Sugar has a terrible reputation, but it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact, sugar- in the form of carbohydrates-is the natural fuel source for exercise. But here’s the thing–not all sugar is created equal.
Added sugar is probably what comes to mind when you hear the word “sugar.” It’s found in products like soda, energy drinks, and candy, and it hides in some pasta sauces, salad dressings and breads. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of your daily calories, or about 12 teaspoons (48 grams) on a 2,000-calorie diet. In other words, some added sugar is perfectly okay, and trying to cut it out entirely is extremely difficult and can cause some major eating anxiety. On the other hand, eating too much added sugar can cause cavities, an increased risk of heart disease and obesity, which can lead to additional health problems like Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.
Natural sugars, on the other hand, are inherently found in certain foods. Any food that contains carbohydrates, such as fruit, dairy products, vegetables, and whole grains, has natural sugar. While a bottle of soda and a banana both have sugar in them, the natural sugar in the banana is paired with other nutrients and provides more of a nutritional bang for your buck. Since only 10% of your calories should come from added sugar, but most people need 50-60% of their calories from carbs, natural sugar sources should make up 40-50% of your daily calories.
With that, here are 25 natural sugar snack options to help fuel your workouts and keep you energized throughout the day.
- Fruit. Any fruit is a great The humble banana is the best of both worlds–easy to digest natural sugar and a tasty and portable snack.
- Nuts. Packed with nutrients like protein and omega-3’s, nuts are a healthy and filling non-perishable snack. Just try to keep the portion to a small handful since they are high in calories (To spice things up, try these Cinnamon Roasted Almonds).
- Oatmeal. Want a filling breakfast that will keep you full and energized? Whip-up this recipe for Loaded Oatmeal with SunButter to get an extra dose of protein and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and iron.
- Popcorn. Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Buy plain kernels, make it on the stovetop and add your favorite toppings, such as sea salt or cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Plain Greek Yogurt. Unsweetened Greek yogurt may make your face pucker, but it’s easily sweetened up with some fresh fruit or unsweetened dried fruit. As a bonus, Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, making it a good choice for post-workout.
- Cheese. Another good source of post-exercise protein and tasty to boot, a cheese stick ia 100-calorie portable snack!
- Pancakes. Yes, pancakes! You may not think of pancakes as being a healthy food option, but it’s all in how you make them. This recipe for Blueberry Pecan Pancakes contains whole grains, healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants. Eat them before or after your morning workout.
- Dates. These dried fruits are the perfect natural sweetener. Eat them on their own for a sweet treat, add them to a pre-workout smoothie or try these Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls.
- Sweet Potatoes. This tuber is a nutritional powerhouse. They are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds called carotenoids, and they are exceptionally high in potassium, which can help with muscle contraction and fluid balance.
- Fruit Ice Cubes. Looking for substitution for a sugar sweetened beverage? Fruit infused water is an easy way to add flavor to your drinks without sugar. These Watermelon Lime Ice Cubes will help keep you cool and hydrated during summer workouts.
- Eggs. Though they are traditionally thought of as a breakfast food, eggs can be eaten at any time of day. Scrambled, hard boiled or poached, there are many ways to enjoy this vegetarian source of protein and B12.
- Peanut Butter. This nut butter is so easy to pair with other foods, like toast, oatmeal or smoothies. Just make sure to read the label to avoid unnecessary added ingredients such as sugar.
- Veggies. There are so many ways to eat vegetables. You can go simple by just cutting up some carrots or cucumber sticks, or get a little fancier by trying recipes such as this one for Crinkle Cut Jicama Fries. Either way you’re going be eating a nutritionally dense food that gives you a large number of nutrients for the compared to the number of calories.
- Pretzels. Pretzels are a tasty low-calorie carbohydrate source. The salt on pretzels can even be a good source of sodium for athletes who have lost a lot through sweating. While some pretzels do have added sugars, others do not. Again, read that label!
- Edamame. Many stores, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, sell bags of frozen edamame. Just pop them into the microwave for a couple of minutes, sprinkle on some salt, and you have yourself a healthy, high protein snack.
- Cereal with Milk. This is another snack where reading the back label is important. There are quite a few healthier cereals on the market that contain whole grains, are fortified with important vitamins and minerals, and have no added sugars. Plus, the milk offers additional calcium and protein.
- Tuna Fish. Canned tuna is packed with protein and omega-3s, and research has shown that including fish in your diet can help to prevent heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Make a tuna salad with low-fat mayo, or simply scoop it on some crackers for a filling snack.
- Pasta. Yes, this one is could be considered more of a meal than a snack, but when it comes to carb loading for a long event, pasta is an easy go too. For an extra dose of fiber choose a whole grain option.
- Chickpeas. Chickpeas can be turned into hummus for dipping vegetables in, or roasted to create a crunchy, satisfying snack. These two recipes for Crunchy Chickpeas are low in calories, but rich in filling protein.
- Wasa Crackers. Not only are these crackers a delicious vehicle for additional toppings like peanut butter or hummus, they also contain just a few simple ingredients.
- Natural Applesauce. Although some applesauce brands add a decent amount of sugar to them, you can find some that are just apple and spices, like cinnamon.
- Avocado. Creamy and full of unsaturated fat, avocados can be mashed on top of toast, mixed in with cottage cheese, or eaten plain with a little bit of salt. Avocados also contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants which are great for exercise recovery.
- Smoothies. There’s already a few items in this list that you could add to a smoothie, but smoothies themselves can also be a healthy snack option. Sweeten your smoothie with ripe bananas, natural coconut water or dates in place of sugar.
- Hummus. This chickpea based snack is rich in protein and fiber and completely free of added sugar. Plus, it pairs well with veggies, crackers or pretzels. If you’re bored with the original, give this Turmeric Hummus a try.
- Jerky. This is a super portable, high-protein snack option. To avoid added sugar, skip the jerkies that have a marinade like teriyaki and be sure to check the ingredients list.