25 Healthy Snacks for Athletes to Optimize Fueling


Fueling your body for optimal athletic performance involves incorporating healthy snacks into your sports nutrition plan. These healthy snacks for athletes are essential to help you meet your daily sports nutrition energy goals.

One key part of a healthy sports nutrition plan is having smart snacks. These snacks are essential in meeting your body’s energy and nutrient needs, boosting your overall energy, and keeping you from feeling too hungry between meals. 

But what makes a snack healthy and helpful? When should you eat them? And why are they so important for your performance and well-being? 

Let’s explore these questions and more, while also giving you 25 of our best healthy snack ideas that will keep you energized, satisfied and ready for any challenge.

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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 do athletes need snacks

Athletes need healthy snacks because a well-planned snack can prevent excessive hunger, top off fuel stores and make sure athletes eat enough food to meet their energy needs.  

By maintaining steady energy levels, healthy snacking helps athletes kickstart their games or practices with a well-fueled body.

Additionally, snacking smartly regulates blood sugar levels, preventing those irritable and ravenous crashes that can occur when hunger is ignored

For those athletes who tend to skip meals, especially breakfast, incorporating healthy snacks becomes even more crucial to ensure you meet your calorie needs. 

Choosing snacks with a good balance of high carbs, moderate protein and healthy fats helps sustain energy levels since protein and fat slow down digestion. (2)

Why healthy snacks matter for athletes

Healthy snacks play a key role in supporting your sports nutrition needs. They offer a balanced combination of essential food groups, including whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and vitamins. 

Here’s why healthy snacks matter

Fueling your performance

You need proper fuel to perform at their best. The right combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in healthy snacks provides the necessary fuel to perform at your best during workouts and competitions.

Choose from carbs such as whole grain bread, dried fruit, or trail mix, while the protein in peanut butter, Greek yogurt or protein bars supports muscle repair and recovery.

Sustaining steady energy

Snacking on whole grains, like whole wheat or overnight oats, keeps your energy levels stable throughout the day, preventing energy crashes.

Aiding in muscle recovery

Foods like cottage cheese, almond butter or protein powder contain muscle-repairing proteins that are vital after intense workouts.

Balancing nutrient intake

Healthy snacks contribute to a well-rounded diet, ensuring you get the nutrients your body needs to stay in top shape.

Loaded with vitamins and minerals, healthy snacks promote various bodily functions, bolster immunity and aid in injury prevention. 

When should athletes eat snacks

Generally athletes should pay attention to hunger cues and eat healthy snacks when they feel hungry. Typically, you’d eat three meals plus one or two snacks every day. (3)

The timing of your snacks depends on your activity level, duration, intensity and sport nutrition and performance goals.

Here are some general guidelines for athlete snacking

Mini meals and balanced snacks (2 to 3 hours before)

Before a competition, choose balanced snacks high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and fat and low in fiber to top off your energy stores.

Options like oatmeal with milk or nuts, yogurt with berries and granola, banana with peanut butter or nut butter, turkey sandwich with cheese or avocado or apple with cheese or almond butter are great choices.

timing mini meals for healthy snacks for athletes

Pre-exercise or pre game snacks (1 hour before)

Prior to exercise, opt for snacks high in carbohydrates, low in fat and fiber, and moderate in protein to provide quick energy. Examples include crackers, fig bars, fruit smoothies or energy bars.

Also, check out our post for halftime snack ideas for the best to refuel at halftime so you’re ready for the second half.

Healthy Snack timing <1 Hr Before Activity

Post-exercise or post game snacks (within 30-90 minutes)

After exercise, aim for snacks rich in carbohydrates and protein to promote muscle repair and recovery.

Consider options like chocolate milk, high protein milk, lowfat Greek yogurt with granola or fruit, peanut butter sandwich with banana or honey or protein shakes.

Planning and preparing healthy snacks for athletes

To make healthy snacking more convenient, follow these helpful tips

Stock up on easy-to-transport snacks

Keep a supply of healthy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, hummus, cheese sticks, beef jerky, tuna or salmon packets, peanut butter or nut butter packets, energy bars and protein shakes.

Always be prepared

Store snacks in your locker, car, desk, gear bag, backpack or cooler to ensure you have something nourishing on hand when you’re on the move or traveling for soccer tournaments.

The best packaged healthy snacks to stash in lockers, desks, bags 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

Consider storage and weather

Be mindful of temperature-sensitive snacks and avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature for too long to prevent spoilage. Check out our post on non refrigerated snacks.

Pack smartly

Use reusable containers or bags that are easy to open and close, and label your snacks with your name and date to avoid confusion or contamination.

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
healthy snacks for athletes list that needs to be on ice, picture of cooler with list of foods

Align snacks with your goals

Plan your snacks according to your activity schedule and goals. Know what to eat before, during and after exercise or competition to fuel your body effectively. And you’ll also want to use our grocery store list to guide your prepping and planning.

This way you’ll have what you need on hand, especially when hunger strikes.

Explore new flavors

Experiment with different snacks to find what suits your tastes and makes you feel good. Everyone has unique preferences and tolerances, so don’t hesitate to try new combinations. 

BUT always on practice or rest days never try new foods on game days.

25 healthy snacks for athletes

Now you know why healthy athlete snacks are important, what to pack and when to eat them. Our favorite snacks combine carbohydrates and protein for more substantial mini-meals.

  1. Greek yogurt with mixed berries and granola
  2. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
  3. Fruit smoothies with your favorite fruits and Greek yogurt
  4. Turkey and cheese wrap with whole wheat tortilla
  5. Hummus with whole grain pita chips
  6. Whole grain cereal with high-protein milk
  7. Cottage cheese with pineapple and a sprinkle of chia seeds
  8. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  9. Protein bars with a mix of nuts and seeds
  10. Overnight oats with almond butter and sliced bananas
  11. Sliced apples or bananas with peanut butter
  12. Whole wheat bread or bagel sandwich with turkey, cheese, or hummus
  13. Hard-boiled eggs for a quick protein boost
  14. Cheese sticks with whole grain crackers
  15. Low-fat milk or chocolate milk for hydration and recovery
  16. Tuna or salmon packets for protein on the go
  17. Almonds or mixed nuts for a satisfying crunch
  18. Beef jerky for a portable protein source
  19. Carrot sticks with almond butter for a balanced snack
  20. Rice cakes with cottage cheese and sliced strawberries
  21. Greek yogurt with honey and crushed walnuts
  22. Banana with almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon
  23. Protein powder mixed with milk or water for a quick shake
  24. Sliced cucumbers with hummus for a refreshing combo
  25. Whole grain crackers with a side of guacamole

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 vegan 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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