Pretzels can be an easy snack to keep at home or take on the go when you need fast-acting carbs to fuel up pre or post-workout, but are they actually healthy as a carbohydrate-dense option?
Because pretzels lack fiber and protein, it can be hard to know whether or not they fit as a nutritious snack — and to what extent they can adequately nourish your body — when consumed alone. When you think about it, pretzels are really just made of white flour (refined carbs that are digested quickly), rather than complex carbohydrates that are found in grams of fiber.
Would pretzels be healthier than potato chips, then? Or cookies or popcorn? We asked a dietitian to figure out the best answer.
They’re Not “Healthy” Exactly
“I wouldn’t say pretzels are healthy, but they are good before a race,” Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD, CDN says. “In general — because pretzels are a simple carb — it means that they are white flour, which has very little fiber or nutritional value."
And that also means you get immediate energy, but not sustainable energy, as you would with a balanced snack that contains protein, good fats, and fiber.
“Pretzels are a simple carb, so it digests quickly and gives you that quick burst of energy,” she says.
So, when you are training for a race, they can help you maintain electrolytes that are lost through sweat and can be a good snack to eat before, during and after a race for that salty fix.
How Best to Enjoy Them
Schapiro advises toward eating pretzels as a pre-workout snack. Always have carbs before your workout, as your body needs carbs for immediate energy to train and perform well.
“So if you are having pretzels, have them 60 to 90 minutes before you train,” she says.
You can also eat them mid-training if you are losing electrolytes while training for a long period of time and will need a snack during your workout.
The same goes for afterwards — you can easily enjoy pretzels as a post-workout snack that’ll give you some salt to rebalance your electrolyte bank, as long as you pair it with something that contains protein and some good fats. Your body needs carbs and protein post-workout, as protein helps rebuild damaged muscles.
... But Don’t Eat Them on Non-Training Days
Yet, since they are salty and made of white flour, you really shouldn’t consider them a healthy option as a snack when you’re not working out. Instead, choose fibrous carbs, like veggies, oats, whole grains, or beans and legumes.
“Because they are a simple carb, you do not need them on non-training days,” she says.
If you are including pretzels in your training diet plan, don’t go too heavy on the salt — which will lead to water retention, excess thirst, and perhaps hunger — but don’t also go unsalted. That defeats the purpose of getting those electrolytes.
Lightly-salted is the best pick here. You can get very salted pretzels before a workout depending on the length and intensity — if you’re sweating like crazy, that extra salt could be helpful. For a standard workout though, lightly-salted is a better and sufficient option.
“You need the sodium because you will be sweating,” she says.
And Schapiro’s last tip? If you can get whole wheat pretzels, even better — then you’ll get some fiber in too.