Do you struggle to stay nourished while you're in transit as an athlete on the go? We get it. (Us, too!) As you crank through airports en route to your destination, you're probably hungry, and airports just don't offer many healthy snacks for traveling. Period. So it's wise to stock up on both quality carbohydrates (like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables) and proteins, according to Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN. "Carbohydrates provide energy, while protein helps with muscle recovery and also helps keep you full,” she says.
Save yourself the gut-ache and skip your favorite airport fast-food joint (which may leave you feeling sluggish and dehydrated during your flight), and pick up one of these healthy snacks for traveling to tide you over for your trip.
Healthy Snacks for Traveling: What to Eat
“One ounce of almonds provides 6 grams of satiating protein, 4 grams of fiber, and heart-healthy fats along with vitamins and minerals. It's an easy carry-on snack that provides delicious plant-based fuel,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN.
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Plus, studies have shown that eating nuts like almonds can increase good gut bacteria, which are crucial to immune health — a key defense when you’re busting through germy airports to get to your next race.
2. Hummus and veggies or whole-grain crackers
If you’re going to dip crackers into hummus (a good source of protein and fiber for your travel day), make sure they're whole grain, Ziegelbaum suggests. You may even be able to find carrot or celery sticks at the airport instead. Another option is adding hummus, avocado, and any veggies of your choice, to a whole-grain rye bread sandwich, Feller suggests. “A veggie-forward sandwich is a nice combination of plant-based proteins and unsaturated fatty acids along with whole grain bread that provides sustained energy and promotes level blood sugars,” she says.
3. Oatmeal packets
“Most airports have hot water accessible because many people order tea,”says Ziegelbaum. Pack plain, quick-cook oats in a small plastic bag in your carry-on, or bring an oatmeal packet — just watch out for excess added sugar in the flavoring. Add unsalted nuts or trail mix, or a peanut butter packet to give it a protein and crunch to your oats.
4. Plain Greek or full-fat yogurt with berries or nuts.
Many airport kiosks have a grab-and-go breakfast section filled with yogurts, which are ultra-convenient healthy snacks for traveling. But it’s important to choose the right one. Your best bet is to select plain full-fat yogurt, without lots of sugar added (a huge culprit is “fruit on the bottom” yogurt). Grab Greek yogurt for an extra dose of protein, up to 15 grams per cup. It’s a solid snack to tie you over and for your gut health, too. “Yogurt is a great source of calcium and good bacteria- promoting probiotics. Keeping your gut healthy is a great way to support the immune system, especially while traveling,” says Feller.
5. Peanut butter packets with apples
It’s always smart to bring along to-go packets of peanut butter in your travel bag, says Ziegelbaum. These are handy, and easy to find in a grocery store, or sometimes at the airport, too. You’ll get those good carbs and fiber from apple slices (read: immune-health strengthener), and about seven to nine grams of protein from the peanut butter.
Healthy Snacks for Traveling: What to Avoid
1. Sugary protein bars
The easiest on-the-go snack is a protein or granola bar, of course, but depending on which brand and kind you choose, they could pack enough sugar equivalent to a candy bar. Feller points out that if the bar is high in protein but has 12 or more grams of added sugar, you might as well be reaching for a chocolate bar. “Look for protein and granola bars with a short and recognizable ingredient list, about 200 calories, less than 10 grams of sugar, and at least 3 grams of protein and fiber,” says Ziegelbaum.
2. Yogurt parfaits
Beware before you reach for a pre-made yogurt and fruit parfait, as opposed to a pre-portioned cup of plain yogurt. “Sometimes these grab-and-go snacks are made with yogurt and granola that have a ton of added sugars. On the surface, it seems like a healthy choice, but can pack upwards of 30 grams of [quickly burned] added sugar, that will leave you hungrier than you want,” says Feller.
3. Salty potato chips and trail mixes
When you’re in the airport or on a flight, you may be tempted to reach for a salty snack like pretzels or chips, but you’re not doing yourself any hydration favors. “I recommend avoiding anything too salty, as salt is dehydrating, and flying is already dehydrating, even when you don’t eat salty foods,” Ziegelbaum says. “While some whole-grain crackers or pretzels with nut butter or hummus are okay, I recommend avoiding salty potato chips, and salty nuts or trail mixes.”
4. Breakfast cookies
Protein cookies and breakfast squares may taste delicious but don't do the trick when it comes to fueling you up for your trip. “Some of these cookies pack more sugar than you expect and can be filled with refined grains [as opposed to whole grains]. The end result is a sweet breakfast that is far from filling,” says Feller. Eating actual oatmeal, or something like a hard-boiled egg, would be a more protein-packed and satisfying solution.
5. Smoothies that don’t have real fruit
You may be looking for a refreshing drink to sip on while you wait at your gate, but be alert when it comes to smoothies. “While smoothies make a great snack, be careful because some of the ones you find in the airport can be made with sugary mixes and lack the nutrients that you expect from them,” says Ziegelbaum. To avoid doubling down on the sugar and related sugar-induced crash, Ziegelbaum suggests making sure your smoothie is made with fresh fruits and vegetables, nut milk or Greek yogurt, and a source of protein like peanut butter.