Hiking is a super popular outdoor hobby that has been steadily growing for decades. For some people, nothing feels better than hiking on a trail up a mountain to see the beautiful views it has to offer. However, while hiking burns a ton of calories, there’s a downside. Some people might discover that they’ve gained a bit of weight after going on a long hike, returning home, and returning to their regular routine. Why does this happen? After all, hiking is an intense exercise that requires hikers to be in shape.
Gaining weight after hiking is uncommon but can still happen to everyone. There are three key culprits to weight gain after hiking, those being:
An increase in muscle mass
An increase in water weight
The increase in muscle mass and water weight is pretty straightforward. You’re straining your body on your hike, and the next day or two after hiking, your muscles will heal and get bigger. Also, on your hike, you should be staying hydrated, and there’s a good chance you’ll drink a lot of water. If you’re not sweating a lot, a good portion of that water will be stored in your body, especially if you’re carbo-loading. Moreover, drinking lots of water the next few days after your hike will increase your water weight.
The last culprit of weight gain after a hike is post-hike hunger. Hiking burns a lot of calories, and if you don't correctly combat the burning of calories, you could feel drained of energy and super hungry once you get home which can lead to some weight gain.
As you continue to read this article, we’ll provide an in-depth analysis of each way you can gain weight after a hike. We’ll also describe how you can avoid gaining weight after one.
Can Hikers Gain Weight After a Long Hike?
During our research about this topic, we sifted through forums and asked a ton of hikers whether or not they gained weight after returning home from a long hike. The information we gathered was what we expected but also a little surprising. We received around 200 replies to our questions and found out that around 48% of people stayed the same weight, while 35% of the replies claimed they lost three to five pounds. Roughly 8% of the people who responded lost around one or two pounds. However, the last 9% said they gained weight after their hike, with a few replies that claimed they gained over five pounds.
Still, long hikes are subjective, and the number of miles a hiker will consider a long hike differs from person to person. Nevertheless, the potential to gain weight after a hike is still there.
Why Do People Gain Weight After a Hike?
Most people will either stay the same weight or lose a few pounds after going on a hike, primarily because they regulate their calorie and water intake during and after the hike. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. The most common reason for after-hike weight gain is due to excess water weight, but it's a bit more complicated than that.
For example, hiking is a form of exercise, and it provides a workout that will burn fat and strengthen muscles. Muscle is more dense than fat. If you were holding a pound of fat in one hand and a pound of muscle in the other, you would quickly see that the pound of fat is significantly larger than the pound of muscle. While you’re burning some fat and building muscle mass while hiking, a pound is still a pound.
However, muscle and fat serve two drastically different purposes. Muscle increases strength and boosts your metabolism, while fat acts as an insulator for your body that helps trap heat. Because of this, the more muscle mass you have in your body, the more calories you will burn while doing regular activities. In short, the more calories you burn, the more you need to eat, which leads hikers who are gaining muscle mass to experience post-hike hunger if they don’t prepare properly.
Why is Water Weight the Most Common Reason to Gain Weight After a Hike?
It’s very common for people to increase their intake of carbohydrates when preparing for high endurance activities like marathons, sports, and hiking. Increasing your intake of carbohydrates is often called carbo-loading, which increases the amount of glycogen in your body. For example, as you continue to train for your upcoming hike, the muscle in your body will increase its ability to store glycogen by 60% to 70%. The increased amount of glycogen in your body will also lead to perceived weight gain. But it goes deeper than that. Glycogen is also great at storing water.
Researchers have found that your body can store an additional three ounces of water for each ounce of glycogen. This is the primary cause of the excess water weight you can gain after a hike. So, if you have been carbo-loading before your hike and stayed hydrated through the hike, don't be surprised when you get on the scale the next day and see that you’ve gained a few pounds. If you drink a lot of water, the weight you gain could be a significant amount.
Gaining Muscle Mass Can Lead to Weight Gain After a Hike
Hiking is an endurance activity, and as such, hiking promotes muscle growth. As we mentioned earlier, muscle weighs more than fat which will cause a slight weight gain in certain circumstances. For example, fat burns faster than you can build muscle. So if you’re watching your calorie intake during and after a hike, you will steadily lose weight until your body reaches a plateau where it feels comfortable with its fat-to-muscle ratio. As you continue to hike and exercise after you hit this fat loss plateau, you’ll start to gain more muscle than you lose fat. This is where you’ll start to see weight gain due to increased muscle mass.
Aerobic exercises, like hiking, are commonly believed to improve your lung and heart health. While this is true, aerobic exercises also increase your skeletal muscle mass while also increasing the number of proteins that help build muscle growth.
