Hiking, biking, running, walking – whatever your go-to activity is, you probably have a go-to snack, right? But is it healthy, well balanced, and helping your body to recover from a strenuous day outdoors or is it giving you too much sugar and not enough nutrition?
Packing food and snacks for outdoor activities may sound easy, but you want to make sure you choose nutritionally balanced foods; specifically foods that provide a balanced boost of protein and carbs to keep you energized, are low in sugar and higher in fiber to avoid a blood sugar spike, and are easy to eat, easy to store and easy to take on the go.
10 Foods and Snacks for Outdoor Workouts
Ok, maybe water isn’t exactly a ‘snack,’ but it is critical to stay well-hydrated while participating in any outdoor activity – hiking, running, biking, walking, volleyball, basketball, yoga, swimming. You get the idea, but it’s an important reminder regardless. People often reach for more sugary electrolyte-heavy options like sports drinks instead of plain, still water. But your best source of hydration is water, plain and simple. If you need to boost your electrolytes, there are some great snack options to consider, particularly some that are high in potassium, instead of sugary drink substitutes. When you’re packing for a day of activity, be sure to bring at least one large (16oz or bigger) reusable (for the environment, of course) water bottle. If you don’t have a backpack or a place big enough to store a bottle, consider some options that are designed specifically for outdoor activities, like pouches, arm bottles, or water packs. There are also some water bottles with a carabiner or hook to attach to your jacket or belt loop.
Go ahead, go nuts! Cashews. Peanuts. Almonds. Walnuts. Eat them individually or combine them for a flavor wow! Even try some of the flavored enhanced nuts for an extra kick - BBQ, smoked, wasabi, or sesame – but eat these in moderation because these are typically high in sodium, which can make you thirsty! Nuts, while high in fat, are good sources of protein, typically 5 grams or more per serving. Nuts are also a nutrient-rich snack that can keep you feeling full and satisfied. Specifically, almonds are high in calcium, cashews are high in both magnesium and iron, and walnuts are high in omega-3 fats – the good fat. While the carb content in nuts is variable, in general they are typically a great snack to eat, even on a low-carb diet. So be sure to pack at least a handful of nuts to snack on throughout a hike, during a bike ride, or to enjoy after a long run. Looking for nuts with protein? Read about the top ten nuts for protein here.
There is a wide variety of energy and high-performance bars that are perfect for an outdoor nibble during an active day. Snack bars are individually wrapped and practically fit anywhere for easy access - in a purse, a fanny pack, or a backpack. In general you will want to choose one that carefully balances the protein, carbohydrates, fiber and sugars. Sugar is a big one to keep in check on snack bars, especially for kids. Check out the Low Sugar Snack Bars For Kids article for suggestions on how to choose those. Keeping those things in mind, snack bars are usually a great source of energy and have a high protein count, often used as meal substitutes. So pack your favorite flavor and hit the road.
Beef jerky. Pork jerky. Turkey jerky. Vegetarian and even vegan jerky - really! Jerky, of any flavor, might raise an eyebrow or two in the ‘healthy snack category,’ but in fact, it is. Like any snack, or semi-processed foods (enhanced with flavors), you will want to keep a close eye on sodium content; sodium can lead to fluid retention, which can impact your blood pressure and put stress on your heart. Livestrong sums up the benefits of beef jerky, specifically, as a high protein snack that actually has several dietary benefits. So grab some jerky for a flavor packed, chewy, filling snack for your energy-burning outdoor workout.
Whole fruits will always be great snack options for several reasons. Whole fruits are typically low in sodium, fat, and calories, and high in fiber. Fiber is an essential dietary requirement and one that is often overlooked. For information on the importance of eating fiber, check out this article on why you should be eating more fiber now. Some of the direct health benefits of eating a high-fiber diet include better digestion, lowering of cholesterol, and controlling your blood sugar. Although whole fruits do contain natural sugars, the fiber content in them helps to slow your body’s rate of sugar absorption, lessening the chances of a sugar high or spike in your blood sugar after eating some. In addition to the health benefits of fruit, they are usually pretty easy to pack and transport. Since many fruits come with a skin, they are relatively protected – bananas, oranges, and apples, for example. Each fruit also contains independent benefits for your overall health. For example, bananas are terrific sources of potassium. Potassium is a type of electrolyte that assists with a range of important body functions, including blood pressure, heart rhythm, and aids digestion. Keeping your electrolytes balanced throughout the day, especially during outdoor activities where you are sun-exposed and likely sweating, is important to your overall health. Keeping whole fruits on hand is a well-balanced option for a snack to keep you going long after your day of outdoor fun is over.
