The best snacks for runners are those that offer simple carbohydrates before a workout, and a combination of carbs and protein after training.
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Carbs are important because they provide the fuel for intense physical activities, while protein helps muscles repair and grow.
Important Nutrients for Runners
Before a long run, a carb-rich meal provides the energy your body needs to keep going. "Without enough carbs, runners may experience brain fog, poor running performance, fatigue, poor recovery and cravings," says Brooke Czarnecki, RDN, LD.
When we eat carbs, they are broken down into sugars (glucose), which enter our bloodstream and get transferred to other parts of the body to be used for energy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Glucose is also stored in the liver and muscles as a source of energy that your body can use when needed — say, during a long run.
High-carb snacks are also less likely to cause stomach problems such as bloating, cramping and diarrhea, which could hinder a runner's performance, according to March 2017 research in Sports Medicine.
Your recovery after a run will also be hurt if you don't eat enough protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for tissues in the body, including the muscles. Eating protein after intense exercise helps repair and rebuild those tissues.
How We Chose
We chose these snacks because they suit the specific nutritional needs of runners. In general, simple easier-to-digest carbs are necessary for fueling up prior to a run, while a combo of protein and carbs is needed after a run.
Our top picks were also chosen considering the following criteria:
- Taste and texture
- Macronutrient content
- Other vitamin and mineral content
"You may want to stay away from any products that have sugar alcohols like (xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and others) as they can cause digestive problems during runs," Czarnecki says.
1. That's It Fruit Bars
- Carbs: 22 to 27 grams per bar, depending on the flavor
Like the name implies, That's It Fruit Bars simply contain fruit — no other added ingredients. Fruits have natural sugars which are easily digestible and used for immediate energy, so they're perfect for those pre-workout needs.
Additionally, these bars have between 22 and 27 grams of carbs (depending on the flavor you choose), which, according to Sarah Schlichter, RDN, is suitable to eat 15 to 30 minutes before a run.
With no sugar alcohols or any artificial flavorings or colors, these bars are not likely to cause tummy trouble during a workout.
Buy it: Amazon.com Price: $21.99 for 12
2. Clif Blocks Energy Chews
- Carbs: 24 grams per 3 pieces
Clif blocks provide an immediate source of energy — an accessible choice for athletes during training or competition. Each chewable block is 33 calories, making it easy to track caloric needs.
These blocks contain organic sugars and maltodextrin, which are ideal for fueling demanding, high-intensity workouts. They're not made with tummy-distressing sugar alcohols and when taken during a long run, they may help replenish your energy.
Clif bar company recommends eating half a pack of Clif blocks 15 minutes prior to your run, and 1 to 2 packs per hour during activity — followed by sipping some water.
3. Eggo Waffles
- Carbs: 30 grams per two waffles
A serving of two Eggo waffles has 30 grams of carbs and is suitable for your pre-run meal. With less than a gram of fiber, it is not likely to cause stomach issues during your workout.
Eggo waffles also give you some essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium for bone health and B vitamins, which support your metabolism.
The best part about these waffles is that they're quick and simple to prepare. Just pop them in your toaster and in a minute or two, you've got a yummy snack to fuel your needs.
4. Bare Baked Crunchy Banana Chips
- Carbs: 26 grams per serving
Besides their delightful crunch and yummy taste, what makes these banana chips great is that they're not made with any oils or additives — just bananas (baked, not fried).
Per 1/3-cup serving, these chips give you 26 grams of energy-boosting carbs and only 1 gram of protein, so they are well suited for a pre-run snack.
Bonus: These contain no fructose, so they are less likely to cause any mid-run belly aches.
5. GU Energy Stroopwafel
- Carbs: 22 grams per cookie
With Gu Stroopwafel, you can enjoy a little crisp cookie treat while getting in some good pre-workout fuel. "It delivers a quick energy source as it's low in fiber and has quick-digesting carbs," says Czarnecki.
