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Healthy Snacks For Athletes

I am asked time and time again about the best snacks for athletes so here’s an ultimate post geared towards good snacks for athletes. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or other athlete, hopefully this post will be helpful for you!

I consider myself an expert on “snacking” because as a collegiate athlete, I earned the nickname “snacks,” as I was always prepared when hunger hit.

Now, as a Registered Dietitian, I counsel clients on the importance of healthy snacks and preparation around competition. From breakfasts for athletes, to lunches for runners, to easy dinners, I share it all.

As you can imagine, there are a slew of different snack options available, so let’s break them down to figure out the best snacks for different athletes!

holding healthy cereal bars with peanut butter and cheerios and nuts

Snacking is important and NORMAL (yes, even a healthy late night snack). Focusing on nutrient-dense snacks as good snacks for athletes is even more important for sport and competition.

The fact of the matter is, whether you’re doing a pyramid speed workout, training for a marathon, or eating before a soccer game, all of these principles still apply. 

Finding Good Snacks For Athletes 

Whether you decide to make your own snacks (I’ve got plenty of recipes for that), or purchase them to save time and have some on hand, I’ve got the best list of ideas for you. 

The first piece of having some of the best snacks for athletes on hand is stocking your pantry with them! Here’s an example athlete grocery list that you can print.

Athletes have higher needs than the general population, so using healthy snacks to support those needs is essential. Starting with a nutritious breakfast is important, and then continuing to eat well throughout the day will yield the most benefits. 

glass bowl of ingredients to make baked oatmeal with strawberries

It’s very difficult to meet an athlete’s high energy needs through three meals a day only. It would probably leave you unfulfilled, hungry, or extra full for hours if we only relied on three meals. 

Therefore, the importance of good snacks for athletes is undeniable. Healthy foods are necessary in order to replenish energy stores and fuel performance during exercise or competition.

However, finding the right food can be difficult since many popular options may not have the ideal nutrient makeup. Let’s talk about what makes up balanced athlete snacks.

So, If you’re looking for some creative ideas on what to pack in your gym bag or backpack, we have compiled a list here of our favorite options.

thrive market block

Pairing Food Groups

When working 1-1 with athletes, I rarely recommend eating just one food group along, unless it’s a quick pre-workout snack. In that case, aim for mostly carbohydrates. 

Otherwise, we’re usually talking about pairing food groups. For example, carbohydrates + protein, or carbohydrates + fat. 

We pair food group for many reasons, such as:

  • Each food group has a different purpose. Carbohydrates help energy levels while providing fiber, while protein can help sustain that energy and reduce muscle loss. 
  • Pairing foods can taste better
  • Combining snacks offers more nutrients
  • Pairing foods also helps meet high energy levels more easily. 
graphic for healthy snacks for athletes

What Are Some Healthy Snacks For Athletes?

Athletes need to eat well in order to keep up their performance and recovery. This usually translates to high carbohydrate snacks and foods, but protein is also an important part of the recovery. 

Snack choices will also depend on if it’s a pre or post workout snack. Here are some differences in pre workout vs post workout nutrition.

Aiming for consistent protein intake throughout the day is important, and finding easy high protein options, like these high protein overnight oats

Eating a variety of foods is key, but it’s important to make sure that they’re also nutritious and not just empty calories so you get more bang for your buck. 

mason jar with oats, cottage cheese, hemp seeds and cinnamon with spoon mixed in

Healthy Storebought Options

My favorite go-to for the best storebought snacks for athletes is Thrive Market. They have so many fun and nutritious options, plus they are shipped right to your door. 

Here are 11 of my favorites.

  1. Peanut Butter Filled Nuggets – Athletes love a good salty snack, and these peanut butter pretzel nuggets are just that. They work as a great pre game snack for athletes, with 12 pretzels offering 110 calories and 19 grams of carbohydrates. 
  2. Dried Mango / Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is a great portable option that provides much of the same benefit as fresh fruit, but lasts longer. Dried fruit, like raisins, are also higher in iron and provide quick energy for your cells to use. 
  3. Jerky – There are so many jerky options on the market now, whether you prefer beef, turkey or even salmon. Jerky provides an easy protein snack for athletes, while also providing some necessary sodium and small amounts of micronutrients, like iron.
  4. Frooze Balls – These energy balls are great for pre or post workout, or even for an energy pick me up throughout the day. Great flavors to choose from!
  5. Protein Power Balls – Similar to frooze balls, pre-made plant based protein balls already made for you. I love sticking these in the fridge and pairing with some cheese or nuts. 
  6. Bobo’s Stuffed Bars – High in carbs and protein, these bars are great for high energy needs, and providing a balanced snack on their own between meals or after a workout session. 
  7. Power Snacks / Protein Bites – Get protein along with heart-healthy unsaturated fats in these cocoa bites!
  8. Sprouted Trail Mix – A great blend of carbs, fat and protein in this tasty and portable trail mix. Add it on yogurt or oatmeal for a larger snack. 
  9. Ancient Grains Granola – Granola is a great snack for athletes because it’s carb-based and can be full of healthy fats from nuts and seeds, as well as dried fruit. So many flavors to choose from. 
  10. Superfood Oats – These are a fantastic snack to have hours before a workout because they are high in carbs and have a moderate amount of protein. 
  11. Whisp Cheese Crisps – High in sodium and protein, these are great after a workout. Pair with your favorite fruit. 
Enjoy Life Protein Bites

