(This article originally appeared @BreakingMuscle)
Eating on the go can be tricky. If you’re trying to trim body-fat, it takes time and effort to develop new eating habits, and it can be stressful when you can’t find an option to fit your new lifestyle. Likewise, if you’re training intensely in preparation for a big event or competition, it’s frustrating if you don’t have time to meal prep and get stuck with no solid nutrition options during the day. Regardless of whether you’re traveling through airports, fueling up at highway gas stations on a road trip, or stranded at the office, finding the right snack can be a challenge.
Before you dial in your snacking strategy, take a step back and examine your goals. Are you trying to get leaner? Are you looking to improve performance? Is upgrading your health your top priority? Your ultimate goal will impact the type of snack you choose, how much you should consume, and if eating a snack is even the best option.
If your goal is to burn fat and shed bodyweight, reach for high-protein, low-carb, and moderate fat snacks. Protein is the key macronutrient for triggering satiety, so it should be your top priority. If performance or hypertrophy is your goal, adding more calories to your day is important for training at intensity. Adding fats to your snacks will increase calorie count the quickest, and eating quality carbs will refill muscle glycogen and accelerate recovery.
Here is a list of my favorite snacks to help you reach your nutrition and performance goals.
Jerky (Beef, Turkey, Chicken, Pork)
Jerky is my favorite high-protein snack option. It’s convenient, easy to carry, and tastes great. Jerky has made a big comeback recently, making it much easier to find antibiotic- and hormone-free brands with no additives, preservatives, red dyes, or MSG. A 1oz serving typically provides 12g of protein with only 5g of carbs. Jerky is typically very lean and contains little to no added fat.
Nuts (Macadamia, Walnuts, Pistachios, Pecans, etc.)
While nuts do contain modest amounts of protein think of them as more of a fat snack. Pound for pound, macadamia and walnuts pack the biggest omega-3 punch.1 Combining nuts with jerky makes a great low-carb, high-protein, and moderate-fat snack between meals. Other low-carb nut options include pecans and Brazil nuts (just over 1g per handful), as well as hazelnuts and peanuts (about 2.5g per handful). If you want more carbs for hypertrophy or performance, go for cashews or pistachios (one handful is about 9g and 6g, respectively).
Mixed Veggies (Bell Peppers, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes)
If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping your blood sugars and blood sugar hormone insulin balanced is important for success. A lot of people think veggies are “boring,” but nothing could be further from the truth. They are incredibly nutrient-dense and low in calories, making them an awesome snack option to add to your arsenal. One bell pepper is only 20 calories and provides 134 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, or spice things up with sliced cucumber sprinkled with cumin.2 Grab a party tray at your local grocery store and snack on it throughout the week to mix things up.
Dark Chocolate (70% or more)
It’s 3:00pm, you’re at work, and struggling to get through your day. Rather than reaching for a sugary, high-carb candy bar, switch gears and get a dark chocolate fix. Dark chocolate is a great low-carb alternative, and a great source of antioxidants, fiber, and minerals like magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc.3 Aim for 1-2 squares to help get you through until dinner.
Portable, convenient, and delicious, berries are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Raspberries and blackberries in particular are phenomenal sources of fiber; one cup provides 8-9g to help slow the release of sugars to provide sustained energy throughout the day. Berries also help to fight off chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.4
For hypertrophy and optimal recovery from intense training, calories count. If you’re on the go, dried fruit can provide a calorie and nutrient-dense carb source to replenish glycogen and offset training-induced elevations in cortisol stress hormones. Medjool dates pack a great carb punch (only four provide a whopping 72g) as well as potassium, b-vitamins, vitamins A and K, iron, magnesium, and trace minerals.5
If you are trying to lose weight or upgrade your health, I wouldn’t put protein bars on the top of your snack list because they typically contain a significant amount of carbs and sugar to increase palatability. However, if you’re training intensely and performance or hypertrophy is your goal, then a protein bar can be a great option. Aim for 20g of protein per bar to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Avoid high fructose corn syrup, fractionated palm kernel oil, canola oil, artificial sweeteners like sucralose or acesulfame-potassium, and refined sugars like cane syrup and sugar alcohols (i.e., mannitol, erythritol, etc.) as they can trigger inflammation, weight gain, and disrupt the balance of your gut bacteria.6
Attack Your Snack With a Plan
Convenience is an important factor when choosing snacks. My favorites are jerky, nuts, and veggies for fat loss, and dried fruit, fruit, and high-carb nuts for hypertrophy and performance. The most difficult part of choosing solid travel snacks is ignoring the plethora of processed, refined and high sugar options around you. Have a game plan and you’ll be far more successful.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Check out more articles in the SNACKING SERIES...
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- 7 Scientifically-Backed Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Ros, E. “Health Benefits of Nut Consumption,” Nutrients 2(2010):652–682.
- “Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” National Institute of Health.
- Crozier S et al. “Cacao seeds are a ‘Super Fruit’: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products,” Chemistry Central Journal 5(2011):5
- Basu A et al. “Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome,” The Journal of Nutrition 140(2010): 1582-1587. 2010.
- Yasin B et al. “Date Polyphenolics and Other Bioactive Compounds: A Traditional Islamic Remedy’s Potential in Prevention of Cell Damage, Cancer Therapies and Beyond,” International Journal of Molecular Science 17(2015):30075-90
- Buyken A et al. “Carbohydrate nutrition and inflammatory disease mortality in older adults,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 92(2010):634–43.