Keto diet for hiking: Avoid “hitting the wall”

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If you’ve spent any time in the health and fitness world recently, you’ve likely heard the buzz around the ketogenic diet. But did you know this high-fat, low-carb diet can be a hiker’s secret weapon? From sustained energy levels to anti-inflammatory benefits, let’s dive into the science behind why and how a ketogenic diet might enhance your hiking performance.

A ketogenic diet can be beneficial for hikers, as it allows the body to use its fat stores as a source of energy, reducing the need for frequent snacking on the trail. Keto-adaptation before hiking, maintaining hydration and electrolytes, and planning keto-friendly meals and snacks are essential steps in integrating a ketogenic diet into your hiking routine. However, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust accordingly, as individual experiences with keto and hiking can vary.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet, often known as ‘keto’, is a way of eating characterized by high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate intake. The ultimate goal of this diet is to drive your body into a metabolic state known as ‘ketosis’, where fat, not glucose, becomes the main energy source.

Macronutrient Breakdown in a Ketogenic Diet

A typical ketogenic diet involves consuming around 70-75% of your calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and just 5-10% from carbohydrates. This macronutrient breakdown varies slightly depending on the individual’s goals and metabolic health.

The Metabolic State of Ketosis

In a state of ketosis, your body switches from primarily burning glucose (from carbohydrates) to burning fat for energy. This metabolic shift happens when the body has been deprived of carbohydrates long enough that it must resort to burning fat for fuel.

Keto-Adaptation: Switching the Body’s Energy Utilization

The process of transitioning your body to a state of ketosis is often referred to as ‘keto-adaptation’ or ‘fat adaptation’. It’s during this critical stage that you may experience symptoms collectively known as the ‘keto flu’, which includes fatigue, headache, irritability, and nausea. However, these symptoms typically subside as your body adjusts to its new primary fuel source.

Being keto-adapted, especially as a hiker, means your body can tap into its fat reserves for energy, reducing your need to carry heavy, calorie-dense meals during long hikes. This concept of ‘packing light’ when preparing for a hike is one of the main attractions of the ketogenic diet for hiking enthusiasts.

nut mix
Nuts are a great ketogenic snack.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet for Hiking

Hikers seeking to optimize their performance on the trail have turned to a wide variety of diet plans. The ketogenic diet, with its unique metabolic adaptations, has shown potential as a powerful tool in a hiker’s arsenal. Below, we delve into the specific benefits a ketogenic diet might provide for your hiking endeavors.

Extended Energy Reserves

One of the most significant benefits of the ketogenic diet for hikers is the ability to utilize extended energy reserves. When you’re keto-adapted, your body taps into stored fat for fuel, which provides a far more extensive energy source than stored carbohydrates.

The average lean body has enough stored fat to fuel moderate exercise, such as hiking, for days or even weeks, without food. This contrasts with glycogen stores from carbohydrates, which can deplete within a couple of hours during intense exercise. This fact is particularly helpful during multi-day hikes where carrying a lot of food can be cumbersome.

Weight Loss

Another potential advantage of a ketogenic diet is weight loss. By reducing stored carbohydrates and the water they hold, your body weight can decrease, which can make the physical task of hiking less strenuous. This can be particularly beneficial when considering the importance of a low base weight in hiking, as every pound can make a difference in energy expenditure and overall comfort on the trail.

Reduced Hunger and Increased Satiety

The ketogenic diet has a notable impact on hunger and satiety. Dietary fat and protein, which form the basis of the ketogenic diet, are more satiating than carbohydrates. This can lead to reduced hunger levels and lower food intake, which can be particularly advantageous when food availability is limited during hiking.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Chronic inflammation can negatively impact recovery and performance. Interestingly, research suggests that ketone bodies produced during ketosis have anti-inflammatory effects. For hikers, this could translate into improved recovery times between hikes, leading to more consistent performance.

Improved Mental Clarity

Many followers of the ketogenic diet report experiencing improved mental clarity and focus. While it’s difficult to quantify this subjective benefit, it’s possible that stable blood glucose levels (a result of sustained ketosis) could lead to less mental fatigue. For hikers, this could mean better decision-making and navigation skills on the trail.

