Balanced Snack Ideas for Busy Athletes
It can be helpful for athletes to have ideas for how to build a balanced snack that supports their sports nutrition needs. Let’s take a look at the nutrients that athletes should include in a balanced snack. Then we will explore a variety of balanced snack ideas for athletes.
How to Build a Balanced Snack
For busy athletes, snacks can be an opportune way to help fill nutrient gaps in their diet. To create a balanced snack, athletes should aim to combine a food that provides a good source of carbohydrates with a food providing a lean source of protein.
In addition to carbohydrates and protein, athletes can use snacks as an opportunity to add healthy fats to their sports nutrition meal plan.
Let’s take a look at how athletes can build snacks that contain carbohydrates, protein, as well as healthy fats.
Balanced Snack Components: Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to perform at their best. Similar to gas in a car, carbohydrates provide the body with fuel to run on. There are a variety of ways athletes can add carbohydrates to their snacks, including: fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, milk, and yogurt.
Balanced Snack Ideas: Add in Fruit
Fruit is a great way for athletes to add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to their snacks. Different types of fruit provide different nutritional benefits. Thus, athletes should aim to enjoy a variety of fruits in their snacks throughout the week
Whole fresh fruit, such as apples, pears, bananas, grapes, berries, cherries, oranges, peaches, plums, and pears are all easy, nutritious additions to an athlete’s snack. In addition to whole fruit, athletes can take time on the weekend to slice melon or chop pineapple to enjoy with snacks throughout the week.
Aside from fresh fruit, athletes should also keep a variety of frozen fruit on hand. Frozen fruit is flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness so it maintains a high nutrient content. Frozen strawberries, mixed berries, mango chunks, diced pineapple, or sliced peaches can all be easily thawed and make a nutritious addition to an athlete’s snack.
Athletes can also use frozen fruit to prepare a post-workout fruit smoothie, include as an ingredient in protein overnight oats, or mix into Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for a high-protein snack option.
Dried and Canned Fruit
Dried fruit is another nutritious way for athletes to add carbohydrates to their snacks. Athletes can consider adding dried fruit to trail mix or a bowl of cereal to create a balanced snack. The following dried fruits are all healthy options for athletes to enjoy with their snacks:
- Apple Slices
Applesauce and canned fruit can also be an easy way to boost the carbohydrate content of an athlete’s snack. Applesauce pouches are a great option when athletes need a quick and easy snack on-the-go. If athletes are purchasing canned fruit, they should select fruit that is packed in natural juices rather than heavy syrup for a more nutritious option.
Balanced Snack Ideas: Starchy Vegetables
In addition to fruit, starchy vegetables can be a great way to add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to an athlete’s snack. Consider starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, and legumes as healthy snack additions.
Ideas for incorporating starchy vegetables into snacks include roasted potato or sweet potato wedges, black bean dip, hummus, and roasted chickpeas. Of note, beans and legumes have the added benefit of contributing both carbohydrates and protein to an athlete’s snack.
Although non-starchy vegetables provide less carbohydrates than the starchy varieties listed above, they are an excellent way to add vitamins and minerals to a balanced snack.
The following non-starchy vegetables can all be nutritious additions to an athlete’s snack:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Baby carrots
- Sliced cucumber
- Celery sticks
- Sugar snap peas
- Mini peppers
- Raw broccoli and cauliflower
Balanced Snack Ideas: Grains
When possible, athletes should choose whole grain items to enjoy with their snacks. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a healthy part of an athlete’s sports nutrition meal plan.
Ideas for adding whole grains to a balanced snack include:
- Whole grain bread, bagels, wraps
- Granola bars, fig bars
- Whole grain cereal, oatmeal
- Snack crackers, graham crackers, pita chips, pretzels
Athletes following a gluten-free diet will want to select grains that are naturally gluten-free, such as corn and rice. A variety of gluten-free ideas can be found in my blog: Gluten-Free Carbohydrates for Athletes.
Balanced Snack Components: Protein
Consuming adequate protein in the diet is important for athletes. Protein provides the building blocks needed for athletes to build, repair, and maintain lean muscle mass.
Athletes are encouraged to spread their protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks (1). Here are a variety of ways athletes can add lean sources of protein to their snacks.
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- String cheese and cheese sticks
- High-protein milk
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Lean deli meat: Turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef
- Single-serving pouches of tuna or salmon
- Shredded rotisserie chicken
- Grilled chicken
- Beef or turkey jerky
- Nuts and seeds
- Roasted chickpeas
- Individual containers of hummus or nut butter
Balanced Snack Components: Healthy Fats
In addition to carbohydrates and protein, athletes can include sources of healthy, unsaturated fat in the balanced snacks they prepare. Fat is important in the diet of athletes, as it helps the body absorb, transport, and store fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K).
Fat also helps provide protection for the internal organs and warmth for the body. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids are important for supporting optimal brain health, cardiovascular function, and working to help reduce inflammation in the body.
Healthy, unsaturated fats athletes can add to their snacks include:
- Nuts and nut butter
- Seeds: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower
- Olives and olive oil
- Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel
Balanced Snack Components: Hydration
Hydration is an essential aspect of an athlete’s sports nutrition meal plan. Dehydration can negatively impact an athlete’s health as well as performance.
Athletes should aim to include nutritious beverages with their snacks to help with meeting their daily hydration needs.
Ideas for drinks that athletes can enjoy with their snacks include:
- Low-fat milk or high-protein milk
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice
- Infused water*
- Sparkling water
*Inufsed water recipes from Kathryn Piper, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Balanced Snack Ideas for Busy Athletes
Putting this all together, below are a variety of balanced snack ideas that athletes can enjoy with a nutritious drink on busy days.
- Greek yogurt with mixed berries, chopped walnuts, and whole grain cereal
- Turkey, spinach, tomato, and avocado wrap
- Whole grain crackers, tuna salad, celery sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs, whole wheat toast, sliced avocado
- Protein overnight oats with mixed berries and chia seeds
- Instant oatmeal with walnuts and raisins, low-fat milk
- Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, grapes
- Chicken and cheese quesadilla on a wheat tortilla, sliced avocado
- Whole grain cereal, blueberries, sliced almonds, high-protein milk
- Hummus, pita chips, baby carrots, and mini peppers
- Beef jerky, granola bars, almonds
- Bagel with almond butter and sliced banana
- Cottage cheese with strawberries and sunflower seeds
- Trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grain breakfast cereal, and pretzels
- Fruit smoothie
Ready to Build a Balanced Snack
You are now set with ideas for building a balanced snack for athletes. By keeping a variety of the items discussed above on hand, athletes can create a wide variety of balanced snack combinations.
For additional sports nutrition tips for busy athletes, check out my blog: Breakfast for Teen Athletes On-the-Go.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.