Best High Carb Snacks for Athletes

Best High-Carb Snacks for Athletes

Best High-Carb Snacks for Athletes

Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to perform at their best. It can be helpful for athletes to have ideas for the best high-carb snacks to support their sports nutrition needs.

Let’s take a look at the carbohydrate needs of athletes. We will then explore the best high-carb snacks for athletes to enjoy throughout the day.

Carbohydrate Needs of Athletes

Similar to gas for a car, carbohydrates provide fuel for the body to run on. Therefore, carbohydrates are important in an athlete’s diet to provide energy for everyday activities as well as sports performance.

The carbohydrate needs of athletes vary based upon the intensity and duration of the workout or game. Thus, athletes need more carbohydrates (gas in their tank) on days they will be exercising more intensely or for a longer duration than on low-intensity workout days or off-days (1). 

Similarly, athletes involved in endurance-based activities (i.e., cross country running, triathlons) need more carbohydrates to support their activity than those involved in precision sports (i.e, golf).

Sources of Carbohydrates in the Diet

Athletes can get carbohydrates in the diet from a variety of sources, including:

  • Grains: Pasta, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, bread, bagels, cereal
  • Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in natural juices, applesauce
  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn
  • Beans, peas, and legumes
  • Milk and yogurt
Carbs for Athletes

Best High-Carb Snacks for Athletes

Now that you have an understanding of the importance of carbohydrates in an athlete’s meal plan, let’s explore ideas for high-carb snacks athletes can enjoy during the day.

Athletes can pair the high-carb snack item with a food containing a good source of protein to create a mini-meal that further supports their sports nutrition needs.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is a nutritious way for athletes to add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to their snacks.  Dry fruit has the advantage of being a snack that does not require refrigeration and it is mess-free. Thus, it is a convenient snack for athletes to take with them to practice, competitions, or when traveling.

The following dried fruits are all carbohydrate-rich options athletes can enjoy with their snacks:

  • Raisins
  • Cranberries
  • Dates
  • Prunes
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Apple slices

Athletes can add dry fruit to trail mix to help boost the carbohydrate content of the mix. Combining dried fruit, pretzels, whole grain breakfast cereal, and a variety of nuts creates a well-balanced snack that athletes can enjoy throughout the day.

Applesauce: Great Pre-Workout High-Carb Snack for Athletes

Applesauce is an easy way to boost the carbohydrate content of a snack. The applesauce squeeze pouches typically contain ~15 grams of carbohydrates per pouch (depending on the brand).

The applesauce squeeze pouches are a portable option that athletes can throw into their backpack or gym bag to enjoy prior to a workout or game. Applesauce is easy to digest and will provide athletes with a quick source of energy for the upcoming activity.

Banana: Easy High-Carb Snack to Enjoy on the Go

A simple, high-carb snack that athletes can grab to enjoy on the go is a fresh banana.  One large banana provides 31 grams of carbohydrates, 3.5 grams of fiber, and contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (2).

Bananas are rich in potassium, an essential nutrient that serves as an electrolyte in the body. Potassium is necessary for normal cell function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. In addition, potassium helps the body with maintaining fluid balance (3).

Not only is a banana a nutritious option, it is extremely economical as well. For less than 50 cents, an athlete can have a high-carb, pre-workout snack that provides a nutritious source of energy. In addition, bananas come wrapped in their own peel, thus no preparation or packaging is needed.

Banana Easy High Carb Snack for Athletes

Fruit Smoothie: Nutritious High-Carb Snack for Athletes

A fruit smoothie can be a great high-carb snack that athletes can enjoy either before a workout or following a workout to support their recovery nutrition needs. There are a variety of ways athletes can add carbohydrates to a fruit smoothie to create a nutrient-dense drink.

Ideas for adding carbohydrates to a smoothie include:

  • Frozen fruit: Berries, cherries, pineapple, peaches, mango, papaya, sliced banana
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Milk, yogurt
  • Honey, maple syrup
  • Rolled oats

Athletes who desire to enjoy a post-workout smoothie will want to ensure the smoothie contains both a good source of carbohydrates as well as lean protein. There are numerous ways athletes can add protein to a fruit smoothie, such as Greek yogurt, high-protein milk, dry milk, or tofu.

Fruit Smoothie High Carb Snack for Athletes

Bagels: Quick High-Carb Snack for Athletes

A whole grain bagel is a great high-carb snack option for athletes to enjoy. A large deli-style bagel can contain over 60 grams of carbohydrates depending on the flavor and brand (4).

