Every four years, we marvel at the seemingly superhuman feats of Olympic athletes. They push their bodies to the limit, their triumphs the result of years of training and dedication to sport. Having the stamina to go the distance in Olympic competition requires more than skill; it commands a healthy diet augmented by nutrient-packed snacks.
But it's important for physically active people, not just Olympic athletes, to eat healthy snacks throughout the day, notes registered dietitian Elisa Zied.
“Having planned snacks in between meals once or twice a day can help keep energy levels up, metabolisms revved and support you both physically and mentally—whether you’re at the gym, running after your children or working at your desk,” says Zied.
Take a cue from the pros and browse our gallery to discover which snacks give Olympians the energy and endurance they need to thrive.
Athlete: Dominique Dawes
Credentials: Former U.S. Olympic gymnast and FOXSports.com 2012 Olympic Games analyst
Favorite snacks: Pretzels and dried fruit, Hormel Natural Choice peppered turkey deli meat
Snacking benefits: Dawes admits that she’s not a natural snacker. “I’ve conditioned myself to eat small, healthy snacks throughout the day to keep my energy up and my mind sharp,” she says. “My hectic schedule sometimes prevents me from getting three full meals a day, so snacks are essential.”
Nutritionist’s take: The salt on the pretzels helps athletes replenish sodium losses that occur from sweating, while the dried fruit’s simple sugars provide fuel for activity, notes Zied. The turkey is a good source of lean protein, which keeps blood sugar levels steady and helps with muscle growth and repair.
Athlete: Nicole Barnhart
Credentials: U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team member
Favorite snack: KIND bars
Snacking benefits: To maintain energy while training, Barnhart likes to keep bars with whole nuts and dried fruit in her bag. KIND Bars are one of her favorites. Barnhart says she eats them in between practice, and the protein and fiber from the fruit and nuts keep her full and helps her avoid muscle cramps.
Nutritionist’s take: In addition to packing a mean protein punch, bars with nuts and dried fruit contain heart-healthy fats, notes Zied. Dried fruits contain antioxidants that fight free radicals, which can damage the body’s cells.
Athlete: Amanda Weir
Credentials: U.S. Olympic swimmer
Favorite snack: Fat-free Greek yogurt with granola and berries
Snacking benefits: Weir calls Greek yogurt “an easy source of protein” that helps her recover after a tough training session and build muscle. “The carbohydrates in the granola give me some quick energy, and the antioxidants—and deliciousness—of the berries round out this great snack,” Weir says.
Nutritionist’s take: Greek yogurt provides a healthy combination of protein and carbohydrates. Mixing in traditional granola, made with oats, adds a dose of whole grain, fiber and B vitamins that invigorate the body, according to Zied. Water-rich berries hydrate and pack in fiber and plenty of antioxidants.
Athlete: Jessica Hardy
Credentials: U.S. Olympic swimmer
Favorite snack: Acai bowls
Snacking benefits: Hardy concocts acai bowls by blending frozen packets of the Brazilian berries with apple juice or soy milk. The mixture thickens into a smoothie, and she tops it off with granola and fruit. Hardy says acai bowls help satisfy her sweet tooth. “It’s a much healthier option than reaching for chocolate, and when I’m home, I usually eat it about once a day,” she says.
Nutritionist’s take: Acai berries are a good source of antioxidants and fiber. You’ll find simple sugars in apple juice and protein and carbohydrates in soy milk, according to Zied. Overall, this snack contains all of the essential amino acids needed in a well-rounded diet.
Athlete: Allison Jones
Credentials: U.S. Paralympic skier and cyclist. Jones, born with a deformed right femur, started skiing at age five. She is now a six-time Paralympian and four-time medalist in Alpine skiing and cycling.
Favorite snack: Chobani Greek yogurt, a sponsor of Team U.S.A. and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committee
Snacking benefits: Jones says Chobani Greek yogurt is a perfect snack because it’s loaded with protein and has a good balance of carbohydrates—all in one container, making it a great choice for a busy athlete. “I don’t need to have a lot of other items for a balanced snack,” Jones says.
Nutritionist’s take: Greek yogurt provides a combination of protein to help support muscle repair and growth and some carbohydrates in the form of lactose, which the body breaks down into glucose to provide energy for workouts, according to Zied. This snack also contains calcium to keep bones strong.
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