 3,066 3,822 4,578
3-hr cross-country ski 1,488 1,857 2,223
4-hr cycling 1,168 1,456 1,744

That’s a lot of energy, folks. If you skimp on fuel, you could bonk. Remember, your body needs to burn fuel to get where you’re going. (continues below)

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Keep Your Furnace Stoked with Smaller Food Breaks

food for hikingWe’ve all done it—after reaching the halfway point on a tough hike, you stop for a “quick” lunch break. After consuming most of your hiking food, your stomach is full, and you realize it’s been an hour since you stopped. On top of that, instead of feeling refreshed, your body directs its energy to digesting a full belly, and you feel like taking a nap. But, you still have another fifteen hundred vertical feet and a bunch of miles to go.

Instead, think of fueling your body like you’re feeding a fire, regularly tossing in a couple of small logs to keep the fire raging. Take small, five-minute breaks every 30-60 minutes, and snack on some trailfood each time. That will keep your energy levels high, and it tells your body to keep up the good work.

Hydration is Just as Important as Hiking Food

hydration for hikingYou can’t perform your best when you’re dehydrated. Headaches, dizziness, fatique and crankiness (nobody likes a cranky hiker) are all symptoms that you’re already dehydrated. And, it can sneak up on you, especially during the winter when the air is drier and you don’t feel as hot and sweaty.

The good news is that you can read the signs before it happens. If you haven’t been peeing, then you haven’t been drinking enough. Start sipping.

You can do even better than that, though. Use an electrolyte drink mix to replenish lost minerals. When you sweat, your body loses salt it needs for many important body functions including muscle function. An added bonus of these drinks: most of them taste good, which encourages you to hydrate.

This is especially true of kids. They’re easily distracted when they’re having fun, and they forget to drink. Put a drink mix in their bottle, though, and they’ll stay hydrated.

Pro Tip: Recharge for the Next Day

Eating a carbohydrate-packed energy bar at the end of your adventure is not just a reward for hard work, but can help your muscles recover for the next day, so you’ll feel better.

Your body’s performance is influenced by how much glycogen is stored in your muscles. It turns out that they are primed to produce glycogen during the 30- to 60-minute window directly after strenuous exercise. To make glycogen, your muscles need simple carbohydrates such as quality energy bars or fruit.

To maximize your recovery, be sure to enjoy an energy bar or some fruit as soon as you finish your adventure—within 30-60 minutes.

Some Hiking Lunch Ideas

Here are a couple of ideas for food to take hiking, backpacking, or camping (or for any day adventure).

Jerky, nuts and fruit are simple, can be eaten in one break or spaced out, and taste great.

  • Beef jerky—Here’s a recipe for a nice chili lime jerky. This recipe features your favorite beer and peppercorns.
  • Make your own nut mix—Go for raw, salted, or flavorful, depending on your taste. Here’s a recipe for a do-it-yourself nut mix seasoned with cinnamon, chili powder, pepper, and herbs.
  • Fruit—Fresh apples, bananas, and oranges (Mandarin oranges are easiest to peel) pack well, as do Asian pears, which give a fresh, crisp contrast to the jerky and nuts. Dried fruit is another great way to go: mango is delicious dried, as are pears, apricots and apples. If you want to get fancy, make your own dried fruit leather.
  • Energy food for breaks and recovery—Be sure to bring at least a couple of bars to keep you going through the day, plus a carbohydrate-rich bar or snack for your recovery when you finish. In our experience, the best tasting and healthiest bars are the ones that have less name recognition.

Smoky, rich, creamy and satisfying smoked salmon on a bagel

  • Smoked Salmon—most smoked salmon is single serve and shelf stable.
  • Cream cheese—You can get shelf stable, single serve portions at a restaurant supply store. Or, substitute gouda or cheddar from your fridge.
  • Bagel—Grab one from your local bagel shop on the way out of town.
  • Pro-tip—Snip some chives from your garden and store them with a moist paper towel in a ziplock.
  • Fruit—Balance the richness of the smoked salmon bagel with fresh or dried fruit. Citrus such as Mandarin orange or a juicy, crispy Asian pear would work well, as would dried apricots.
  • Energy food for breaks and recovery—Be sure to bring at least a couple of bars to keep you going through the day, plus a carbohydrate-rich bar or snack for your recovery when you finish. In our experience, the best tasting and healthiest bars are the ones that have less name recognition.

Food to Take Hiking, Ready to Go

Here’s an easy way to be ready for your next adventure with tasty food that’s right for the job: a Trailfoody subscription.

Arriving each month, in a stuff sack and ready to go, Trailfoody finds yummy hiking foods that you might not otherwise discover. You’ll know it’s top quality fuel for your adventure, tasty, and packable. Plus, everything is shelf stable, so you can store your Trailfoody with your gear so it’s ready to grab and go. It’ll save you time getting out the door.

It’s not just convenience. There are lots of wonderful hiking food products out there that are hard to find, yet fun to taste. Trailfoody finds these and sends them right to your door. Let us help you get out on your next adventure.