It's 3 p.m., lunch is a distant memory and your stomach is rumbling like a thunderstorm on the Nebraska plains. Sure, you ate lunch, but you're also putting some serious time on the gym floor training, and your body wants more calories.
Decision time: Graze on too much of the wrong foods (read: the plate of chocolate-chip cookies in the lunch room), and your snack habit could quickly sabotage your buff-to-blubber ratio. Yet if you have the right snacks available, you can curb cravings and provide vital nutrients to support fitness gains.
These overachievers fit the bill!
Nut Butter Packets
A number of companies like Justin's and Nuttzo are now supplying on-the-go single serving packets of nut butters such as almond, hazelnut or peanut. Simply tear open the portion-controlled packet and suck back the creamy goodness that's rich in healthy fats, protein, and a number of important minerals. Look for options with the least amount of added sugar.
These subzero heroes provide a sweet pop in your mouth that helps quell any mid-day sugar cravings. Unlike strawberries, grapes don't become rock solid when frozen; they're firm but still easy to bite into with a creamy consistency, similar to a bite-sized grape Popsicle. Simply spread whole grapes in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze until firm and store in an airtight zip-top bag. Try using red grapes, which are higher in body-friendly antioxidants than their green brethren.
If you're on the hunt for a snack that's nearly pure muscle-friendly protein, look no further than the take-anywhere pouches of fish like salmon and tuna found in the canned fish aisle of most supermarkets. Simply cut open the top and fork up the protein-packed meat to keep muscle growth in full force all day long. Try the single-serve wild albacore tuna pouches from Wild Planet. The forward-thinking company packs only sustainably sourced tuna meat that's loaded with more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than the competition.
Edamame is basically an under-ripe green soybean. It provides 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 a range of important nutrients like folate, vitamin K, iron and magnesium. You can find bags of frozen shelled edamame in the freezer section of most supermarkets and prepare them according to package directions. If you're concerned about genetically modified foods, splurge for edamame that's certified organic.
Pistachios have an impressive nutritional resume: laudable amounts of protein, cholesterol-busting monounsaturated fat, fiber, and energy-boosting B vitamins. But they're so tasty it's easy to inhale several handfuls that can quickly send your snack time into calorie overload. After all, a mere ounce delivers about 160 calories. That's why in-shell pistachios are a near perfect snack option. Scientists at Eastern Illinois University discovered that the extra work of shelling pistachios caused people to consume an average of 41 percent fewer calories than when they snacked on the nuts that were already shelled for them. The extra work (and tender fingers) of shelling the nuts can put the brakes on mindless overeating.
Not just for breakfast, the white orbs possess an abundance of branched-chain amino acids, which are the most anabolic amino acids in the body. This makes the humble egg a muscle-building power snack to grab hold of. Boil up a carton worth of inexpensive eggs and stash them in your office fridge for times when you feel tempted by the vending machine.
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 reduced heart disease risk and even lower body fat numbers in people who nibble on it more often. The polyphenol antioxidants in chocolate may favorably influence metabolism. Because dark chocolate has a more intense flavor than the sugar-laden milk varieties, you'll be satisfied with less (say about 1-ounce).
Move over Greek yogurt, there's a new deliciously thick cultured dairy worth spooning up. Traditional Icelandic yogurt, called Skyr, typically has even more protein than its Mediterranean counterpart (about 15-20 grams per serving) and a praise-worthy creamy texture that makes it feel more like dessert than a healthy snack. Like Greek yogurt, it's made by straining away the excess liquid, leaving behind the ultra-thick yogurt that's laced with gut-friendly probiotic bacteria. To sidestep the added sugars that can blow up your physique, opt for plain versions of Skyr. For a touch of natural sweetness, stir in some berries.
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 surprising 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. You can't go wrong with the brand Krave, which has delicious jerky flavors such as chipotle or pineapple orange and eschews any sketchy preservatives like MSG. Beyond beef, also look out for buffalo, pork, turkey, venison, and even salmon jerky options.
Not just for your kid's lunchbox, string cheese is a convenient way to help bolster your intake of protein and bone-building calcium all with little carbohydrate cost. Stash a bag in your fridge for when the munchies strike, but consider choosing reduced-fat versions to keep the snack calories more in your favor. If you're looking to gain mass, however, the extra calories that full-fat string cheese provides can help in your pursuit of glance-stealing size.
Bathroom jokes aside, dried plums (aka prunes) are an ideal nosh when you need a sweet fix or shot of energy before hitting the weight room. A study in the journal "Appetite" found that subjects who snacked on dried plums experienced a greater degree of satiety than when they ate the same number of calories in the form of low-fat cookies. Why? The researchers discovered that the fiber-rich dried fruit favorably impacts blood sugar and appetite-regulating hormones compared to the nutritionally lackluster cookie. Dried plums are also laced with disease-fighting, muscle-mending antioxidants.