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Healthy Snacks for Athletes

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

Why are healthy snacks important?

Athletes and active people need more calories and nutrients than people who do not exercise regularly. Nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Healthy snacks can provide these extra calories and nutrients you need. Eating a healthy snack before exercise will give you energy. Eating a healthy snack right after exercise can keep you from overeating during mealtime.

What snacks should I avoid?

Avoid snacks that are high in fat and sugar. Some examples are doughnuts, cookies, potato chips, candy bars, and sodas. These foods are low in healthy nutrients. They may not give you the energy you need to perform well during exercise and sports competitions.

What kind of snacks should I eat?

Eat snacks that are fast, easy, and healthy. You will have to plan these snacks ahead of time and have them available when you need them. This will make it easier for you to fit in healthy snacks during a busy schedule. Choose snacks from all the food groups to get a variety of nutrients throughout the day.

  • Apple or banana slices and peanut butter
  • Whole-grain crackers and cheese
  • Carrot and celery sticks with dressing
  • Cottage cheese or yogurt with fresh or canned fruit
  • Energy bars, breakfast bars, or granola bars.
  • Crackers and hummus (garbanzo bean dip)
  • Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  • Whole-grain bread or bagel sandwich (with peanut butter, turkey, lean roast beef, or tuna)

What are some other tips for eating healthy snacks?

  • Some snacks will need to be kept in a refrigerator or in a cooler with ice so they will not spoil. Make sure these foods are not at room temperature for more than 2 hours. After 2 hours, bacteria can grow in these foods, which can make you sick. Food that should be kept cold includes milk and dairy products, such as cottage cheese and yogurt. It also includes salads or sandwiches made with meat, fish, or poultry.
  • If you are trying to control your weight, eat a snack before you get too hungry. This will keep you from eating too much later in the day. Ask your dietitian how many calories you should have each day. Your dietitian can help you choose snacks that will help you get the right amount of calories.

What snacks should I eat right before a sports competition?

  • The snack you should choose before a competition depends on how long you will be exercising. For competitions that last longer than 1 hour, choose carbohydrates that your body digests slowly. Some examples are yogurt, bananas, oatmeal with milk, apples, and energy bars. If you will be exercising for less than 1 hour, choose carbohydrates that your body digests quickly. Some of these foods include crackers, bread, and english muffins.
  • Eat snacks 1 hour before a competition to prevent hunger and low blood sugar. A drop in blood sugar can make you feel lightheaded and tired. Eat 1 gram of carbohydrate for each kilogram of your body weight. To figure out your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. If you weigh 70 kilograms, you should eat 70 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Avoid foods high in fat, sugar, or fiber before you exercise. High-fat foods take longer to digest and may cause stomach discomfort. High-sugar foods may cause your blood sugar to drop quickly during exercise. High-fiber foods, such as whole grain breads and cereals, may cause gas and stomach discomfort.
  • Eat snack foods that you are used to eating. It is best not to try a new food before a sports competition. Each person digests food differently. Certain foods may cause stomach cramping, gas, or diarrhea. This may cause you to slow down or even stop the competition. Try new snack foods on a different day.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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