Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat, it's essential to eat enough and eat clean. Stock up on these healthful staples and you'll be less likely to sabotage your buff-to-blubber ratio. When you have the right snacks available, you can curb cravings and provide vital nutrients to support fitness gains. Now who's hungry?

High-Protein Snacks

Edamame

Edamame, or green soybeans, provide a stellar mix of protein, slow-digesting carbs, and fat to keep your energy levels steady so you're more likely to hit the gym than the couch after work. These verdant gems are also jam-packed with important nutrients like folate, vitamin K, iron, and magnesium. Find them in the freezer section.

Need to Know

If you're concerned about genetically modified foods, splurge for edamame that's certified organic.

Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

These jack-o'-lantern castoffs are full of whole-food protein, with about 7 grams per crunchy serving. None of their carbohydrates are sugar, making them an even better way to elevate protein content in salads, oatmeal, yogurt, or cottage cheese.

Pumpkin Seeds

Need to Know

You can turn to pumpkin seeds for a source of testosterone-boosting zinc.

Pouched Fish

If you're on the hunt for a snack that's nearly pure muscle-friendly protein, try the take-anywhere pouches of salmon and tuna found in the canned-fish aisle. No need to drain or carry around a can opener—all you need is a fork.

Pouched Fish

Need to Know

Protein will satisfy you even longer when mixed with fat or fiber. Mix some guacamole, which contains both, into the pouch.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Not just for breakfast, the humble egg possesses an abundance of branched-chain amino acids, providing a lot of muscle-building bang for the buck. Boil up a carton's worth and stash them in your office fridge for times when you feel tempted by the vending machine.

Need to Know

Look for omega-3 enriched eggs, which help maintain brain function.[1]

Plain Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is made by straining away the liquid, so deliciously thick Greek-style yogurts can contain twice as much protein as regular versions, supplying up to 23 grams of protein per cup. It's also full of gut-friendly bacteria and bone-building calcium.

Plain Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has gone from an obscure item in the dairy aisle to a cultured rock star.

Need to Know

Avoid added sugar by opting for plain Greek yogurt.

Icelandic Yogurt

Traditional Icelandic yogurt, called skyr, typically has even more protein than its Mediterranean counterpart and a creamy texture that makes it feel more like dessert than a healthy snack.

Need to Know

Flavored skyr can also contain added sugar. Enjoy it plain, or stir in some berries.

String Cheese

Not just for your kid's lunchbox, string cheese is a convenient way to bolster your protein intake with little carbohydrate cost. Consider reduced-fat versions to keep the calories in check, but if you're looking to gain mass, the extra calories in full-fat string cheese can help in your pursuit of size.

String Cheese

Need to Know

As with regular cheese, the stringy version offers up good amounts of bone-strengthening calcium.

Milk (2%)

Moo juice remains a reliable source of top-notch protein with a bioavailability just shy of that found in an egg. Not only does 2 percent taste better than skim, it will help you absorb the fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin D present in milk.

Need to Know

Studies show that cows raised using organic farming methods produce milk with a more favorable nutritional profile.[2]

Cottage Cheese

This spoonable cheese is rich in casein protein—about 28 grams in a cup. Casein is a slow-digesting protein that supplies your growing muscles with a steady supply of vital amino acids. For this reason, it makes a great bedtime snack, aiding recovery and preventing catabolism while you fast overnight.

Cottage Cheese

This curd-riddled cheese product is laced with casein protein—about 28 grams in a cup.

Need to Know

Cottage cheese is notoriously high in sodium, so compare nutrition labels to find brands that contain less.

Jerky

We're not jerking you around when we say jerky is one lean, mean snack option that's good for more than just road trips. With a 10:1 protein-to-fat ratio for most brands, going all paleo and gnawing on jerky between meals is a perfect way to show your muscles some love.

Need to Know

Beyond beef, also look out for buffalo, pork, turkey, venison, and even salmon jerky options.

Protein Bars

Looking for convenient, delicious protein on the go? You can't go wrong with bars for ultraconvenient protein that feels like a treat. Keep a few in your gym bag and at work to ensure you won't reach for the wrong kinds of foods when the munchies strike.

Need to Know

Don't just glance at the protein numbers. If you're watching your calories, check the fat and carbohydrate grams to ensure you're not just eating a protein-enhanced candy bar.

Low-Carb Snacks

Nut-Butter Packets

Single-serving packets of nut butters such as almond, hazelnut, or peanut are gym-bag-friendly and automatically portion-controlled. Simply tear open the packet and suck back the creamy goodness that's rich in healthy fats, protein, and important minerals. Look for options with the least amount of added sugar.

Need to Know

Forget the reduced-fat versions. All they do is replace the healthy fat with not-so-healthy sugar.

Celery

Celery is 95 percent water, making it a perfect low-carb snack. Slice and add to salads or fill with nut butter for a snack that's big on nutrition but low in six-pack-killing processed carbs.

Need to Know

Celery is a good way to obtain an extra dose of vitamin K, which can bolster bone strength.

