Healthy Athlete Snacks

Snacks play a big part in our eating culture. Because of the absolute abundance of snack options, some athletes feel overwhelmed and unsure how, when, or why to include them. 

Some popular diets praise low-calorie snacks or recommend skipping them altogether. However, this is terrible advice for athletes, who rely on the components of snacks to help meet their nutritional needs for performance and recovery.  

I’m Angie, Registered Dietitian, sports nutrition expert, and avid snacker. However, I didn’t always have the confidence to snack on what I wanted or needed, due to diet culture thoughts that eating less often might be “healthy.” Learning about Intuitive Eating and becoming a certified counselor in 2012 gave me a new outlook on providing my body with the nourishment it needs, which often comes in the form of a snack!  

Since what to snack on is often the number one question I get from clients, I thought sharing my recommendations for healthy athlete snacks would make a fun post. 

In this blog post, I will cover:

  • the role of athlete snacks and why you need them
  • the components and examples of pre-workout snacks
  • the components and examples of post-workout snacks
  • examples of bedtime snacks and when you might need them 
  • just for fun snacks 

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of healthy athlete snacks.

Note: this blog post contains affiliate links. This means that I may earn a commission, at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Why do athletes need snacks?

Athletes have high energy and protein requirements and often can’t meet all of their daily nutritional needs with 3 meals alone. 

Enter snacks! Tasty, portable, and delicious, snack foods help athletes get in crucial nutrients at the right time without the fuss of a whole meal. 

Whether snacks are used to fuel a workout, recover from one, or just provide additional daily energy, as an athlete, you want your snack game to be on point!

Pre-workout Snacks

When thinking about pre-workout snacks, one macronutrient is the star of the show: carbohydrates


Carbohydrates are your primary energy source during exercise. So, the best pre-workout snacks will have at least 30-60 grams of carbohydrates. Specifically, carbs that are easy to digest. 

A common mistake I see athletes making is fueling up on high protein foods prior to a workout. While protein is helpful in your post workout snack, it isn’t a preferred fuel source in your pre-workout snacks.

Having some protein, fat, or fiber in this snack is okay, but I recommend keeping those on the lower side. Not having too much protein or fat will allow your carbohydrates to be digested and absorbed more quickly. Having immediate energy is the name of the (healthy snack) game. 

Let’s talk about examples, shall we? The following snacks provide 30-60 grams of carbohydrates to help make you feel like a champ and able to get the most out of your training session.

Examples of pre-workout snacks

  • Large banana + nut butter
  • Graham crackers (3 large rectangles)
  • Pretzels (1 cup)
  • Nature’s Bakery Fig Bar
  • Bobo’s Bar
  • Cereal 1.5 cups + almond milk
  • PB&J
  • Toaster Waffles
  • Sports Nutrition (gels, gummies, sports drinks)

Healthy Athlete Snacks

Post-workout snacks

Not only does a tasty post-workout snack help to quash post-workout hunger, but the right snacks can kickstart the recovery process. 

How? You’ll still want to include carbohydrates in your post-workout snack, but this is where we’ll focus on a good protein source. This carb + protein combo will help replenish glycogen and aid in muscle repair, resulting in you feeling fresh and recovered for your next workout.

For the low-down on all things post-recovery nutrition, check out my article on the Top 10 Most Delicious Recovery Foods for Athletes.

Some key points from that article include:

  • Some studies show that athletes recover faster and more completely when recovery foods are consumed within 30-45 minutes of their exercise wrapping up (1). 
  • One study showed that glycogen replenishment in your muscles can be 50% less when recovery foods are delayed for 2 hours (2)
  • Therefore, delaying your post-workout nutrition means that your muscles don’t have as much fuel available for your next big workout. 

All the more reason to keep these awesome carbohydrate and protein pairings at the ready to ensure your post-workout recovery is tip-top. The following snacks combine 20 grams or more of protein and at least 20-40 grams of carbohydrates.

Examples of post-workout snacks

  • Smoothie
  • Yogurt bowl
  • Cheese stick + Jerky, whole grain crackers
  • Sandwich/wrap
  • Go Macro Bar + 1 cup Kefir
  • Cereal and milk
  • Cottage cheese + fruit
  • Ripple protein shake + 1 cup of pita chips

Healthy Athlete Snacks

Bedtime snacks

Ever heard the rule of not eating after 7 pm? Malarkey! And definitely not recommended by this sports dietitian. 

There may be days when you are satisfied after dinner and don’t need anything. But adding in a bedtime snack might help your progress as an athlete if you are:

  • in the middle of a hard training block
  • having multiple training sessions in one day
  • lifting heavier weights or 
  • working harder than usual on a new skill

How? When you are working hard, some studies show you can benefit from adding a bedtime snack that includes the dairy protein – casein – which digests slowly and can help with muscle repair and growth while you sleep (3).

A second benefit of bedtime snacks for athletes? Better sleep. Including carbohydrate-rich foods before bed can help promote good sleep by helping to increase serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone that aids sleep. 

A third benefit of bedtime snacks is that they can help you have more energy for early morning workouts, which are common for high school and college athletes, endurance athletes, or anyone getting in an early sweat session. Sometimes, these workouts are so early (think 5:00 am) that it’s hard to eat enough in the morning. Bedtime snacks rich in carbohydrates help prep your muscles for a bright and early session.

So don’t ignore that tummy rumbling and believe the myth that bedtime snacks don’t have a time and place for athletes; they certainly do.

Examples of bedtime snacks high in protein to help with overnight muscle repair:

  • Yogurt bowl
  • Protein pudding
  • Protein ice cream-Ninja Creami
  • Protein waffle and PB

Examples of bedtime snacks rich in carbohydrates to help promote sleep and provide early morning energy:

  • Rice pudding with mangoes
  • Chia pudding with bananas + blueberries
  • Popcorn
  • English muffin, almond butter, raspberries
  • Tart cherry mocktail-bonus contains melatonin

Healthy Athlete Snacks

Fun Snacks

Not every snack is going to be for fueling a workout or recovering from one. Sometimes you will just be hungry between meals because you are asking a lot from your body. 

Snacks that aren’t specific to performance or recovery can include things that might seem risky before a workout (no thank you, bathroom emergencies) but are perfect for regular, fun snacking. These snacks might include more fiber or fat or have a little spicy kick.

That’s a wrap!

Snacking should feel like a great way to help meet your energy and protein needs as an athlete. These little mini meals should energize your day, keep you satisfied, and help you recover. 


  • Snacks with mostly carbohydrates in your pre-workout snack for immediate energy.
  • Carbohydrates plus protein in your post-workout snack to promote recovery.
  • Choose extra protein, carbohydrates, or both in your bedtime snack, depending on your needs.
  • Don’t be afraid of fun snacks; those are important, too.

There are a lot of ways that snacking can support your training, but if you find yourself snacking on the wrong things, at the wrong time, or for the wrong reasons, let’s talk! 

Use this link to schedule an appointment now

Just like it takes hard work and training to reach your full athletic potential, sometimes you need to practice how to include snacks into your routine to make them feel like they are supporting your efforts. Come work with me, and I’ll get you feeling like a snacking savant in no time.