11 Healthiest Snacks To Fuel Your Workout
Who doesn’t love to snack? I know I do. I’ve been a consummate snacker since day one. Or so my mom tells me. And lucky for me, she had me eating healthy from the start. In fact, I didn’t eat any sweets until the after preschool program at the local Jewish Community Center corrupted me. Until then, the sweetest snack I ate was plain Greek yogurt with local honey, which is still one of my favorite treats to this day.
One area of the snacking world that’s necessary is that within the arena of exercise. Many of us need to eat super healthy snacks to fuel our workouts. Especially if you, like me, train for hours at a time. (I’ve recently become a long distance bicycle enthusiast, and use my bicycle as my primary form of transportation.) We endurance athletes need more than just the average granola bar. Which are too often loaded with sugars and additives that don’t really give us the energy nor the nutrition we need to work out for long hours. Which begs the question:
What should we eat to keep our blood sugar balanced, our energy levels stable, and our unhealthy cravings at bay, all while fueling our workout routines—however extreme they may be? Read on to find out what I deem the 10 healthiest snacks to fuel your workout!
Apples, applesauce and almond butter
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? We’ve all known for a long time that apples are really beneficial to our health. But, do you know just how beneficial? Apples contain loads of fiber, which fills us up while also helping us lose weight. They also help boost the health of our gut microbiome. A study published in Nutrients explains why. Which also points to immune health. The healthier our gut microbiome, the stronger our immune system will be. So, if you want to stay well this winter, and all year round for that matter, I strongly suggest making this one of your go-to workout snacks. Apples are one of nature’s greatest gifts.
And if you aren't keen on eating raw apples, or if you have some kind of eating issue, like a toothache, just eat pure applesauce instead. (Make sure the applesauce is free of added sugars.) Applesauce is super easy to digest. And it digests quickly. This makes it a great snack to fuel your workout. Buying little pouches of applesauce is a great way to eat during a workout break or wherever you may be while you’re working out.
When it comes to exercise-targeted snacks, it’s always a good idea to feed our muscles plenty of protein. This is where the almond butter comes in as a complement to the apples or applesauce. Almond butter is super tasty, and good for you. You’ll want to eat it in moderation, though. It’s far too easy to eat spoonful after spoonful after spoonful. Two tablespoons with an apple or a nice cup of applesauce is an ideal combination that I enjoy often. Kids love it, too, which makes this snack a win-win for the entire family.
Beets and beet juice
Beets, beet juice, and even beet powders are really, really great as a workout snack. While beets, beet juice, and beet powder aren’t high in calories, they’re all incredibly high in nutrient value—nutrients particularly effective to fuel a workout. Beets contain healthy carbohydrates, essential for energy, as well as a host of B vitamins, as well as potassium, magnesium, manganese, and iron.
If you want quick energy, drink beet juice, which delivers all the essential nutrients to your cells fast and furiously. If juicing is too time consuming for you, I suggest buying some beet powder and mixing it with water. Drinking beet powder stirred into water before a workout is a secret drink that fuels many endurance athletes in training. Drinking beet juice or beet powder in water is especially useful for those who have a hard time digesting bulky, fibrous foods like beets and apples.
Many ultra-marathoners drink beet juice before a big racing event. Why? Because beet juice is believed to improve the flow of blood to your cells. It helps oxygen flow to your muscles, while giving your performance a real boost. I drink beet juice when I can, and when I can’t, I have roasted beets on hand as a healthy workout snack.
Eggs are one of those all-around favorites. Who doesn’t like a good egg? With so many ways to eat them, they’re an incredibly versatile and nutritious food. When it comes to eating them as a snack to fuel your workout, I find that hard or soft boiling them works best. My partner and I often boil up six eggs, and split them up to take with us for the day. With a little Dijon mustard packet in toe, I have myself a great snack to fuel my workout. Choose your own favorite condiment, or eat them plain. Eggs are an effective workout snack because they contain a fair amount of protein, along with cell protecting antioxidants.
All berries are wonderful exercise snacks because they’re tasty when eaten raw and on their own. You don’t have to add them to anything to enjoy their flavor and health benefits. Berries are easily transportable to take with you on the go. And their nutritional value is outstanding. Here’s what berries offer you in terms of an uber-healthy workout snack.
Dark berries, like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries contain loads of antioxidants that protect your cells from free radical damage. It’s the dark berries which have greater amounts of phytonutrients that protect your cells and enhance your overall health. Rich in vitamins C, A, and E, berries help preserve the strength of your muscles, and also protect your cells from free radical damage which can occur from endurance training. Eat them plain or in a bowl of yogurt or protein shake. Berries are healthy and delicious!
