With the changing of seasons, the way you spend time outdoors changes, too. You pack extra layers when you head out on the trail. You shorten your adventures to get back before dark. Your activities change as fall progresses — you plan your final fall rides while you prep for ski season.
In addition to the changes in weather, activity, and gear, you also notice a change in your cravings. When you’re out on the trail in cold weather, you feel less thirsty — and hungrier.
The meals and snacks that powered your summer adventures don’t have the same appeal anymore. Light snacks and cold salads won’t cut it. Instead, you’re craving hearty, comforting foods and piping hot drinks.
Hearty fall foods play a role in keeping your batteries charged when you're exercising in the cold — but it’s important to know what foods will fuel your body best.
If you’re smart about what you eat, you can enjoy both nutritious, energy-dense snacks and those favorite fall flavors that warm you from the inside out.
Why Do Your Cravings Change When It Gets Cold Outside?
It’s not just the smell of pumpkin spice that sets your fall cravings in motion. There are scientific reasons your eating preferences change with the seasons.
First of all, with colder weather comes the need for more calories. Your body has to work harder to stay warm, and it burns more calories in the process. You might notice you feel more hungry in colder weather.
In addition, the lack of sunlight in many parts of the country means your body will seek energy and mood boosters from other sources. Craving rich, comforting foods in the winter is evolutionarily wired into your brain because it boosts your mood and delivers lots of energy.
When you spend a lot of time outside, properly fueling and hydrating your body is important year-round. And when the weather changes in the fall, you’ll want to make a few changes to suit these cold-weather cravings while giving your body what it needs to perform.
Fall Trail Snacking Tips
When summer ends, apple strudel sounds better than a salad or smoothie. That’s okay, but you should still be conscious about making sure you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs.
As Nutritionist Abbi Hamlin (wildlywellabbi.com) explains, “As an athlete and Sports Nutritionist, I realize that fueling your body in the winter months can sometimes be a challenge. Your cravings seem to ramp up, and Holiday treats fill the shelves. When we dive into it, there are reasons for the shifts in your hunger...but there are ways to stay healthy, and make wise choices all year long. I encourage clients to prioritize Vitamin D, complex carbs, and healthy fats. It's also important to make sure protein levels are adequate all year round, and that as athletes we are staying hydrated through the colder months."
Oh, and don’t forget to hydrate. You’ll feel less thirsty when the temperature drops, but dehydration is still a big risk in the cold, dry, air. If you’re worried about your water getting too cold to drink, use an insulated reservoir to keep it from freezing.
Below, we’re breaking down the types of foods you’ll want to eat before, during, and after your fall outdoor adventures.
Before you exercise
If you’re planning ahead for a big day on the trail, you can start thinking about optimal foods the night before. Complex carbohydrates make up a good pre-adventure dinner. You’ll digest them more slowly, and they’ll provide energy over a longer period of time. Beans, vegetables, and whole grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates.
For breakfast, make sure you’re eating some protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates. Right before you head out, eat a snack containing carbs and a little protein, but not much fat. Fruit, crackers, or toast with nut butter are all good pre-exercise snacks.
During your exercise
When exercising in colder weather, your food should check a few boxes:
- Bring foods you’ll actually want to eat in the cold
- Bring foods that aren’t difficult to eat in the cold — and are accessible with cold, possibly gloved hands
- Bring foods that won’t become unpleasant or inedible because of the col
Of course, the nutritional value of the food you bring is equally important. Your snacks and meals should be rich in salt, healthy fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
- Salty foods, like broth, are important to replenish your body when you sweat.
- Healthy fat, like you’d find in avocado, acts like a slow-burning energy source.
- Carbs — in fruit, for example — keep your energy up.
- Protein-rich foods, like jerky, are important for muscle recovery.
During your exercise, you can go the extra mile and bring a thermos of something hot (or bring a stove to cook on the go). Your body will appreciate the hot food, so if you have the space, it’s worth it.
Having enough food to sustain you is even more important in cold weather. Plan for emergencies by stashing a handful of extra energy bars in your pack.
After your exercise
After you return from your chilly fall adventure, it’s important to refuel so your body can recover. Protein is important post-exercise because it rebuilds muscle. Good sources of protein include meat, eggs, and beans.
You’ll also want to refuel on carbohydrates — like whole grains, fruits, and veggies — since they help you recover after exercise.
And of course, you’ll likely be cold. Hot dishes and drinks will warm you up in a flash.
Our Favorite Fall Snacks and Treats
Nutrition aside, fall is a cozy season with lots of comforting, warming flavors. You should definitely take advantage of all the delicious seasonal foods this time of year. Warm up with hot apple cider, sprinkle cinnamon in your oatmeal, add canned pumpkin to your baked goods, and snack on crisp apples with nut butter.
Looking for more fall snacks to add to your pack and treats to indulge in after a ride? Here are some of our favorites:
While you exercise:
When you’re ready to celebrate, indulge, and refuel:
There’s nothing better than enjoying a warm and delicious meal after a cold day outside. Feel free to indulge in your favorite fall treats — as long as you’re refueling your body with what it needs.
Fuel Your Body — And Treat Yourself — With Comforting and Nutritious Fall Foods
As the weather and seasons change, so do your nutritional needs. When you’re exercising in the cold, you’ll need more calories to stay warm and active. And without the sun beating down on you, dehydration tends to sneak up on you.
Keep your body’s needs in mind while enjoying fall foods. It’s a beautiful — and delicious — time of year, so get out and enjoy it.