You don’t need a protein bar to refuel.
Pumping up the protein content of your meals comes with many perks. Getting enough protein may boost your bone health, improve your energy, and help the body repair cells and body tissues, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
And then there’s the fact that eating a lean protein-rich may help prevent weight gain. A 2013 study in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that women between ages 40 and 60 who ate a higher percentage of calories from protein were more likely to prevent weight gain over a two-year period. That’s because protein may help keep you full longer than carbs. (Sorry, pretzels.)
Most Americans get plenty of protein and have no trouble reaching the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (For example, that’s about 55 grams of protein for a 40-year-old woman who weighs 150 pounds, is 5’5” tall, and is somewhat active. Find out your recommended protein intake using the USDA nutrient calculator.)
What Makes for a Healthy, High-Protein Snack?
But here’s the rub: “Enough” protein doesn’t necessarily mean “good” protein. Snacking on beef jerky in the pursuit of protein might have a negative effect on your health (especially if you eat a lot of other meat). A diet lower in meats (especially processed meats like bacon, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs) may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers, according to the FDA.
And while there’s no shortage of high-protein snacks in the store, many of these are plumped up with protein powders and supplements. These ingredients usually don’t taste so great, so companies have to add additional salt and sugar to make a more palatable product. Pretty soon, you end up with a protein bar with over 20 grams of sugar. Um, pass. (Learn more rules for choosing a healthy snack bar here.)
Instead, look for nutrient-dense sources of protein: beans, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, whole grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy. No jerky and protein bars necessary.
Here are simple, whole food, and healthy high-protein snack ideas that will make that three-mile jog on the treadmill worth it (and we promise none of them contain a chalky protein powder).
Hard-boiled eggs. Eggs are a go-to for quick and easy source of protein, and no eggy form is more convenient than a hard-boiled one.
Protein boost: Two eggs offer 12 grams of protein and 140 calories.
Five whole-wheat crackers and a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. “Just a tablespoon?” you might be crying in horror. Yes, a full serving is actually two tablespoons, which is around 200 calories. If your calorie budget allows for it, go for the full two tablespoons. However, if you need to keep your snacks beneath 200 calories, a tablespoon might fit your needs better.
Oh, and switching to reduced-fat peanut butter (or those new, low-cal powdered peanut butter products) won’t do you any favors: The health benefits of nut butters come from their healthy fats, so it’s kind of sacrilegious to take them out (i.e. the calories are worth it).
Protein boost: One tablespoon of PB + five crackers (like Triscuit) = 6 grams of protein and 180 calories.
3/4 cup low-fat Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup berries. While both regular and Greek yogurt offer a high-protein (and high-calcium) bite, the Greek style has double the amount of protein. Skip the flavored, sweetened stuff; instead, add fresh berries to plain Greek yogurt, which will provide not only flavor but also crucial vitamins and minerals to boost your bone health, immune system, and overall wellness. Learn more ways to jazz up your daily yogurt here.
Protein boost: A 3/4-cup serving with 1/2 cup of strawberries has 17 grams of protein and 115 calories.
Half cup roasted chickpeas. After a little trip to the oven, chickpeas transform from squishy beans to a crunchy snack, reminiscent of trail mix. Like nuts, roasted chickpeas also offer a healthy dose of protein, but for fewer calories. (Yep: that means you can eat a bigger portion. #smallvictories) Check out our recipe for spicy roasted chickpeas here.
Protein boost: A two-ounce serving (about half a cup) offers 10 grams of protein and 220 calories.
Celery and carrot sticks with low-fat cottage cheese. Cottage cheese does not get enough credit. This dippable, spreadable, versatile cheese tastes somewhere between cream cheese and ricotta, but with curds. Calorie-wise, it’s also more waistline-friendly than most cheeses. What are you waiting for? Give cottage cheese a chance.
Protein boost: 15 grams of protein and 130 calories for half a cup of cottage cheese, five celery sticks, and five carrot sticks.
Want more high-protein foods?
Aldrich ND, Perry C, Thomas W, Raatz SK, Reicks M. Perceived importance of dietary protein to prevent weight gain: a national survey among midlife women. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013 May-June;45(3):213-21.
Chobani, non-fat plain greek yogurt. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/99470.)
Eat right to play hard. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2018. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/eat-right-to-play-hard.)
How much protein do you need every day? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Health Publishing, 2018. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096.)
Organic reduced fat 2% cottage cheese. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/19753.)
Peanut butter. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/40122.)
Protein. Washington, DC: Food and Drug Administration. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Protein.pdf.)
Pulse, roasted chickpeas. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/128294.)
Teen nutrition for fall sports. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/teen-nutrition-for-fall-sports.)
What to look for in yogurt. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-to-look-for-in-yogurt.)
When should my kids snack? Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/when-should-my-kids-snack.)
Whole Foods Market, carrot and celery sticks. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on May 3, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45167318.)
Wilcox, organic hard-boiled eggs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/30200.)
Woven wheats, baked whole wheat crackers. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on April 30, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/34921.)