Challenges and Practical Tips for Combining Keto and Hiking

While the ketogenic diet offers intriguing benefits for hikers, it’s not without its challenges. From handling the keto flu to maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance, it’s crucial to be aware of these potential obstacles. Here, we’ll tackle some of the common challenges and offer practical tips to help you navigate them on the trail.

Dealing with the Keto Flu

The transition into ketosis, often known as the keto flu, can include symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and nausea. This adjustment period can be particularly challenging for hikers. It’s advisable to start the ketogenic diet weeks before a major hike, allowing your body time to adapt to its new energy source while you’re not on the trail.

Maintaining Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

Hydration and electrolyte balance are always crucial for hikers, but they become even more so on a ketogenic diet. Ketosis can lead to increased water loss, which can make it easier to become dehydrated. Furthermore, along with the water, you lose electrolytes, which can lead to symptoms like muscle cramps and fatigue.

Make sure to drink enough water and consider bringing along electrolyte supplements. You might also find it helpful to read more about how much water to carry on a hike.

Planning Keto-Friendly Meals and Snacks

While your reduced hunger and ability to use your own fat storage on keto means you can get by with fewer snacks, you might still want to bring some snacks. Keto-friendly hiking snacks include nuts and seeds, jerky, cheese, olives, and high-fat energy bars.

Sausage makes a great keto snack!
Or even sausages!

(Be careful to check the label of jerky though, some brands include lots of sugar!)

One thing I greatly enjoy about hiking while I’m on the keto diet is that, once you’re an hour or so into a hike and still moving, you can get away with eating some carbs. This is because the carbohydrates you absorb while the energy storage of your muscles is completely empty, and while the muscles are active, will go straight into the muscle.

How much carbs you can get away with depends on your body and the intensity of your exercise; you have to exeriment a bit, and be honest with yourself. A stroll in the park is not an excuse to inhale an entire chocolate bar; but a handful of choco almonds on the top of a mountain is perfectly fine and honestly the tastiest thing ever.

choco and nuts
What a reason to head out on a hike.

Energy Levels and Exercise Performance

Some people may experience a temporary drop in exercise performance during the transition into ketosis. Again, this highlights the importance of becoming keto-adapted before undertaking a strenuous hike. Once adapted, however, many hikers report steady energy levels and endurance.

Mindful Carb Consumption

While the ketogenic diet is low in carbs, this doesn’t mean that all carbs are off the table, especially when you’re exerting yourself on the trail. If you’re on a long, challenging hike, don’t be afraid to consume a small amount of carbohydrates. These can provide quick energy and might improve performance.

Personalizing Your Ketogenic Hiking Plan

Personalizing your ketogenic hiking plan is essential for optimizing your trail performance and overall health. Here, we delve into the specifics of how you can tailor the ketogenic diet to your individual hiking routine, from pre-hike preparation to fueling strategies during the hike and post-hike recovery.

Pre-Hike Preparation

In the weeks leading up to your hike, focus on becoming keto-adapted. This process involves eating a diet high in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. Pay particular attention to your hydration and electrolyte levels.

Also, consider implementing regular exercise during this time, including hiking practice. These workouts will help train your body to utilize fat as a primary energy source.

Fueling Strategy During the Hike

Despite being keto-adapted, you’ll still need to fuel your body during your hiking adventures. As mentioned, high-fat snacks like nuts and seeds, cheese, and jerky are great options.

Also, consider when you’ll eat. Some hikers on a ketogenic diet find they can comfortably engage in intermittent fasting, only eating within a certain window each day. Others prefer to graze on small snacks throughout the hike. This will depend on your personal hunger signals and energy levels.

Post-Hike Recovery

After the hike, it’s crucial to replenish your body with good-quality food. Despite being in ketosis, it’s a good idea to include a moderate amount of carbohydrates to replenish any glycogen stores you’ve used during the hike. This could come from low-carb vegetables or a small portion of fruits like berries.

Hydration is also essential, so keep drinking water even after the hike, and replenish electrolytes if necessary. If you’re interested in how to optimize your recovery, make sure to check our post on how to recover after a hike.


Adapting to a ketogenic diet while hiking is an enticing prospect that may boost your hiking experience. It provides an alternative approach to conventional trail fueling, adding an interesting twist to your adventure. Now it’s time to strap on your hiking sandals, pack your keto-friendly trail mix, and embark on your journey. Remember, whether you’re hiking on a high-fat or high-carb diet, the trail is yours to explore!

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