You pound pavement and lift like a pro—and yes, that's half the battle—but perhaps you still haven't nailed your nutrition. And who could blame you? Unless you're an elite athlete with RDs on speed dial, it's tough to know how to eat for your workouts to optimize performance. Whether your meals just aren't cutting it, or those extra lbs won't melt away, or you lack energy throughout the day, being improperly nourished could be the culprit. In this series, we share our top Spartan-approved, nutritionist-recommended healthy-snacking hacks to power you up so you can stride out strong. No. Matter. What.
Sponsored by our partner, Gone Rogue Protein Snacks
Smart snacking completely revolutionizes your training ability, supports your recovery efforts and enhances your race performance. Period. By fueling your fitness with intention and focus—just as you execute each workout—you’ll foster more power and see big gains.
But, if you feel like you indulge too much, or need a snacking-habit reset, you’ve come to the right place. (We're with you—it's never a bad idea to reassess what you eat, and why.)
“Without intentionally choosing and eating specific snacks, you could end up not maximizing the potential of a snack to give proper amounts of nutrition and energy,” says Kylee Van Horn, RDN, who works with endurance athletes in Carbondale, CO. “For example, [taking in subpar fuel at the wrong times] can lead to low energy availability (this would occur more if meals are small, and snacks are small and unbalanced).” By pairing carbs with protein, and protein with healthy fats, and avoiding processed crap or added sugars, you can seriously up your snacking game. But first, you need to clean up your cupboards and ensure you have only top-of-the-line fuel on hand.
In just a few simple steps, transform your pantry and integrate smarter food choices into your nutrition plan. Here, our expert RDs weigh in on healthy swaps to clean up what's in your kitchen and re-stock your shelves for success. Think: high-protein snacks for better recovery, quick (but healthy!) carbs on the go, and fats that'll sustain your metabolism long term.
6 Tips to Refresh Your Kitchen Contents for Snacking Success
1. Get Clear on Basic Nutrient Essentials
Start by taking your snacks out of your pantry or refrigerator and read every single nutrition label. Each snack should contain a high amount of fiber, protein, healthy fats and quality carbohydrates, and be low in saturated fats or added sugar. The less ingredients, the better, says Van Horn. “Assess the nutrient density of the foods you have in your pantry,” she says. “Look for higher fiber, less processed items. Foods with less ingredients [like whole foods or ingredients you can actually pronounce] are good choices.” Keeping macro-rich staples on hand will help you build balanced meals and snack smarter to get the most bang for your buck—both in nutrients and satisfaction. Toss the processed garbage. If they’re not around, the temptation won’t exist.
2. Make Nut & Seed Butters Work For You, Not Against You
While nut or seed butters are generally an excellent source of protein and healthy fat, it’s crucial to make sure the brands you choose don’t have hydrogenated oils or saturated fats in them. “These types of oils and fats are used to help keep the product shelf stable and emulsified,” says Annalee Althouse, RDN, CYI at Bayfield Hospital in Dover, DE. “Along with the saturated fats, these products tend to be higher in added sugar.” Instead, she recommends opting for butters where you can visibly see a separation of oil and solids that require mixing before you eat them. “You’ll get the omega 6 and 3 fatty acids without the saturated fats.” (Hint: omega fatty acids are key to support neuromuscular engagement and reduce exercise-induced inflammation.)
BONUS TIP: Same goes for cooking oils. “Go for oils that are sources of omega 3 fats like olive, canola, avocado, flaxseed and walnut oils rather than vegetable and peanut oils and butter/margarines,” says Althouse.
3. Juice Your Way to More Fiber, Less Sugar
If you don’t have a juicer at home, no sweat. But be careful what juices you’re selecting at the store. Many brands are loaded with added sugar and don’t contain the quantities of vitamins and minerals promised from whole fruits themselves. Instead, opt for juices with pulp for an uptick of fiber and zero extra sugar on the nutrition label, says Althouse.
4. Be Mindful of Sodium Content in Soups
While non-cream-based soups can be an excellent low maintenance snack when you don’t have time or energy to cook a full meal, be wary of high sodium content in stocks and broths. “These [surprisingly] can be sources of large amounts of sodium,” says Althouse. “Replenishing electrolytes is necessary, but in excess it can be harmful.” Instead, purchase low-sodium soups. As a stand-alone snack in a thermos, they offer a delicious, satiating sipper to-go without risking sodium imbalance, which can lead to high blood pressure and long term negative health effects.
5. Get Serious About Your Carb-Heavy Choices
Trail mixes, cereals and granola bars—while easy snacks—can be loaded with sugar, saturated fats and low in fiber. Althouse recommends checking the nutrition label on these to ensure they have plenty of carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats and protein… and nothing fake. Similarly, “bread can be a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals,” she says. “Some brands may claim they are whole wheat or whole grain, but double check the fiber content [and ensure there are no enriched-flour ingredients, which is another way of saying ‘processed’].” When it comes to rice, opt for brown or wild rice, which are higher in antioxidants and fiber. “White rice is delicious and usually has plenty of vitamins and minerals,” she says. “However a lot of nutrients are stripped from the grain—including fiber—which can cause undesirable spikes in blood sugar [and contribute to high/low energy levels that impact performance].”
6. Prioritize Protein for Enhanced Recovery and Performance
Any smart OCR athlete knows protein is key to workout recovery. Without its support, our bodies work in overdrive to repair and replenish after intense exercise, with diminished results. “Protein provides the building blocks to not only our tendons and ligaments but also plays a key role in immune system support, neurotransmitter production in the brain (mood), and bone support that is important for injury prevention and feeling good overall when increasing your training volume,” says Van Horn. Opt for protein-rich snacks with a few grams of carbohydrates, like plain greek yogurt, cottage cheese or Gone Rogue Protein Snacks — essentially chips made from all-natural cuts of lean chicken (fresh, never frozen) that are smoked, air baked and seasoned to perfection. On top of that, each serving has 17+ grams of protein and only one-two grams of carbs. (These boldly seasoned chips come in six flavors and are our new Spartan-approved post-workout snack to satiate hunger and jumpstart the recovery process.)