Eat - Wellness

A Dietitian’s Guide to Cost-Effective Road Snacks for Athletic Performance

By: Daniel Vela, BS & Christina Chu, MS, RD, LDN

One of the largest contributors to athlete performance is proper fueling, which includes consuming balanced meals, choosing the right snacks, and adequate hydration. This can be overwhelming for youth and college athletes when considering cost, time, and making the right choices around proper fueling. On top of that, many college athletes on scholarship are living below the poverty line. A study on football scholarship athletes found that 85% and 86% of athletes who live on and off campus meet the criteria for low income, respectively. Although athlete scholarships include some meals, it may not be enough to meet their higher energy needs, and snacking is a great way to help fill that gap. However, this can be an issue when disposable income is limited.

It can be difficult to find the right snacks while also being cost-effective. Although preparing snacks at home is a great option, finding the time to do so may not always be ideal due to hectic schedules when balancing classes, practices, and gamedays/meets. However, with the guidance of your fellow dietitian, one can fuel their body while on-the-road without breaking the bank. It is important to remember that the suggestions below are general recommendations for athletes, and to consult with a dietitian if you need individualized guidance (schedule a free introductory call here).

Fueling Before/During Practice

Aim for snacks that are high in carbohydrates, low in fiber and fats. High fiber and fat foods can take longer to digest and possibly cause discomfort before practice. Choosing simple carbohydrates will allow your body to digest quickly and provide a quick source of energy. Within one hour before a workout, aim for a snack containing about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates while keeping fiber and fat below 5g.


  • x1 large banana
  • x2 apple sauce packets
  • About 3 oz of dried fruit such as raisins, mango, pineapple
  • 1-2 pretzel snack packs

Fueling After Practice

After practice, it is important replenish any energy and nutrients lost, especially protein and carbohydrates. The ideal ratio for carbohydrate to protein is 3:1, with at least 20g protein to help with recovery. This means we would need 60g of carbohydrates to pair with our protein choice. Also, if the practice or game/meet was longer than an hour, replenishing sodium can be beneficial too. This can be done with electrolyte beverages or foods higher in sodium.


  • 1 cup chocolate milk + 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • 2 pouches of tuna salad (i.e., StarKist) + 25 saltine crackers
  • 2 Chobani Greek yogurts + 1 banana + handful of salted nuts
  • 1 Gatorade protein bar + 1 large apple

Fueling During Non-Practice Times

When choosing a snack on recovery days, a balance of nutrients including protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats is ideal. Unlike pre-practice snacks, complex carbohydrates (or fiber-rich carbs) are preferred over simple carbohydrates as they take longer to digest and will keep you fuller for longer. Including other nutrients like protein and fat can help ensure that your body is receiving the nutrients it needs for recovery and providing sufficient calories to meet your energy needs.


  • Turkey sandwich (3 slices of meat, wheat bread) + ¼ cup mixed nuts
  • 1 RXBAR protein bar + 1 cup of fresh fruit  
  • 2 sticks of string cheese + 3 cups popcorn
  • ½ cup of hummus + 1 handful baby carrots + 2-3 slices deli meat (i.e, turkey, ham, roast beef)


  • Before a practice/workout consume 30-60 g of simple carbohydrates
  • For post practice/workout a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is ideal for a snack
  • When fueling during non-practice times, aim for snack with a balance of nutrients (complex carbs, protein, and fat)

While this is a start to support an athlete’s performance and well-being, meeting with a dietitian can be a great tool for personalized fueling recommendations. If you’re interested in learning more, schedule a free introductory call with Christina HERE.

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