In-Shell Pistachios

Pistachios are packed with protein, cholesterol-busting monounsaturated fat, fiber, and B vitamins. But it's easy to inhale several handfuls. Buy them in the shell—the extra work of shelling the nuts can put the brakes on mindless overeating.[3]

Need to Know

Pistachios added to common carbohydrate-rich meals, such as rice and pasta, can significantly reduce the post-meal blood sugar spike.

Mixed Nuts

Nuts like peanuts, cashews, and almonds make for a crunchy way to add more protein and healthy unsaturated fats to your diet. They're also easy to find in places where good choices are scarce, like gas stations.

Walnuts

Need to Know

If you're watching your sodium intake, look for packages labelled "unsalted."

Walnuts

With only 4 grams of carbs per ounce, walnuts can help you snack your way through a low-carb diet. They also contain lofty levels of mega-healthy omega-3 fatty acids—another good reason to go nuts for them. When purchasing nuts, opt for salt-free to keep your sodium intake in check.

Need to Know

This crunch bunch also supplies copper, a mineral required for proper energy production in the body.

High-Fiber Snacks

Frozen Grapes

These subzero heroes provide a sweet pop in your mouth that helps quell midday sugar cravings. Spread whole grapes in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze until firm, and store in an airtight zip-top bag.

Grapes

Need to Know

Try using red grapes, which are higher in antioxidants than their green brethren.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is an ideal nosh when you need a sweet fix or a shot of energy before hitting the weight room. The fiber favorably impacts blood sugar and appetite-regulating hormones compared to simple carbs like cookies, but the sugars still give you a boost.[4]

Need to Know

Dried plums are also laced with disease-fighting muscle-mending antioxidants.

Apricots

Bob Dylan famously sang, "Everybody must get stoned." He was probably referring to eating the stone-fruit apricots as a lower-sugar option (about 8 grams per two fruits). Enjoy as is, or slice and add to yogurt, oatmeal, and even salad for natural sweetness.

Apricots

Need to Know

The orange-tinged flesh of the apricot is a tipoff that it contains high amounts of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that has been linked to the support of brain function.[5]

Strawberries

Among berries, strawberries supply the least amount of sugar—about 11 grams per cup—making them a great option for satisfying a sweet tooth. If you're concerned about possible pesticide exposure, opt for strawberries labelled "organic."

Need to Know

Strawberries are a stellar source of vitamin C, which may help regular gym-goers avoid coming down with the sniffles.

Kale Chips

Crispy kale chips are surprisingly tasty (seriously!) and have the benefit of being made with one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. When a snack attack strikes, you'll also reap the benefit of sending about 30 percent fewer starchy carbs into your body compared to potato chips.

Kale Chips

Crispy kale chips are surprisingly tasty (seriously!) and have the benefit of being made with one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.

Need to Know

This green giant contains a ton of vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A.

Other Nutrutious Snacks

Dark Chocolate

If you need a nibble that feels a bit indulgent, look no further than dark chocolate. Dark chocolate—the stuff with at least 60 percent cocoa content—has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.[6]

Dark Chocolate

Need to Know

Because dark chocolate has a more intense flavor than the sugar-laden milk varieties, you'll be satisfied with less.

Tomato Juice

Good for more than bloody marys, tomato juice has less than half the sugar found in orange juice. Lower-sodium options help reduce the risk of water retention. Be sure that what you're drinking is 100 percent vegetable juice and not a blend made with sugary fruit juices and sweeteners.

Need to Know

In a study published in Nutrition Journal, athletes who sipped antioxidant-rich tomato juice had less post-exercise inflammation than those who didn't, which could speed up recovery.[7]

References

  1. Horrocks, L. A., & Yeo, Y. K. (1999). Health Benefits Of Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211-225.
  2. Benbrook, C. M., Butler, G., Latif, M. A., Leifert, C., & Davis, D. R. (2013). Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States–wide, 18-month study. PLoS One, 8(12), e82429.
  3. Honselman, C. S., Painter, J. E., Kennedy-Hagan, K. J., Halvorson, A., Rhodes, K., Brooks, T. L., & Skwir, K. (2011). In-Shell Pistachio Nuts Reduce Caloric Intake Compared To Shelled Nuts. Appetite, 57(2), 414-417.
  4. Furchner-Evanson, A., Petrisko, Y., Howarth, L., Nemoseck, T., & Kern, M. (2010). Type of snack influences satiety responses in adult women. Appetite, 54(3), 564-569.
  5. Grodstein, F., Kang, J. H., Glynn, R. J., Cook, N. R., & Gaziano, J. M. (2007). A Randomized Trial Of Beta Carotene Supplementation And Cognitive Function In Men: The Physicians' Health Study II. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167(20), 2184-2190.
  6. Jalil, A. M. M., & Ismail, A. (2008). Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health?. Molecules, 13(9), 2190-2219.
  7. Harms-Ringdahl, M., Jenssen, D., & Haghdoost, S. (2012). Tomato Juice Intake Suppressed Serum Concentration Of 8-oxodG After Extensive Physical Activity. Nutrition Journal, 11(1), 29.

About the Author

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat, it's essential...

View all articles by this author

Diet