I always carry a banana or two with me when I’m out for a long walk or bicycle ride. They’re the most convenient workout snack on my list, and a really digestible form of natural glucose. When we workout, we need this kind of energy, and sometimes we need it fast. This is why bananas are so darn ideal for snacking pre-workout and during a workout. Their potassium content is great for recovery, too. At 422 mg of potassium per banana, this fruit is truly ideal for feeding your muscles what they need to regroup and recover. All this potassium helps prevent muscle cramps and spasms. It also helps your body replenish its fluids. So, eat a banana whenever you like—before, during, and/or after your workout. Add a little nut butter for additional protein. Bananas and almond butter or cashew butter are every bit as good as the apple/nut butter combo. So, if apples aren’t your thing. Eat bananas instead.
Good ol’ white potatoes get a bad rap. But, they shouldn't. Potatoes are a secret little snack weapon in many athletes’ arsenals. While they seem plain and simple, they’re actually packed with nutrients essential for a hard workout. For example, potatoes feed your muscles more potassium than bananas. They’re also really good for optimal functioning of the nervous system, as well as your cardiovascular system. My significant other and I often have potatoes we’ve baked in the oven the night before just sitting there, waiting for us to pop into our mouths as an easy pre-workout snack. And with a little added coconut oil or butter, even better!
Oats and oatmeal
Oats are cheap, and yet, they’re one of the healthiest carbohydrates you can possibly eat to fuel your exercise routine. Not only are oats great as a pre-exercise snack, they’re also great for recovery post-workout. The soluble fiber found in oats helps stave off cravings. It also fuels your workout and keeps you feeling satiated. My partner and I will often prepare a batch of overnight oats to have first thing in the morning before we hit the streets on our bicycles. Oats are the foundation of granola, and you can make homemade granola from uber-healthy ingredients to take with you to the gym or outdoors as you workout. Granola is also ideal for topping off a bowl of yogurt as a snack to fuel your workout. Oats are simply one of the most versatile sources of carbs to fuel your workout. We always have rolled oats on hand in our apartment’s pantry.
Dark chocolate and almonds
Do you love eating dark chocolate for dessert? I do! It’s my go-to after dinner sweet. But, it’s also a great snack to eat earlier in the day to fuel your workout. Why? For starters, it contains caffeine, a good energy source. But it also has high levels of vitamins and minerals like copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus. Dark chocolate even has a good amount of fiber.
It’s also a heart-healthy snack, with its flavonols, which help prevent heart disease. But, not any dark chocolate will do. You need to fuel your exercise with dark chocolate that contains upwards of 70% cacao. The higher the cacao content, the better, in my opinion. This healthy fat is also a tried and true superfood for your brain. So, if your mood and cognitive health need a boost, as mine always does come winter, treat yourself to some high-quality cacao. And use it to fuel your workouts. And if you want a warming drink instead, get some dark chocolate hot cocoa. Sip before your workout, especially if you’re going to be outside during the winter. Or, drink it after your outdoors exercise routine as a healthy reward!
When combined with almonds, dark chocolate becomes an even better source of energy to fuel your workouts. As you well know, almonds are chock full of protein, as well as a good source of magnesium. Almonds are the ultimate exercise snack in my household, as they’re super easy to grab and throw in a plastic bag to carry in a backpack or in bicycle panniers.
Who doesn’t adore a good hunk of cheese? Most of us love this healthy fat, and with so many types of cheese available, we can all find one we really like. A simple snack I pack in my workout bag is mozzarella string cheese. It’s so easy to take with you and super easy to eat. Plus, it tastes great on its own. Its protein content fuels workouts, and it even supports a healthy heart. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition delves deeper into this topic.
If you like sardines, good for you! A lot of people don’t. But, they should! Sardines are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Rich in good fats, sardines boost cognitive health while also protecting your heart. The omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines are also known to help prevent depression. Plus, they’ve got plenty of protein, vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium. I typically buy sardines packed in olive oil, and add a bit of Dijon mustard to them. Enjoy them on top of Saltines if you can’t stomach them plain.
Water, water, and more water
Wondering what’s best to drink to fuel your workout? No, it’s not the Gatorade or other sports drinks. It’s plain and simple and even free. Water! Hydrating with water to fuel your workout is a total no-brainer. Every cell in your body needs it. And it’s going to fuel you with the energy you need to train hard. Everything you put into your body needs water to digest it. Water does so darn much, and while it has no calories whatsoever, it’s akin to an essential nutrient essential to a good workout.
May you all eat well, workout with vigor, and live a healthy life full of beauty and vitality!