If you’re training for a race or lead an active lifestyle, it’s super important to fuel your body throughout the day — especially around those workouts — and increase calorie intake accordingly to avoid malnutrition and burn out.
Of course, those not training should also make sure to snack every few hours to keep energy up and avoid hunger pangs and cravings. But if you’re looking to build strength and muscle through regular workouts, your body needs enough calories and nutrients to help it both perform and recover.
“Under-fueling can really hurt your training, zap your energy, and even cause you to burn lean body mass (muscle)," Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook, says. "So, eating on a regular schedule, fueling pre- and post-workout, and recovering with fluid and food is critical to your success as an athlete.”
And while complex carbs — those that are high in fiber — as opposed to refined carbs — or white flour — are needed to improve satiety and provide greater energy stores, you may not want to overdo it if you’re on a low-carb diet or watching your intake for other health reasons.
You can combine certain snacks or bulk them up if you need some extra grams or calories after an especially strenuous or longer workout. Look for more low-carb brands that offer easily-digestible snack options that feel “carb-like,” but are actually low-carb dieting approved. Here are a few options that dietitians recommend.
Banana and Unsweetened Plain Greek Yogurt
Choose a small banana to keep carb and sugar intake low, and then increase protein by adding in the yogurt as a base. A small cup of berries would work too, since they are low in carbs and sugar and have some nice fiber.
Greek yogurt has more protein than regular to speed recovery — add in nuts and seeds for extra protein, fat, and fiber if it is after a workout session. You can also swap yogurt for cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a bit higher in sodium, so it’ll aid in keeping electrolyte levels in check.
Avocado or Nut Butter on Toast
Avocado toast is an easy option to eat as a snack when training, and you can vary the toppings to prevent boredom. Add seeds and cheese — like crumbled feta and pumpkin seeds, for example — if you’re fueling post-workout. If prior, just a little bit of avocado on a slice of low-carb bread will do the trick.
You can stick with one small slice of whole wheat or choose a low-carb option, as there are several brands that have low-carb breads and crackers that taste just like the real thing.
The nut butter will provide adequate protein and good fats to aid in recovery, and if you’re having it before a workout it won’t upset your stomach if in a relatively small portion.
You can also swap peanut butter for almond butter, and if you're really cutting back on carbs, carry a nut butter packet with you and enjoy it with a jerky stick.
“Smoothies made with fruit, greens, and a protein powder will fill you up post-workout and restore lost nutrients and electrolytes,” Jones says.
Be sure to keep the fruit to one serving, and increase the fat and protein.
Just mix your favorite frozen fruit of choice with a low-carb, flavored chocolate, vanilla, or unflavored protein powder in a blender with liquid for a quick, refreshing post-workout option. You can also have it pre-workout — just keep the portion small. For more protein after a tough training session, add in nuts, seeds, or nut butter.
Nut-and-Seed Trail Mix
“Trail mix is the perfect balance of fiber-containing carbohydrates combined with the natural protein and unsaturated fats in nuts and seeds,” Hultin says.
However, you want to make sure that it’s still low enough in carbs and sugar to be acceptable for your diet.
While most trail mixes and granolas are loaded with carbohydrates, you can DIY your own by including nuts and seeds — as well as a light source of carbs — so that it can still be considered a low-carb, high-protein pick.
Combine nuts and seeds — like almonds or pistachios — with pumpkin or sunflower seeds and throw it in a plain Greek yogurt or serving of cottage cheese. Or, sprinkle it on top of the avocado or nut butter toast!
Roasted Beans or Kale Chips With Nutritional Yeast
“Roasted broad beans are a portable option, and you can find serve snack bags that provide 7 grams of protein,” Jones says.
However, depending on how low your carb intake can be for your lifestyle, you may want to swap the beans (or any kind of bean or legume, like a chickpea or edamame), for kale and then add in some protein for a recovery boost. If kale, add nutritional yeast or toss them with some nuts and seeds for a mix in order to get enough protein following your training session.
“Edamame is a high-quality complete plant protein that does a great job providing the right amino acids,” Jones says.
You can buy the ready-to-eat edamame from most grocery stores (or just a big bag of dry roasted edamame — it has a long shelf life).
Feel free to snack on one portion as is, or combine it with a jerky stick or a slice or two of lean turkey breast for increased protein following a session. These both are low in carbs and have rich, lean protein content per serving size.