Vegetables can provide a wide-variety of nutritional benefits that make them a must for any healthy snack list. Bite-size vegetables, in particular, are ideal for any on-the-go snack pack. Baby carrots, snap peas, mini peppers, celery sticks, and cucumber slices, to name a few, are perfect to take on the road. These are great individually or mixed together for texture and flavor options. Packing these in small snack bags or travel size containers can typically fit easily in backpacks or coolers making them a smart addition! The often crisp and refreshing snacks give you a solid nutrition boost, providing folic acid, potassium B vitamins, iron, and more. And like whole fruits, vegetables are a terrific source of fiber.
This choice might be slightly temperamental for long days in the sun since it is usually refrigerated and best chilled, but it’s worth adding it as an option to consider for shorter days or specific ‘games.’ String cheese is better than other cheese options because it’s individually wrapped and easy to eat on the go. One string cheese is typically only 50 calories and has at least 6 grams of protein. Most cheese flavors – Cheddar, Colby Jack, and Swiss – come in stick form too; similar to the string cheese option. So now you have even more options to consider if the traditional string cheese mozzarella flavor isn’t your cup of tea.
Similar to the snack bars, granola bars provide a wide-variety of options. Although there isn’t a clear differentiator between snack bars and granola bars, there are some agreed-upon differences. Livestrong defines the differences by ingredient - “The ingredients of energy bars and granola bars often overlap. In general, the primary ingredient in granola bars is a granola made from rolled oats, puffed rice or other grains. Some energy bars contain rice crisps, rolled oats and toasted oats. Sugar syrups, oils, fruit pastes and other sticky materials hold the grains together in a bar form.” Like snack bars, granola bars are portable and often individually wrapped. Even though granola bars typically pack less protein than snack bars, they tend to be lower in calories. Both types of bars have a purpose and deserve to be on this list. You may choose between them depending on your activity and needed energy level. (just make sure to check the sugar content!)
Dried fruit is another terrific way to enjoy the fiber benefits of whole fruit, but in a more compact and chewy way. Naturally dried fruits without any added sugars are your best bet for the most nutritional impact. Some dried fruits to consider are raisins, figs, dates, mangoes, apricots, and apples. The fruit goes through a dehydration process where essentially all the water content is removed, shrinking the fruit, and extending its shelf life. While the vitamin C content of the fruit is greatly lessened during the dehydration process, it still maintains the fiber and nutrients of the whole fruit. Store these dried fruits in a small container or snack bag for easy packing and you can take them just about anywhere (and they have an advantage over fresh fruit in that they won't bruise as they bump around in your backpack!)
Mix and match some of your favorites from this list and create the perfect outdoor snack mix. Trail mix is usually made up of granola, nuts, and dried fruits mixed together for a flavor-packed bite. You can buy prepackaged trail mixes or make your own! You can even add something sweet like chocolate or yogurt chips, in moderation of course. Trail mix provides a nice break from eating the individual contents on their own. It’s a snack that can awaken your taste buds while still delivering solid nutritional benefits. This often energy-enhancing snack can be easily packed if you make your own. And if you buy the prepackaged kind, get them in the individual serving containers and toss one in your bag before you head out for a workout or outdoor activity!
(Truth Bars are a great source of nutrition and clean energy for before, during and after a workout. They are low in sugar (4-5g), high if fiber (12-14g) are 200 calories or less, with protein options that deliver 10g of protein. And, they are delicious! But with any chocolate covered bar, make sure you don't leave it laying in the sun!)