You don’t have to be a meat eater to get proper nutrition while outdoors. Whether you’re backpacking, hiking or camping, picking the right combination of vegetarian nutrients will ensure you have enough energy to conquer the trails ahead.
Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods
When you are on the trails, there are a few things to keep in mind when packing your food: it needs to provide enough energy to keep you going, it can’t require refrigeration and it needs to be something that is easy to prepare or cook, according to health coach Elena McCown. “Some great, protein-rich ingredients to carry with you include: dehydrated lentils or split red lentils, roasted chickpeas, freeze-dried peas, peanut butter, and nuts and seeds (especially almonds, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds),” says McCown.
Tofu, nuts, beans, and seeds are also perfect protein-rich ingredients to add to meals, according to Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, Sports Dietitian and blogger at MakeHealthyEasy. “In addition, the pre-cooked packages of whole grains you find in the rice aisle of the grocery store can be a wonderful meal base on the trail,” says Braddock. “While you obviously don’t have a microwave to heat them up, they are fine to eat cold or heat over a fire.”
Don’t Forget Essential Nutrients
A balanced diet is essential while out on the trails, as lack of certain nutrients will leave you feeling tired, sore, and not in the best of moods. Iron, for example, is essential to help supply oxygen to the muscles and turn fuel into energy, according to McCown.
Another essential thing to consume is electrolytes. “Since water is vital for the trails, you need to make sure to avoid hyponatremia (a life-threatening condition where your body doesn’t have enough salts to function) by supplementing with sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and calcium on a consistent basis with electrolyte drinks/supplements and salty foods,” says McCown.
Since eating fresh fruits and vegetables can be tricky on the trail, Braddock says another important thing to focus on is making sure you get enough vitamin C. “Vitamin C plays an important role in immune function and is important for keeping you healthy while you challenge your body on the trail,” says Braddock.
To help with this, Braddock recommends taking dried blueberries along on your trip. “One serving of blueberries is an excellent source of vitamin C, proving almost 25% of the daily recommended amount,” Braddock points out.
Make Sure You Get Enough Calories
Calorie-dense meals are the way to go if the goal is to make sure you eat enough—and this starts with a filling and energizing breakfast. “Bring foods that are easy to eat as you are still moving and a bigger lunch if you are planning to stop for a break,” says McCown. “Make sure to snack frequently, consume three meals a day and drink high-calorie drinks—and don’t forget to refuel within 30–45 minutes of finishing for the day with a filling meal of carbs, fat, and protein.”
Fat-rich foods are another great choice for getting in a lot of calories in a small package. For example, Braddock recommends single-serve nut butter packets as a way to quickly and concisely get calories. “Nutrition bars like CLIF Nut Butter Filled Bars are another delicious, space-saving option,” adds Braddock.
Dehydrated Foods Are Your Friend
Dehydrated and make-ahead meals, snacks, and ingredients are key to providing healthy food on the trails, whether you make them yourself or buy prepacked mixes, according to McCown. “Some of the best-dehydrated foods to bring include lentils, chickpeas, peas, quinoa, eggs, vegetables, and fruit,” McCown says. “For example, an easy meal could be dehydrated lentils, quinoa, your favorite dehydrated veggies, nutritional yeast, a can of tomato paste and a little bit of oil with a packet of your favorite seasoning.”
Energy balls are also a great snack to bring with you and can include dates, nuts, peanut butter, and chia seeds, mixed together in a blender and formed into small balls and rolled in coconut flakes, says McCown. “You could also make salted peanut butter cookies or sticky rice balls: cooked sticky rice with oats, sugar, salt, and vanilla cooked and baked in small balls, rolled in coconut flakes,” she adds.
Don’t Forget Muesli/Granola
When in doubt, pack granola should be a mantra for every vegetarian on the go. “They are higher in calories and contain essential vitamins and minerals from the variety of oats, nuts, fruits and seeds they are made from,” says McCown. They are also highly versatile, as McCown points out they can be eaten straight out of a bag, cooked on a cold morning or made as overnight oats for a quick grab and go breakfast. “Plus, they require minimal prep and can be customized with your favorite ingredients and your personal nutritional requirements.”