“On a busy day filled with classes and training, I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I’m still so hungry at the end of the day.” “I feel more tired and sore than normal since my season has started.” “I feel like I’m fit, but I’m gassed halfway through practice.” These are some common reasons that our student athletes reach out to us for nutrition coaching. Most of the time, we find that the reason for the fatigue, sore muscles, and hunger is that they are not eating enough to meet their energy needs. Three meals per day is not enough fuel for a student athlete, and smart snacking often becomes the solution to many of these common issues. Read on to see 10 healthy snacks for athletes that will help maximize performance and satisfy hunger!
10 Healthy Snacks for Athletes
1. Trail mix – It doesn’t get much easier than trail mix. It’s portable, super simple to make, and customizable to fit your tastes. Include nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds and pecans for healthy fats. Adding dried fruit, such as raisins, dates, figs, prunes, apricots, peaches, and bananas provide easily digestible carbs that provide quick energy for when you’re on the go. You can also add in your own favorite small snacks and seasoning for texture and flavor, such as chocolate chips, pretzels, coconut flakes, cereal, popcorn, or roasted chickpeas.
2. PB + banana + honey sandwich- This sandwich makes a great post-workout snack, as it provides a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. It’s also portable and convenient, making it an excellent option to take on the road or pack in your bag. Got peanut allergies or don’t like peanut butter? Substitute with any other nut or seed butter, such as almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower butter! P.S. Apples, raisins, and dates make delicious alternatives to the banana!
3. Smoothie– Smoothies can be perfect after a tough training session, especially if you deal with a decrease in appetite after training. They also provide adequate carbs, quality protein, and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, which is exactly what your body needs after an intense workout or competition. Fruit, milk, and additional items like oats provide carbs necessary to replenish energy stores to get you ready for your next practice or competition. Milk and yogurt or dairy-free alternatives that are soy-based or fortified with pea protein are a good source of protein to optimize muscle recovery and repair. You can further increase the protein content by adding in a protein powder. Just be sure that it has third party testing certifications, such as NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport!
4. Fruit + turkey or salmon jerky– Do you see the theme yet? Unless it’s an hour before training and the focus is solely on consuming easily digestible carbs, we want to balance our snacks with protein and carbohydrates to promote recovery and replenish energy stores. If you are working out intensely and losing a lot of sodium through sweat, jerky can help replenish those electrolyte stores and provide high quality protein. Bonus: jerky doesn’t have to be refrigerated so it’s perfect to take on the go!
5. Whole- food based energy bars- Energy bars are pretty versatile and can be a convenient snack between meals or pre/post workout. However, not all energy bars are built alike! Opt for bars that provide nutrients through whole food sources, such as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and oats. Check out our packaged snack e-guide to see our favorite energy bars and more!
6. Chocolate milk- You may have heard that chocolate milk is the ultimate healthy snack for athletes post-workout. There may be some truth to that. Research suggests that the 4:1 carb to protein ratio present in chocolate milk can help aid post-workout/competition recovery in athletes. More research needs to be done, but consuming chocolate milk immediately after exercise and 2 hours post- exercise may be optimal to promote recovery and lessen muscle damage. Plus it tastes amazing!
7. Greek yogurt parfait- The equation is simple: Greek yogurt/dairy-free yogurt + fruit + granola. This delicious snack packs a protein punch with 12 + grams per cup (if you opt for non-dairy, pick a soy or pea protein based yogurt to ensure adequate protein). It also contains probiotics, which may aid in providing good gut bacteria. Evidence shows that having an optimal balance of gut bacteria may benefit athletes by lowering inflammation, aiding in recovery, and maintaining healthy GI function!
8. Salmon/tuna pouches + crackers- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna provide the two key forms of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which play roles in brain and heart health, as well as immune function. A recent study showed that only 6% of NCAA Division I athletes surveyed meet the recommended 500 mg servings of DHA and EPA per day! Salmon and tuna pouches provide a serving of DHA + EPA along with high quality protein. If you don’t eat fish, reach out to our RDs to ask about omega 3 supplementation!
9. Veggies and hummus- Hummus is a rich source of healthy fats and fiber, as well as a good source of plant protein. Crunchy veggies, like carrots, bell peppers, and celery, pair well with this creamy chickpea-based dip.
10. Oatmeal- Oatmeal is a blank canvas rich in carbs and fiber waiting to be topped with your favorite add-ins. You can add dried fruit and nuts/nut butter for a sweet treat, stir in protein powder to increase the protein content, or even top with avocado and an egg if savory is your jam! For only an extra 5 minutes the night before training, you can make overnight oats to save yourself time and take on the go with you! Need inspiration? Check out 3 of our favorite overnight oats recipes in our blog post!
These healthy snacks for athletes are some common favorites, but we understand that every athlete has unique tastes, preferences, and individualized goals. For more ideas on how to plan snacks for performance, download our performance snacking e-guide!