Healthy Snacks for Athletes – Best Ideas


For optimal performance, a sports nutrition plan should include healthy snacks for athletes. In order to meet their daily calorie goals, most athletes need to eat a couple healthy snacks in addition to their balanced meals.

You can make it easy to fuel by having the right foods when hunger strikes–whether you’re grabbing a mid morning snack from a locker or desk, or eating a pre practice snack stashed in a gear bag. 

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of and timing of healthy snacks for athletes and the best snacks to have on hand. 

Healthy Snacks for Athletes title page

Is snacking good for athletes?

Snacks can be a healthy addition to an athlete’s diet, especially when selecting healthy, nutrient dense options. Since athletes typically have a higher calorie requirement and nutrient needs,  healthy snacks can fill in the gaps missed during meals (1). 

Healthy snacks for athletes can boost fiber and vitamin and mineral intake needed to support overall health and the immune system.

Why athletes needs snacks

A well planned snack can keep you from getting too hungry and overeating at meals, especially if it’s right before a game or practice or late in the evening. Healthy snacks help your body maintain steady energy throughout the day so that you can start off a game or practice well fueled.

Additionally, healthy snacking by athletes regulates blood sugar levels and avoids crashes which leave you irritable and ravenous. By moderating the food you eat throughout the day, you can tune into your hunger cues.

And for those athletes prone to skipping meals, especially breakfast, healthy snacking can ensure calorie needs are met. Having a snack with high carbs, moderate protein and healthy fats will help to sustain since protein and fat can slow digestion (2).

When should athletes eat snacks?

Generally athletes should recognize hunger cues and eat healthy snacks when they feel hungry. Typically, you’d eat three meals plus one or two snacks every day. 

However, providing healthy snacks for athletes should be planned around timing, intensity and duration of activities. So, you should plan to have healthy snacks on hand to stave off hunger, top off energy stores for quick energy or recovery. 

Build snacking into your performance nutrition plan, so you know when and what to eat depending on your activity for they day (3).

Keep snacks within reach. Stash some of your favorites in your locker, car, desk, gear bag and backpack. This way you’ll always have something while you’re on the go.

timing of how to manage health snacks for athletes

What should athletes eat for a healthy snack?

Keep a wide range of snacks on hand so that you can satisfy your hunger. Packaged pantry staples and dried goods can be easily portable and stored. Some healthy snacks for athletes may need to be kept refrigerated or on ice in a cooler or lunch bag. 

The recommendations below have both savory and sweet options to satisfy that sweet tooth or meet your salt and savory craving.

If you’re 3-4 hours from your workout you should eat a hearty regular meal. But as you get closer to your activity, you’ll want to have more of a mini-meal or light snack. Combining a carbohydrate and protein from the ideas below will create a more substantial snack or mini meal.

If you’re within 1 hour of your competition focus on highly digestible, low fiber carbohydrates. Also, read our post for halftime snack ideas.

The best packaged healthy snacks to stash in lockers, desks and cars

  • Granola bars 
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Fig bars
  • Trail mix
  • Nuts
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Animal crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Graham crackers
  • Sports drinks powders
  • Protein powder
  • Protein bars
  • Peanut butter or nut butter packets
  • Beef or plant based jerky
  • Dry cereal portioned in snack bags

The best healthy snacks to pack in a cooler or lunch bag

  • Fresh fruit-apples, oranges, bananas, berries, grapes
  • Fresh veggies-baby carrots, celery, red pepper strips, cherry tomatoes
  • Hummus, salsa, bean dip
  • String cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Pudding
  • Sports Drinks
  • Edamame
  • Tart cherry juice

Final thoughts

Athletes benefit from adding 1-2 nutrient dense snacks to their daily meal plan. Since you’re likely practicing and competing in multiple events per week, you need healthy snacks to meet your calorie needs.

With so many ideas and potential combinations, you should be able to find something you enjoy eating and that keeps you fueled and performing at your best.

And for athletes focused on plant based protein, check out our post on high protein vegan snacks.

Let us know your favorite snacks below.

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