By topping the bagel with nut butter, athletes will add protein and healthy fats to the snack. Athletes can also add sliced banana and honey to the bagel to further boost its carbohydrate content.

Bagels provide a great source of carbohydrates for athletes to enjoy with a meal before a game or workout.  Since bagels contain a condensed source of carbohydrates, they are a convenient way for athletes to fuel their bodies with the energy needed for the upcoming activity. 

Fig Bars and Breakfast Bars

Fig bars and breakfast bars are a convenient way that athletes can add carbohydrates to their snacks. When possible, athletes should select fig bars and breakfast bars that are made with whole grains. Some great options include KIND® Breakfast Bars and Nature’s Bakery® Fig Bars.

To create a healthy snack, athletes can pair the bar with a source of protein, such as Greek yogurt, string cheese, or hard-boiled eggs. 

Whole Grain Breakfast Cereal

Whole grain breakfast cereal is an easy way for athletes to enjoy a carbohydrate-rich snack. Athletes can eat the breakfast cereal dry as a snack, include the cereal as an ingredient in trail mix, or eat a bowl of cereal served with low-fat milk.

When choosing a breakfast cereal, look at the nutrition facts label for a cereal that is made with whole grains. Some of my favorite breakfast cereals include:

  • Quaker® Oatmeal Squares – A whole grain breakfast cereal that is delicious dry or with milk.  Each 1 cup serving provides 44 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of protein.
  • Kashi Go® Honey Almond Flax Crunch – Made with whole grains, flax seeds, and sliced almonds, this cereal makes a great substitute for granola.  A ¾ cup serving provides 35 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of protein. 
  • CheeriosTM Oats ‘N Honey Crunch – Made with whole grain oats, this cereal is great as a topping on yogurt or mixed into trail mix. A 1 cup serving provides 42 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of protein.
Whole Grain Breakfast Cereal High Carb Snack for Athletes

Fruit and Yogurt Parfait

A fruit and yogurt parfait is a delicious, healthy, carbohydrate-rich snack that athletes can prepare to enjoy between meals, after a workout, or before bed.  A 5.3 oz individual container of vanilla Greek yogurt contains ~15 grams of carbs and 13 grams of protein (5). 

By adding a variety of mixed berries athletes will increase the carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral content of the parfait. In addition, stirring in granola or one of the whole grain cereals listed above, will further boost the carbohydrate content of the snack.

Overnight Oats: Make Ahead High-Carb Snack for Athletes

Overnight oats are a great high-carb snack that athletes can meal prep in advance.  Although individuals may traditionally think of oatmeal as a breakfast food, overnight oats can be enjoyed at any time of day. 

A benefit of overnight oats is that the recipe is extremely versatile.  Athletes can boost the carbohydrate content of the recipe by mixing in dried fruit, frozen fruit, honey, or maple syrup. Before enjoying the overnight oats as a snack, athletes can top the oats with sliced banana or granola for added crunch.

Athletes can also increase the protein content of the overnight oats by adding in Greek yogurt, high-protein milk, nut butter, and chia seeds. By changing up the type of ingredients used in the recipe, athletes can enjoy a wide variety of overnight oats flavor combinations. 

If you have never made overnight oats and are interested in trying it out, you can click HERE to download a free Overnight Oats recipe.

Hummus with Pita Chips

Hummus is a nutritious, plant-based snack option that athletes can enjoy. The main ingredient in hummus is chickpeas. Chickpeas are a type of legume which contain carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Hummus is commonly eaten as a dip or spread. By pairing hummus with pita chips athletes can enjoy a snack that provides both carbohydrates and protein to support their sports nutrition needs.

Hummus with Pita Chips

Gluten-Free Carbs for Athletes

Athletes with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance need to avoid carbohydrates that contain gluten. Gluten is a naturally occurring storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as hybrids of these grains (6). 

Although athletes following a gluten-free diet must avoid grains that contain gluten, there are still a variety of other ways athletes can add carbohydrates to their diet.

Gluten-free carbohydrate options include:

  • Gluten-free grains, gluten-free cereal
  • Fruit
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy: Milk and yogurt (without added ingredients)

With careful planning, athletes following a gluten-free diet can ensure they consume adequate carbohydrates to meet their sports performance needs.

For additional gluten-free sports nutrition tips, check out my blog: Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Athletes.

Best High-Carb Snacks for Athletes

You are now set with a variety of high-carb snack ideas for athletes. Athletes should take time to plan ahead to ensure they have healthy snacks available throughout the day to support their sports nutrition needs.

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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.

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