By: Tim Rigby (Courtesy of Inside Fitness)
While snacks have been around for centuries, the world of healthy snacks specifically is now more popular than it’s ever been. When the demands of a busy schedule limit your time to meal prep, it’s now easy to substitute healthy snacks that you can eat in the office, on a train, at your kids’ soccer game, or even while you’re working out!
Healthy snacks play a very important role in nutrition, particularly if you’re a fitness-minded individual. They can act as either a dedicated meal replacement, or a way of delivering calories and nutrients between meals to help maintain nitrogen balance and preserve a stimulated metabolism. Healthy snacks can also act as supplements to your overall nutrition program, especially if you work out with intensity and require a lot from your supplements. If you took the time to break it down to a micro-level, snacking in a healthy way can often come down to a handful of nuts, a few slices of fruit, a yogurt or a serving of berries. Here, however, we’re going to examine the many choices for more substantial packaged healthy snacks, while also taking a look at the progressions some have made, highlighting just how much gain has been made in this market.
In a word, healthy snacks simply make things easier. We live in a spontaneous world where numerous unplanned events occur throughout the course of each of our days. Very often you’ll prepare your daily meals at specific times, but all the organization in the world still can’t prevent things like work commitments and family obligations from cropping up out of the blue. It's not uncommon for all of us to have meal times scheduled at the beginning of the day, but then at late-morning or mid-afternoon we’re forced to scrap those times because something has come up, forcing us to come up with a new plan on the fly. The beauty of healthy snacks is that you don’t need a fancy table with plates and utensils in order to consume the nutrients that you’d derive from a standard meal. They’re packaged these days to provide substantial amounts of protein, carbohydrates, even healthy fats – along with some vitamins and minerals – and in some cases creatine, glutamine, BCAAs and other nutrients. That in mind, let’s take a detailed look at the classifications of healthy snacks on today’s market:
At the forefront of the packaged healthy snacks industry are protein bars. These handy and compact snacks can help ensure you’re meeting your protein-specific requirements each day, no matter where you happen to be. For fitness buffs, protein bars are a staple, since a very high proportion of people who train require additional protein.
In the past, consumers may have been put off by the notion of eating protein bars because their choices were limited and often unsavoury. Blocky products that were often chalky or stale were very common, making the decision to consume them less than appetizing. To add to this problem, many of the protein bars on the market at the time often came with high levels of fast carbs in the form of sugar. A consumer was left with no choice but to purchase a bar that was effectively a weight gainer, rather than simply protein.
Today, on the other hand, companies are able to use higher quality ingredients and thanks to advances in manufacturers technology many of the protein bars on the market taste delicious, and are chewy and tender with longer shelf lives. More flavours are also available, as are the many different forms of protein, ranging all the way from whey isolate to egg, meat and even vegetable-based protein. Each protein bar will typically contain about 20 to 30 grams of protein, and in a good number of them sugars have been significantly reduced, making them a great choice for those looking to reduce carbs or are on a Paleo diet.
Energy bars are the cousin of protein bars and share many things in common with them in terms of size, convenience, variety of forms and tastes. At one time, they were consumed only by distance athletes such as long-distance runners or triathletes during the “carbo-loading” fad of the late 70s to mid 90s. Bars that contained cereal-like ingredients such as granola were all the rage and it didn’t matter to the consumer if they were high in carbs because the plan was to burn them off with exercise or training. Unfortunately, like protein bars, the choices were quite limited and the flavours at your disposal were basically chocolate or vanilla. Not to mention that chalky taste – yes, once again it reared its ugly head.
Fortunately, consumers can now buy an enormous variety of energy bars that may or may not
be high in carbs, and have an excellent range of flavours. Organic and vegan bars are now in the mix and natural sweeteners help ensure the bar you’re eating doesn’t taste bland. Whether you need a mild pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon, or a calorie boost for that after-work training session, energy bars have you covered.
In recent years, snacks formed as cookies (and even donuts and muffins) have taken the supplements market by storm. Who doesn’t love a delicious, chewy chocolate cookie – especially one that’s loaded with high-quality protein? There’s not much to compare today’s cookies with, for the simple reason that there really weren’t any before now. A few unpopular designs had surfaced, but they tasted like sawdust, were limited in flavours, and oftentimes provided poor-quality protein. Thankfully, savvy manufacturers have observed the popularity of this time-honoured snack and transformed it into a healthy entity. Make sure to read the label and see if the nutrients contained in your cookie falls in line with your goals, then choose from a wide variety of flavours and enjoy.
In today’s healthy snack market, there’s also demand for a piecemeal product upon which a consumer can munch as quickly or as slowly as they want. Rice cakes have been around for ages and are fun to eat – bland flavours and drywall texture, aside. A recent innovation in this market segment is protein chips, which are designed like potato chips but instead contain high-quality protein. Whether you're stuck on a long commuter train ride, or relaxing at home, packaged healthy munchables can help you get your nutrition in a fun and tasty way.
HIGH PROTEIN SPREADS
While nuts alone have been a snacking staple for years, the advent of combining nuts with protein and manufacturing the combination into a delicious spread is a relatively new innovation that has taken the time-honoured tradition of munching on nuts to an whole new level! With a wide variety of flavours to choose from, these high protein spreads are super-convenient. Some fitness buffs take a tablespoon right from the jar and chase it down with a bottle of water, while others will spread it over rice cakes or the like; either way, these high protein spreads are a great way to get your protein in, with some healthy fats along for the ride.
READY TO DRINK SHAKES
If you prefer to drink your nutrients, Ready-To-Drink (RTD) shakes are just what the doctor ordered. Many brand names produce delicious protein shakes in Tetra Pak or similar type containers, which deliver aminos to your muscles, while you enjoy a host of delicious flavours. In some cases, there’s a small requirement that you keep the supplement refrigerated, but this is minor in comparison to the taste and convenience these drinks provide. It’s not all just about protein, either – some RTD products on the market also contain other physique-supporting ingredients.
The large bottled water industry is something distinct from the healthy snacks market since it focuses strictly on water as the ingredient. For our purposes herein, however, contained within the world of information on healthy snacks, bottled forms of fortified water are now in play. The most obvious example of this is protein water, which is drinkable and tasty – but unlike plain water which simply quenches your thirst, you’re simultaneously drinking in nutrients like protein to help build and repair muscle tissue. Some other brands contain various levels of carbs for energy and also come in a multitude of flavours.