green graphic for intuitive eating for athletes guide

Homemade Snacks for Athletes

Don’t sleep on the ease of homemade athlete snacks. Like the storebought snacks, many of these also work as healthy snacks for athletes on the go. 

  1. Easy Trailmix Bars – make your own and customize them as you please.
  2. 3 Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies – easy and ready quickly. Great as a pre workout snack. 
  3. No Bake Healthy Snacks – So many of these are great before a workout and don’t require any baking to make. 
  4. Peanut Butter Coffee Smoothie – great for a post workout morning snack or a pick me up during the day. 
  5. Maple Cinnamon Granola – Great to carry and snack on before a workout, or after a workout paired with yogurt and cottage cheese. 
stack of 3 ingredient vegan banana cookies

High Carb Snacks for Athletes

Carbohydrates are the primary macronutrient group that fuel activity, so it only makes sense that we aim for higher carbohydrate snacks. Read more about why I wouldn’t recommend a low carb diet for running here. 

When runners are carb loading, having high carb, low fiber snacks available can be helpful. 

Carbs are helpful for glycogen storage for longer endurance events, but they are also important after the event in helping with recovery meals for athletes.

Some options include:

Steelcut Banana Oatmeal topped with banana slices and cinnamon on white counter | Bucket List Tummy
Banana Peach Steel Cut Oatmeal

Snacks For Different Types of Athletes and Activity 

Having a variety of snacks for sports is important, and preferences and nutrient composition may vary slightly depending on the type of sport and age.

I won’t break down all of the sports but will give some prime examples, based on the clients I work with.

Snacks for Runners

Endurance athletes, like runners and cyclists, may be able to use higher sugar snack options very quickly.

So as you can imagine, healthy running snacks are typically high-carb, so they can support endurance activity, making them good snack options for runners. 

I also have plenty of homemade snacks for runners recipes on my site that I make often!

Chocolate Pomegranate Energy Bites | These Chocolate Pomegranate Healthy No-Bake Energy Balls are the perfect high-fiber on-the-go snack, naturally sweetened with dates. Not only are they full of antioxidants, but they are gluten-free and can be made vegan. 

Here are some great options for pre-run:

  • Applesauce Packets – high in easy to digest carbs, these can help top off your glycogen stores before or during a long run!
  • Medjool Dates – These are a great “real food” for runners during long runs or just before a run. Full of carbs and other micronutrients. 
  • Sports Drinks – Ones that provide carbs and electrolytes for running are essential! Or, you can make your own electrolyte drink
  • Gels, Chews – Yes, high in sugar = quick energy for muscles to use. These are typically easy to digest, but you may have to try a few different brands to find what works, especially if you suffer from GI distress or runners stomach.
  • 5 Ingredient Peanut Butter Energy Bites – with ginger, these are anti-inflammatory and may help minimize gut issues, and made with real food for pre run.

Snacks for Soccer Players

These snacks are a little higher energy to support strength and endurance sports, so can work as snacks for soccer players or even snacks for football players.

They’re also great high energy snacks for athletes on the go. Many of these work well as snacks for teenage athletes.

  • Bobo’s Bars – Aim for half of a bar during halftime or save it for after your competition. 
  • Superfood Oats – Great to have 1-2 hours before a game or competition. Top off your glycogen stores with a little bit of protein. Add more fruit for extra carbs. 
  • Protein Granola – Easy protein granola is a great grab and go snack for football and strength sports.
  • Zucchini Almond Flour Muffins – These are great for soccer players a few hours before practice because they have extra fat with the carbs to keep them satiated.

Tips For Packing Snacks

Lastly, let’s discuss easy ways to plan ahead and pack snacks, since generally, people forget to do this!

  • Never leave the house without snacks! Even if you think you’ll be gone for a short time, having emergency snacks on hand is important because you never know what can happen. Throw them in the diaper bag, your purse, sports bag, car, desk at work, etc.
  • Consider portable snack bags, like these stasher bags.
  • Make sure you have portable options on hand, like bars, bites, dried fruit, trail mix, etc.
  • Keep snacks near your water bottle so you remember to pack them and eat them when you drink water!
  • Get in the habit of having a pre and/or post workout snack. If you’re traveling to workout or practice, make sure a snack is part of the recovery plan.
holding healthy cereal bars with peanut butter and cheerios and nuts

Do you have any other tips for packing snacks?

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