Like most things related to fitness and food, protein is all about balance. Yes, your muscles need the macronutrient to recover properly, but you don’t need to chug protein shakes all day—in fact, you shouldn’t.
“More protein isn’t always better,” says Eliza Savage, R.D., practicing at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. “Excess protein is broken down and stored as fat. Plus, overemphasizing protein can make you lose sight of the importance of balanced diet that includes carbohydrates and fat.”
The average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day, Savage says, and endurance athletes should increase that to about 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. “It can go as high as 2.0 grams per kilogram for ultra-endurance athletes during high phases of training,” she explains. “The increased protein needs for runners is directly correlated to the increased energy expenditure and muscle wear and tear, because protein helps muscles repair and grow.”
That’s where snacks come in. “It’s important to spread your protein intake out throughout the day because the body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding muscle,” she says. Not to mention, “eating too much protein in one sitting can work against you, causing dehydration and constipation.” Aim for five to 15 grams of protein per snack, like in these balance bites below.
Clif Whole Lotta Bars
Clif’s new “Whole Lotta” line is loaded with nuts, seeds, nut butter, and a dash of pea protein for organic, vegan bars that keep you full for hours—without that chalky protein-bar taste. They come in four different flavors: Salted Dark Chocolate, Roasted Peanut Chocolate, Spiced Almond Ginger, and Tart Cherry Almond, and each has 10 grams of protein per bar. While the Salted Dark Chocolate and Roasted Peanut Chocolate options taste like a sweet treat, the Spiced Almond Ginger and Tart Cherry Almond are more savory for discerning palates.
If your snack style involves devouring half a box of cereal after a long run, you’ll appreciate Catalina Crunch, a zero-sugar cereal high in protein (eight to 10 grams per serving, depending on the flavor) and fiber (six to seven grams). Flavors include Dark Chocolate, Maple Waffle, and Cinnamon Toast.
There are about a billion nut butters on store shelves now, but with up to eight grams of protein per serving, you still can’t go wrong with the classic PB you had as a kid. Look for Crazy Richards, sold in grocery stores nationwide, to score an affordable peanut butter without added sugar or palm oil (peanut butter is amazing on its own!). Savage suggests combining with fruit and vegetables for a high-fiber snack.
Perfect Keto Bars
Despite flavors like Almond Butter Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Salted Caramel, these Perfect Keto bars have zero grams of added sugar and 10 to 11 grams of protein per bar—and no, you don’t need to be ~keto crazed~ to enjoy them. Stash a few in your desk drawer or gym bag in the case of a hunger emergency.
“Half a cup of chickpeas provides about 7.5 grams of protein, which is more than one egg,” Savage says. She loves Pulse Roasted Chickpeas and Biena Roasted Chickpea Snacks for the convenience factor. Or make your own at home by tossing raw chickpeas in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper or desired seasoning, then bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Jerky is another easy on-the-go high-protein snack option found in most gas stations and supermarkets. Savage says to go with a grass-fed version (like Country Archer), because “grass-fed meat is leaner and has a higher omega-3 content,” she says. “It’s also better for the environment.”
Savage likes hard-boiled eggs for their protein (6 grams) but also for their convenience: “You can find hard boiled eggs at your local Starbucks or Pret A Manger,” she says. And of course, you can also go the DIY route and keep some on hand in your fridge.
“Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats and protein, which keep you satisfied and energized,” Savage says. We like them because you can find bags of mixed nuts in almost every gas station in the country, and, usually, that’s your healthiest option. Just be sure to compare ingredient lists and go for the one with the fewest ingredients—ideally, it’s just the nuts and seeds, and some salt.
Both Greek and Icelandic yogurt (also knowns as Skyr; you’ve probably seen the brand Siggi’s in your grocery store) have more protein than regular yogurt (about 16 grams versus five grams). “Just aim for yogurt with fewer than 10 grams of sugar,” Savage says. That’s easy to do if you buy the plain variety and add your own fruit.
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