Why "Post-Hike Hunger" Can Lead to Substantial Weight Gain
The average person will burn 300 to 800 calories an hour while hiking, which is a lot. If you’re backpacking, you can expect to burn even more calories the more weight you carry. The rate at which you burn calories while hiking is nearly 400% higher than your regular activities like working or driving.
The massive amount of calories you’re burning while hiking is the key culprit to feeling very hungry after you finish your hike. Your body uses calories as fuel, and burning that fuel will make you want to refill your gas tank, so to speak. If you plan on hiking to lose weight, you’ll need to carefully watch what you eat after returning home. Your body will look for high-calorie foods to replenish its tank, and if you give in to these urges, you can gain unwanted weight easily.
However, if you’re in the shape you want to be in, maybe your main goal is to explore or hike to your favorite spot that provides a beautiful view. In cases like this, you want to be prepared by bringing snacks like protein bars, granola bars, nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. The goal is to consume roughly the same amount of calories you’re burning to avoid post-hike hunger.
Long-Term Changes in Appetite After Hiking
Something else you should be aware of is the possible changes in your appetite that you can experience after going on a long hike. Many hikers describe their appetite changing in one of two ways. Most of these hikers report that their appetite increased significantly for days or even weeks after a long hike. At the same time, some hikers have said their appetite has decreased. But why does this happen?
There are many reasons why you might not feel hungry while you’re on your hike. For example, you might not be interested in the snacks you brought, or you might be hyper-focused on accomplishing your goal by finishing your hike. But also, hiking is an endurance exercise, and it’s common for people doing endurance activities not to feel hungry during or after the exercise.
However, when it comes to feeling super hungry, it’s because you’re experiencing a metabolism boost. Another reason why you’re feeling hungry after a hike is that you didn't consume enough calories during the hike.
How to Avoid Gaining Weight After a Long Hike?
The first thing to remember is that your body will burn fat and build muscle mass when hiking. As your body gains more muscle, your metabolism will increase, which means you will burn more calories while doing regular activities and exercising. The best way to maintain your weight loss while still promoting muscle growth is to monitor your calorie intake while exercising more. It would be best if you had a diet that focuses on eating fruits and vegetables while also consuming foods that provide protein to promote muscle growth.
Water weight is a little bit more complicated in a few different ways. First, while hiking, you’ll need to replenish your water intake since you’ll likely be sweating a lot. As you continue to hike, you need to consume more water to keep you hydrated while also reducing inflammation, flushing sodium from your body, and aiding in muscle repair. Drinking water will also make your body feel full and help prevent you from overeating during your hike.
However, if you’ve been carbo-loading, drinking lots of water during your hike can cause unwanted weight gain. This is because glycogen helps the body store more water. Thankfully, water weight is not indicative of your true weight and is caused by excess water storage. Storing extra glycogen and water is great anyway because it will keep you hydrated and give you the energy you need for those longer hikes. Furthermore, water weight fluctuates daily based on the amount of water you’re consuming, and losing the extra water weight is very easy. All you need to do is consume less water or go out for a run which will cause you to sweat out a bunch of that excess water.
Managing Your Caloric Intake While Hiking
Hiking to lose weight might seem simple. The more you hike, the more you lose weight. However, managing your caloric intake can be a delicate and difficult process. Many people will experience not being hungry during or after their hike, and while this might seem better for those who are trying to lose weight, it's not. The longer you wait to eat and replenish your calories, the more your body would want to eat food that has a lot of calories, like fatty or sugary foods.
If you’re someone who does very well at controlling your urges, this might not be a horrible idea, but it’s still unhealthy. For most people, we highly recommend bringing some kind of healthy snack with you on your hikes for a few reasons. First, snacks will help keep your calorie tank filled with fuel your body can burn, and with enough fuel to burn, you can’t run out of energy on your hike.
Thankfully, you can bring many healthy snacks that will help replenish some of the calories you’re burning. Some good options include:
Granola Bars: 100 to 300 calories per serving
Protein Bars: 100 to 400 calories per serving
Dried Fruit: Up to 500 calories per serving
Fruit Snacks: 90 to 140 calories per serving
Nuts and Seeds: 120 to 250 calories per serving
Beef Jerky: 70 to 150 calories per serving
Gaining weight after going on a hike is a real factor for some people. However, if you take the proper precautions to prepare yourself with adequate snacks and water, you can avoid this. To sum up, there are three ways you can gain weight after a hike: increased water weight, building up muscle mass, and overconsuming through post-hike hunger.
Water weight is not a huge deal, but it’s the most common reason to gain weight after a hike. But if you limit your water consumption and continue to exercise, you will sweat out the excess water. Also, gaining muscle mass is always a good thing, and you shouldn't be worried if you've been losing weight, then start slowly gaining weight after your hikes. Finally, you should always opt for some healthy snacks with you on your hikes, and be sure that you take short breaks to have a bite to eat while hiking.