It’s easy to get lost going up and down the aisles of your local grocery store, especially when you’re looking for healthy snacks that will sustain you through a training session, and you're bombarded by labels claiming “high protein,” “low fat,” or “all-natural.” It all sounds good in theory, but you should be wary of extra sugar, enriched flour, unpronounceable preservatives, and other additives that can actually downlevel the nutritional value of a seemingly healthy snack.
As a rule of reference, a whole-foods approach to snacking is best — go for fruits and veggies when you can. But if you're craving something more, here are our top-five Spartan-friendly healthy snacks at the grocery store, plus five things to avoid.
5 Spartan-Approved Healthy Snacks at the Grocery Store
1. Beet juice
Fruit juices, yogurt smoothies, and juice blends that you may spot in your local market are typically packed with sugars, making them often not worth drinking. Try beet juice instead. According to Jen Silverman, MS, CNS, NLC, “It’s packed with natural sugars, giving athletes a quick boost of energy. More importantly, it has nitrates in it, known to increase blood flow and oxygen to muscles during a strenuous workout."
Believe it or not, jerky makes a solid grab-and-go, non-perishable snack. (Also, awesome for road-trip munchies to your next Spartan Race!) “Another great source of protein, nowadays you can get salmon, turkey, pork, chicken or beef jerky,” says Silverman. Your best bet is to choose nitrate-free, low sodium, and organic jerky if you can.
3. Greek yogurt
This is always a dependable pre-workout or post-workout protein-filled snack, as long as you choose one with minimal added sugar. “Some brands provide up to 20g of protein in one single serving,” says Silverman. “You also have the option of adding fruit and nuts to make it extra satiating.”
Of course, you’ll want to refuel with protein after a workout, but healthy fats are important, too. Adding avocado to your post-workout snack or protein smoothie is a steller way to introduce healthy fats into your diet. Also, studies have shown that eating avocado can help your metabolism and help keep you satiated for hours after you eat them.
Oatmeal doesn’t have to be just a breakfast food; it has the protein and fiber to satisfy you at any time of the day. “Quick, easy, and cheap, oatmeal is the perfect pre-workout snack. Oats are packed with carbohydrates, and as an endurance athlete, this should be your focus before training,” says Silverman.
Not-So-Healthy Snacks at the Grocery Store
1. Protein Bars or Cookies
“While protein bars seem to be the go-to for most athletes, most brands are more like a glorified candy bar than a health food,”says Silverman. They may advertise that they’re “made with whole grain” or “all-natural,” but this is often not the case. “Packed with added sugar, calories and often times loads of fat and additives, I’d argue that their convenience isn’t worth it. More specifically, I also advise clients to avoid too much fat before training, because it leaves you feeling sluggish.”
2. Certain Nuts and Nut Butters
Eating nuts, as long as they don’t have added salt or sugary flavoring, or (no-salt, no-sugar-added) nut butter isn’t innately bad for you. It’s the portion control that can be the problem. “While they have protein in them, nuts and nut butters are very high in fat. Most people overdo it with portion and wind up using 2 to 3 times the normal serving size,” says Silverman. Calories add up quickly in nut butter portions, so if you’re going to slather peanut, hazelnut, or almond butter on anything, keep it to about 2 tablespoons, the serving size according to most jars.
3. Trail Mix with Candy and Sugar-Sweetened Dried Fruit
“On the surface, this snack may seem like a balanced choice, but the sugar-sweetened dried fruit and candy packs more added sugars than you know and make trail mixes of this sort more of a dessert and less of a balanced snack,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. If you’re going to choose a trail mix, make sure the nuts are not salted, and that there aren’t secretly sugary additives masquerading as “fruit”.
4. Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn on its own (especially if air-popped or home-popped with avocado or olive oil) is a whole grain snack and a good source of carbohydrates and fiber. But the pre-portioned microwave popcorn bags have been proven in the past to contain chemicals that could cause lung diseases, not to mention that they typically contain GMOs and oils high in saturated fats. Making popcorn is something you should try at home. But avoid the pre-bagged, pre-boxed stuff.
5. Veggie Straws
Don’t be deceived by the pictures of vegetables on the package: Veggie straw snacks are often not the real deal. They’re usually manufactured with cornstarch and potato starch and just dyed different colors to look healthier, but don’t have much nutritional value. It would be much better to choose actual carrot and celery sticks and dip them in hummus or guacamole. Or oven roast thinly sliced sweet potato sticks lightly tossed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.