What's more, Gu Stroopwafel also has branched chained amino acids (BCAAs). "BCAA's are three essential amino acids that may help support muscle recovery and help decrease exercise-related soreness," Czarnecki adds.
This tasty crisp treat has 22 grams of carbohydrates and only 1 gram of protein.
Buy It: Amazon.com Price: $22.50 (pack of 16)
6. Fairlife Chocolate Milk Protein Shake
- Protein: 30 grams per bottle
With 30 grams of quality protein and just 2 grams of sugar, this chocolate shake is a great way to refuel after your run.
"Dairy foods have a great natural combination of carbs and protein, plus they offer bone-building calcium and vitamin D, which are important for runners as well," Schlichter says.
Tip: Since this has less than 30 grams of carbs, Schlichter suggests pairing this drink with a piece of fruit to help replenish your energy.
7. Peanut Butter Perfect Bar
- Protein: 17 grams per bar
Energy bars can be tasty, convenient and satisfying. And if you love peanut butter, put this one on your shopping list.
"The Peanut Butter Perfect Bar provides ample protein and carbs for runners," says Ashley Harpst, RD, sports dietitian. "This bar is fitting for optimal recovery, offering 27 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of protein."
Schlichter agrees. "Perfect Bars are a great snack for recovery post-run, plus they include several micronutrients for extra benefit."
8. Fage Yogurt
- Protein: 16 grams per serving
Like milk, yogurt is a natural source of both protein and carbs — the ideal combination to refuel after a run. Fage yogurt is also known for its rich and creamy taste.
A convenient snack-sized container of Fage 0% Plain Yogurt has 16 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs.
To up the carbs, Schlichter recommends pairing your Greek yogurt with fresh fruit or granola.
9. Wonderful Pistachios
- Protein: 6 grams per 1/4-cup serving
Wonderful pistachios come in a variety of flavors, including Honey Roasted, Lightly Salted and Sea Salt & Vinegar. And you can buy conveniently shelled ones, too!
A 1/4-cup serving of No Shells Lightly Salted Wonderful Pistachios contains 6 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbohydrates, making it a good protein-carb combo for after a short or low-intensity run.
A plant-based source of protein, it's also high in heart-healthy fats.
10. Dave's Killer Bread Plain Awesome Bagel
- Protein: 11 grams per bagel
Dave's Killer Bread Plain Awesome Bagel is a higher-protein bagel option. In fact, it's got 11 grams of protein as well an impressive 48 grams of carbs.
It's made with a combination of organic flours (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, millet and quinoa) and organic oats add to its flavor and protein content.
Paired with cream cheese or nut butter, they're definitely a satisfying snack for after your run.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $5.29
11. Good Culture Cottage Cheese
- Protein: 19 grams per serving
This is a conveniently packed, satisfying option with the natural combo of dairy-derived protein and carbs — making it another good choice for a post-run snack.
The combination of organic skim milk, organic whole milk and organic cream in this cottage cheese give it a rich and creamy appeal. And it's got a dense, small curd for a firmer texture.
One 5.3-ounce serving of the Low-Fat Classic style has 19 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbs. It also has live active cultures (aka probiotics) to benefit your gut.
Tip: To boost the carbs, top your cottage cheese with fresh berries.
What to Look For
In Pre-Run Snacks: Avoid Too Much Fiber, Fat and Protein
If you're a runner shopping for pre-workout snacks, choose options that aren't high in fiber, protein or fat. "Fiber, protein and fat take longer to digest, runners should focus predominantly on easy-to-digest carbs before a run for quick-acting energy," Schlichter says.
In Post-Run Snacks: Go for Protein and Carbs
In the post-run period, athletes should eat a nutritious snack that includes both protein and carbs, Schlichter says. "The carbs will help stabilize your blood sugar and replenish depleted glycogen [energy] stores, and the protein will stop muscle breakdown and promote muscle building."
In All Snacks: Limit Added Sugars
When it comes to choosing a snack product, it's always wise to go with one that isn't high in added sugar. Read your nutrition labels, as even some products marketed as "healthy" can be hiding loads of sugar.