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Healthy Snacks for Athletes

Fueling as an athlete can be a struggle.  With hours of practice, meetings, and other obligations, it can be hard to get the right nutrition. With that being said, snacks can be key. However, like everything else the task of finding the “perfect snack” for athletes can be daunting. 

Luckily there are lots of awesome options out there.  Today I’m breaking down the best snacks, the not so good snacks, and quick tips on how to snack like the pros!

Components of healthy snacks for athletes

When finding the perfect snack, pairing food groups is essential!  Options that have a combination of components such as carbs + protein, carb + fat, or all three offer more value than a snack that only has one macronutrient.  Why?

Carbs give us fuel. 

When carbs are consumed, they are broken down into simple sugars called glucose, fructose and galactose. These simple sugars then goes into the bloodstream and provide energy (skipping the super sciency stuff for your reading delight lol). 

Protein improves satiety and aids in growth and repair for muscles. 

Protein is composed of building blocks called amino acids.  Our body is able to produce some amino acids, but some must come from diet. Amino acids are needed for building proteins, synthesizing hormones and neurotransmitters, and several other vital functions. 

Fat helps absorb nutrients and is essential for the body to function properly.

Fat is needed to help with digestion and absorption of the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K).(1)  Fat also provides essential fatty acids, nutrients that the body cannot create itself which are key for processes such as hormone production. Essential fatty acids are needed for cell structure, gene transcription, and to provide the body with energy. (2)

Combining 2-3 of the macronutrients in snacks ensures that the body is getting the nutrients it needs for energy, muscle maintenance, and healthy recovery for athletes.

Healthy snacks for busy athletes 

Snacking can look a little different depending on an athlete’s goal, time of day, or training cycles. Whether you need carbs, protein, fat, or all three, we’ve got you covered! Here are JUST A FEW some sample macronutrient bucket fillers for quick reference!

Healthy Carb Bucket Snacks:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Greens
  • Whole grain cereals or crackers
  • Oats

Healthy Fat Bucket Snacks:

  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Chia seeds
  • Olives
  • Peanut butter

Healthy Protein Bucket Snacks:

  • Beef Jerky
  • On-the-Go Tuna packet
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Low Fat String Cheese
  • Hard boiled eggs

Triple Play Bucket (All three macros):

Consulting with a sports dietitian to learn how your specific snack breakdown should look is key to success with this.

Snacks to limit

Foods that are highly processed, high in fat, and loaded in sugar, may taste delicious, but are the ones athlete’s should limit. It is not that these foods should NEVER be consumed, but rather in small portions and ideally not right before practice or competition.  These types of food will not give your body the energy needed to get through workouts or competitions and may lead to less than optimal recovery. (3)

Not only does consuming these types of food slow down performance, consumption can lead to complications down the road like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  (4)

Snacks to limit:

  • Heavy gravies and cream sauces
  • Fried foods
  • High fat sweets (donuts, cookies, candy, cake)
  • Soda 
  • Energy drinks and/or bars
  • Sugary cereal

More tips for healthy snacking

When it comes to snacking, nutrition matters!  These simple tips apply to most athletes snacking, but consult with your sports dietitian for more specific recommendations.

  1. Read the labels. To promote optimal protein synthesis, shoot for 0.25-0.30 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per meal. (5) This is roughly 20-30 grams for most individuals. 
  2. Do not try any NEW snacks before competition.  This could result in GI distress, utilize practice/training to get things right.
  3. Keep it simple.  Your snacks do not need to be perfect, and it’s better to consume something quick rather than skipping all together.
  4. Plan ahead.  If you know you will not have time to pick up or prepare a snack during a busy day, consider preparing and portioning your snacks ahead of time!
  5. Don’t forget about hydration. It is absolutely just as important to drink throughout the day as it is to eat.  Make sure you are drinking fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated. (6)

Wrap Up

Snacking is a healthy component to any athlete’s diet.  Snacking smarter does not have to be difficult and can make a world of difference in energy levels.  For more great snack ideas, and to see how we can make this personalized to you check out our performance program here!

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