Use this list of portable, nutrient-rich snacks to help you stay fueled, energized and prepared for sports practice, training and competition.
DISCLOSURE: This blog post was sponsored by Jack Links Protein Snacks. I received compensation but all ideas, snack options and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
If you’ve ever stopped at a sporting event concession stand, you know what the food options are like. The menu usually consists of pizza, donuts, chips and other snacks that don’t typically make my list of healthy fuel for athletes – especially athletes looking for fuel in-between competitions or post-workout recovery. Unfortunately, lack of preparation and packing healthy snacks leaves some athletes dependent on the foods sold at concession stands for their fuel. My advice -don’t!
As much as I’d love to see healthy food choices sold at these events, those lower-nutrient foods are likely here to stay. Many high school and youth athletic clubs rely on the money made at the concession stand to support the club. Like it or not, donuts make more money than fresh fruit. The fact is, relying on what’s available to make your food choices is a bad idea. If you want to make sure you have healthy options to fuel your body, pack your own food and fluids. That goes for practice, training, competition and travel.
What Makes a Snack The Right Choice For Athletes?
Snacks should do more than fill your stomach, they should contribute nutrients to support growth, development, health and sports performance. That means creating snacks that include a combination of foods, so that you get a variety of nutrients.
The most important macronutrients for athletes are carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose that are used for energy by both the brain and muscles. Protein is needed to build and repair body tissues – including muscles. Snacks that provide both carbohydrates and protein are ideal for growing athletes. I share more about this in my post on creating a balanced meal plan.
In addition to those macronutrients, snacks should also supply some vitamins and minerals. Remember, healthy snacks should contribute to your daily nutrition, as well as support sports performance.
Ten Portable Snacks For Athletes
To help you choose healthy snacks, I created a list of easy snacks that you can pack and take with you on the go. These are items that you can eat at home, or pack with you between classes in school, or quickly eat after-school and before practice. Some items will require you to have a mini cooler and an ice pack to keep them cool, while others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. They all provide a combination of protein and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to support training, performance and health.
Hard-Boiled Egg with a Flour Tortilla
Hard-boiled eggs are a great portable protein option for those on the go. One egg provides between 7-9 grams of protein, depending on the size of your egg. Smash your hard-boiled eggs into a flour tortilla for a quick carbohydrate plus protein packed snack that you can take with you on the go.
Simple Smoothie Recipe
Smoothies are very easy to make and – when made right – offer a great snack for between meals. This simple blueberry protein smoothie is made with only three ingredients – Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries and skim milk. If you’re an athlete that doesn’t have a lot of time between school and practice, but does get to stop at home, whip up this smoothie for quick energy before heading back out the door. Try this basic blueberry protein smoothie.
Beef Jerky and Grapes
Beef jerky is a convenient and portable protein powerhouse. It comes shelf-stable (great to keep on-hand in your pantry!) and is easy to grab-and-go. Jack Link’s Beef Jerky (my favorite!) is available just about anywhere and comes in a wide range of flavors and options. The teriyaki flavor beef jerky (pictured) provides 11 grams of protein per ounce, and also provides a small amount of carbohydrates to support energy needs. You can check out their full line of protein snacks on their website, including options like a zero sugar variety or on-the-go bars in 100% beef or chicken varieties. Pair a protein-packed snack like these with a cup of grapes for a quick, portable carbohydrate.
Turkey Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread with a Side of Strawberries
Don’t forget about the ease of a simple sandwich. Whole grain breads are a great way to add fiber and flavor to your diet and is a great energy source for exercise. The turkey provides the protein source, and you can top with lettuce, tomato and other vegetables for added nutrition. If you’re an athlete that has to take your food in the morning for after-school, dinner or post-recovery fuel, I suggest packing the components of your sandwich separately. Put your bread in its own bag and pack your turkey and vegetables in a separate container. That prevents your bread from getting soggy and it helps to keep your vegetables crispy. Assemble your sandwich right before it’s time to eat. Add a side of strawberries for nutrition.
Greek Yogurt Topped with Fruit and Granola
Greek yogurt bowls are made with similar ingredients as smoothies, but don’t require you to have a blender. For a quick balanced snack, put plain or flavored Greek yogurt in a bowl and top with granola and fruit. Greek yogurt is a great source of high-quality protein, and the granola and fruit add carbohydrates, fiber and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. If taking reusable to-go containers isn’t your thing, you can also buy individual yogurt cups and take the toppings with you.
Hummus with Naan Bread and Vegetables
Another great snack combination is hummus paired with veggies and Naan bread. Hummus alone doesn’t have as much protein as other foods on this list, but it’s a great way to incorporating some plant-based protein to your eating plan. A ¼ cup serving of classic hummus provides ~5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. It also provides iron, phosphorus and a variety of other vitamins and minerals that athletes need. Pair it will raw vegetables and Naan bread for a great snack. This is a great option if you are vegetarian or vegan, or simply don’t eat animal products. Try this homemade classic hummus recipe.
Tuna Salad and Vegetable Stuffed Pita
Sandwiches, wraps and pitas make eating healthy on the go easy. They also make a great vehicle for adding vegetables to your snack. Just 2-ounces of albacore tuna fish provides ~13-14 grams of protein. If you are eating this within 1-1 ½ hours of practice, you’ll want to keep your dietary fat intake low, so I suggest mixing it with a reduced-fat mayonnaise. Stuff it into a pita with your favorite vegetables, and you have a balanced snack to hold you over to your next meal.
Homemade Trail Mix
Not all trail mixes are created equal, so be careful with store-bought varieties. A healthy snack for athletes should include protein, and most store-bought options don’t offer much. Instead, make your own. This homemade trail mix includes roasted soy beans which help get the protein content to 9 grams per ½ cup serving. It’s mixed with salty pretzels, mini chocolate chips and dried fruit so you get enough carbohydrates to fuel your workout. Put ½ cup serving into a container for an easy snack to eat in school, or as a post-exercise snack. You can boost the protein content of this snack even more incorporating beef jerky or beef bars into the mix. Just cut them up into bite-sized bits and combine them with the other ingredients. Try this protein-packed trail mix recipe.
Homemade Energy Bars
Many athletes need a healthy snack during the school day, but don’t have a lot of time to eat it. That’s where energy bars come in handy. There are loads of store-bought varieties on the market, but they don’t all provide the right balance of carbs and protein to fuel athletes – and oftentimes sneak in unnecessary ingredients like sugar. Making homemade bars allows you to control the ingredients and the portions that are right for you. This homemade energy bar recipe is in my book, Fueling Young Athletes, and was made specifically for busy athletes on the go. Make a batch in advance and wrap them individually, so you have a healthy, portable snack to take with you. Try these homemade crunchy energy bars.
Cereal and Milk with Fruit
Another quick snack idea is a good old bowl of cereal. I recommend bran cereal that has at least 50% of your daily needs for iron because that’s an important, and often missed mineral in the diet of athletes. Cut up a few strawberries to add some sweetness and nutrition to your bowl, then top with milk. If you consume all of your snacks outside of your home, you can take all of these items with you. Put a few strawberries in a bag, pour some dry cereal in a sealed bowl and pack a container of portable shelf-stable milk. When you’re ready to eat, put the strawberries and milk in the bowl with the cereal and eat.
Remember, these snack ideas are meant to add valuable nutrition between meals. To understand the best snacks to eat before exercise, training and competition, read my post on Performance Fueling: What To Eat Before Training. I also share more snack ideas in my book, Fueling Young Athletes.
What are some of your favorite snacks?