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Ever leave for the gym just as your stomach starts to rumble? Finish your sets famished? Get shaky on the treadmill? Keeping healthy snacks in your gym bag alongside your clean clothes and comfortable sneakers makes actually getting there all the more likely—and makes the workout more enjoyable and productive.
While whole foods like a hard boiled egg, a handful of nuts, or a piece of fruit are usually the healthiest choice, sometimes that's just not possible. As someone who has more than once commuted home from the gym with a bag of chickpea puffs (aka classed-up Cheetos) in hand, I know all too well the perils of post-sweat hunger pangs. So, I combed through all the powders, bars, jerkies, and drinks to find the most nutritious—and actually tasty—options for a little pre- or post- workout fuel up. Along the way I googled all sorts of strange fillers, preservatives, and sweeteners, weighed nutrition labels, and sampled flavors. Of course, nutrition goals are personal and diverse, so I called upon an ultra-runner, a yoga teacher, and of course, a nutritionist, and asked them about their go-to's to add variety and lend expertise.
Here are some of the healthiest and most delicious snacks to have on the go:
The protein bar section of the grocery store can look a lot like the candy bar section—and it's not just the bright packaging. Most "protein bars" are loaded with simple sugars, not to mention freaky fillers, gums, preservatives, and food dyes. But, there are some gems out there: Bars that are nutritious, crunchy, chewy, filling, and the perfect mix of salty-sweet. Read on for our picks.
If you're trying out a keto diet or just looking for a filling, low carb bar, check out Dang Bars. Originally, I was hooked on the brand's crispy coconut chips, which are perfect for folding into a batch of Paleo Granola, sprinkling on top of salads, or just eating out of the bag. When I tried the bars—especially the warming Cardamom Chai and Chocolate Sea Salt flavors—I was sold again. A mix of nuts, seeds, pea protein, chicory root fiber and cocoa butter are combined to make a filling, but not too dense bar with a nice crispy bite to it. There's no added sugar, and unlike a lot of other low-carb or keto options, this bar is totally plant-based.
Kalumi Beauty Bars
I consulted nutritionist and holistic health coach Mia Rigden, who runs Rasa Life, about her favorites. Mia suggests Kalumi Beauty Bars for "a boost of protein, fat and fiber," and says that unlike most bars, which are "oftentimes highly processed and full of sugar," these ones "are made of high quality ingredients." At $6 each, these are more expensive than most on the market. But unlike that $5 latte, the Kalumi bar boasts 12 grams of marine collagen and pre-biotic fiber, plus delicious—and nutrient dense—ingredients like cashew butter, sweet potato, and cocoa butter. I tried all three flavors, and the Lemon Love easily won out. It's tart and not too sugary, with a creamy texture similar to a lemon truffle.
"I'm obsessed with peanut butter," admits our Digital Director David Tamarkin, who threw his personal favorite Perfect Bars into the round up taste test. "Also I feel like I know what I’m eating: it’s not like some of those bars that are mysterious to me, like: wait, what actually IS this?" The bars, which are primarily made up of ground peanuts and honey, also boast rice protein (which bumps the protein count to 17 grams) and a slew of dried "superfoods", like alfalfa, kelp, and flax seeds. While they require refrigeration, they can live at room temp for a week. Hopefully, you're switching out your gym bag contents more often than that anyway.
Dates are what give Lärabars their chewy texture and subtly spiced flavor—a plus for someone who's really hankering for dessert. While these aren't a low sugar option per-se, unlike table sugar, dates provide a mineral-rich boost of sweet at a lower glycemic index. "When in a post-run nutrition pinch, I reach for Lärabars, no question," says Brooke Danielson. "They're vegan, and I can pronounce every ingredient—there are only six in each bar on average." Danielson, the former Fashion and Lifestyle Director of Shape, has run six marathons and a 50k race with a visually impaired friend and runner— that means a lot of training (and snacks) squeezed into a busy work schedule. Out of the 16 flavors available, Brooke's favorites are the Cashew Cookie (which is made of only cashews and dates) and Peanut Butter Cookie. I also found the Cherry Pie's tart-sweet flavor to be pretty delicious.
Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bars
This is the second bar on our list to boast collagen protein—but unlike the plant-based marine collagen found in Kalumi bars, this is animal derived, and therefore not a vegetarian option. These creamy, melty bars are better than most desserts (I said it!) but they will leave you with sticky fingers, especially if you choose a flavor with lots of chocolate chips. Which, you should do, because the Mint Chocolate Chip is outrageously delicious and has tided me over before many a long run. Just maybe pack a napkin.
Another of Rigden's favorite snacks, these nut butter-based bars are a chewy, slightly salty option. Thanks to that chewiness, they take longer to eat and end up being a more filling snack. MacroBars also boast a pretty impressive nutritional lineup: 100% of the ingredients are raw and organic. Our favorites were the Peanut Butter + Chocolate Chip and the Cashew Butter bar—but for those hoping for a nut free option, look to the Sunflower Butter + Chocolate.
Our favorite protein powder and pre-made shakes lack that metallic, chemically taste that most artificially sweetened protein products have.
Made Of Protein Powder
I asked Nike Master Trainer and co-owner of New York's Sky Ting yoga studio Krissy Jones about her favorite snack between clients and classes. Her answer was fellow Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso's protein powder, Made Of. "It's a clean protein that tastes amazing in everything, even if you just blend it in water," she tells us. Made Of, which comes in either Chocolate or Vanilla (in what might be the chicest food packaging I've seen this year) is 95% whey protein isolate, blends easily in a shaker bottle, and lacks that gritty mouth feel so many powders leave behind.
Owyn Protein Shakes
Yes, most pre-bottled protein shakes are gross and made with questionable sweeteners and gums. They also usually taste like artificial melted ice cream: Cloyingly sweet with a texture that's somehow both syrupy and chalky. Owyn, however is not this. An acronym for "Only What You Need", Owyn shakes are made up of pea protein, pumpkin seeds, flax oil, vegetable fibers, and organic cane sugar. It doesn't contain any animal products, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, artificial coloring, or preservatives. If you like a protein shake but dread the inevitable clump or two that comes with shaking yours up yourself on the go, this is a good bet. We found the Dark Chocolate to be the tastiest option.
This isn't your gas station jerky. We found an option with higher quality meat and more nuanced flavors.
While a meaty snack soon before a workout sounds unappetizing, sometimes after breaking a sweat you want to replenish your salt and protein levels with something savory. Unlike all the other jerkies I tasted, Epic wasn't sweet—a 2 oz bag of jerky can often contain 8-12 grams of sugar. In fact, all the products I had were quite salty—great if you're someone like me who craves chips after a big workout. Our two favorite flavors were the new Chicken Apple and Egg Yolk bar, and something I've been affectionately thinking of as the new-wave Slim Jim: Alaskan salmon mixed with spices and maple syrup.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious