Some sugary snacks might cause an afternoon crash. These snacks can help keep your energy levels up until your next meal. Here's what to look for in a snack.

Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D.
October 22, 2020
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Snacking often gets a bad reputation, but strategic snacking can help us maintain stable energy through the day so we don't crash and run out of steam. It can also help us avoid dips in mood that may be related to unstable blood sugar, which plays a big role in energy levels (here are some foods to help keep your blood sugar stable). You can also think of it as "hanger management." It's hard to be your best self if you're dealing with that combination of hunger and irritability.

While there aren't necessarily set rules for snacking, there are a few bases you want to cover:

For the most filling snacks that will help keep your energy levels up, aim for a combo of protein, fat, and fiber. Choose complex carbs over their refined counterparts so you don't burn through them so quickly (think whole grains over refined grains, an apple instead of apple juice).

Keeping added sugar to a minimum will also help avoid an energy crash from a heavy carb load. So check the labels of granola, yogurt, energy bars and other packaged snacks to see where they fall in terms of added sugar. If numbers are helpful, in a balanced snack, aim for about 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 or fewer grams of added sugars. Calories may vary, but if you need a range for guidance, I typically recommend 100-250, depending on how long you need that snack to sustain you and what else you're eating throughout the day.

Here are a few of the best snacks to eat for energy

1. Fruit and Nuts (or Seeds)

This is a classic combo of protein, fat, and carbs that will fuel your brain and body for hours. If you're allergic to nuts, go for sunflower, pumpkin, or another favorite seed. You can also do nut or seed butter if you prefer a creamy texture over crunchy. You can use fresh, frozen fruit, or dried fruit (you'll just want to be mindful of any added sugar and know that portion sizes are smaller for dried fruit). Here are a few pairings to consider:

  • A medium apple with 1 tablespoon of almond butter (195 calories, 9 grams fat 3 grams protein, 6 grams fiber)
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries with 1 tablespoon of sunflower seed butter or tahini (170 calories, 8 grams fat, 5 grams protein, 10 grams fiber)
  • 1 medium orange and ¼ cup shelled pistachios (255 calories, 15 grams fat, 8 grams protein, 6 grams fiber)

2. Plain Greek Yogurt with Berries

You'll get protein from the yogurt and fiber from the berries for another snack idea with staying power. Go for low-fat or whole milk yogurt instead of fat-free to promote more stable blood sugar. Fat slows the digestive process, which supports more stable blood glucose and promotes satiety. If plain yogurt is too tart for you, add a sprinkle of cinnamon of a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup.

A cup of berries, depending on which you choose, will offer around 50-80 calories and 4-9 grams of fiber, plus antioxidants. If you're not feeling the fruit, try a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax, which are also good sources of fiber (about 2 to 4 grams per tablespoon), not to mention plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. For even more inspiration, try these other healthy recipes with yogurt.

3. Hard-Boiled Eggs and Cherry Tomatoes

A hard boiled egg or two and cherry tomatoes is another easy way to snack on protein, fat and fiber. The eggs offer built-in portion control, with about 70 calories a piece, with 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. They also are rich in choline, an essential nutrient that's especially important for cognitive function. They provide vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are important for many body functions. Getting enough of those nutrients helps support overall wellness.

Cherry tomatoes provide 2 grams of fiber per cup as well as important vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and vitamin A, both of which are important for immune system function, and potassium, a mineral many Americans don't get enough of. Water-rich fruits and vegetables are also a great way to keep you hydrated. This is important for energy, as even mild dehydration can cause us to feel sluggish. (Try these 8 hydrating foods to help you meet your water goals.)

If tomatoes aren't your thing, try another fruit or veggie you love, such as carrots, celery, cucumber, or zucchini. And if you don't eat or don't like eggs, you can swap in ¼ cup of hummus. While you'll miss out on the choline, vitamin D, and omega-3a in eggs, you will still get some protein and fat, plus additional fiber.

Bottom Line

These are just examples of energizing snacks to give you some inspiration. Please feel free to customize to suit your unique needs and preferences. Big picture: Pay attention to what foods as combinations of foods help you feel your best, and make it convenient to make those a regular part of your routine.