But What About Snacks?


This winter, while training at altitude in Colorado, I recorded my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a full week and shared it with Well+Good to give you all an idea of how I fuel for my training. I am as passionate about my nutrition as I am about running, so this is a labor of love.

The overwhelming response to this article was: “But what about snacks?” So here is the lowdown about snacking for athletes, including how to snack, what to snack on, when, and why.

The article below is advice from local Portland dietitian, Emma Denton. Emma is the expert here and I love the way that she approaches the topic of nutrition. Emma says:

One of the captivating aspects of nutrition is that our knowledge of it and experience with it is ever-evolving. What holds true is that nutrition is an integral part of each day and it’s a powerful tool to fuel the mind and body.

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Emma offers private nutrition coaching to support individuals in making positive and sustainable lifestyles changes. You can check out her website with plenty of resources and recipes. Scroll down to try her original recipe for Dark Chocolate Cherry Bites.


EMMA DENTON: As an athlete, proper nutrition supports your recovery, performance and overall health. In addition to three meals, athletes can aim for 2 to 4 snacks per day, which is a meal or snack about every 2 or 3 hours. Snacking not only helps meet your nutrient needs but also better fuels you throughout the day, both mentally and physically. Your meal and snack pattern will depend on your schedule, training level and food preferences.

When it’s time to perform, what, when and how much you eat and drink should be something tried and true. Training days are an opportunity to find out what works best. Plan to eat within 1 to 4 hours prior to exercise and focus on carbohydrates and protein. If you chose a snack close to your workout, as close as 30 to 60 minutes, opt for one higher in carbs that are easy to digest. Items like fruit and crackers will be easier on the gut because they are lower in fat and fiber than items like avocado, eggs and nuts. Staying hydrated also aids digestion. Grab something with carbs and protein post-exercise too. To optimize recovery, aim for a snack within 30 minutes, which is not a bad time to enjoy a glass of chocolate milk before a meal within an hour or two.

Healthy Snack Ideas for Athletes:

  • Fresh or dried fruit

  • Cheese and crackers

  • Granola, date or fig bar

  • Vegetables and hummus

  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie

  • Yogurt with fruit and granola (try making your own!)

  • Trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, popcorn

  • Grilled chicken or tuna with whole wheat pita or tortilla

  • Whole wheat pancake or waffle with fruit and/or yogurt

  • Oatmeal with milk, fruit and maybe even some nut butter (colleen’s oatmeal recipe)

  • Nut butter and banana or honey on whole wheat bread or rice cakes

All foods can fit into a healthy diet, but which ones are most and least beneficial? Nutrient-dense foods are the ones to emphasize: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, all of which you’ll find on our snack list including good sources of iron like peanut butter, dried fruit, oatmeal, chicken and tuna. Iron is essential for athletes, especially distance runners and vegetarians. Other iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, beans, tofu and grain products like whole wheat bread and cereal. Items with an unimpressive nutrient profile are the ones to limit: fried foods, chips, candy, donuts and other sweets including sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks.

Are you craving sweets now? Reach for something with fruit or dark chocolate, such as a smoothie or no-bake energy bites (see recipe below). You may not find time to prepare recipes, but many healthy snacks have the benefit of being quick, accessible and inexpensive. Planning ahead to have healthy  options at the ready also means putting more money in the proverbial bank when the alternative might be a nutrient-poor impulse buy like chips or cookies. If you do have a window to plan and prepare meals and snacks, and especially if that involves making fruit and yogurt popsicles or Superhero muffins, I hope you make enough to share!


RECIPE: Dark Chocolate Cherry Bites


½ cup peanut butter

⅓ cup honey

1 ¼ cups oats

½ cup almonds

¼ cup chocolate chips

¼ cup dried cherries

How: Combine peanut butter and honey in a medium mixing bowl. Mix in oats and then remaining ingredients thoroughly. Roll into golf balls or roll out between sheets of wax or parchment paper about ¼ inch then cut into desired shape. Store in the refrigerator.

Serves: 9

Serving size: 2

Nutrition Facts

Per serving: Calories 238; Total Fat 13g; Protein 6.8g; Carb 28g; Fiber 4g; Sodium 46mg; Calcium 30mg; Iron 2.2mg; Potassium 241mg  


COLLEEN: I love this idea for a post run snack. A normal morning for me consists of an hour run followed by an hour in the gym doing my strength routine. Between those two activities I need some fuel to keep me going. I make snacks like this and keep them in my fridge/freezer then throw a few in my bag before rushing out the door. You can also check out my date balls recipe for an alternate option.

I am so grateful for Emma’s help with this article. Feel free to reach out to her if you are looking for a dietitian to work with to answer your more in-depth nutrition-related questions.

Happy snacking!