There seems to be a time around 3 p.m. most weekdays when the energy tank falls dangerously close to empty, and the only feasible options are downing a carafe of coffee or face-planting on the keyboard. There’s a third option, though—and it’s quite tasty: Nosh on some strategic snacks to bring back that alert, energized state of mind.
“Any time you go longer than four to five hours without eating, the body’s energy levels can crash significantly,” says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D. “Having a nutrient-rich snack that’s low in sugar and saturated fat will ensure your body has the fuel to keep going so you can easily complete all of your daily tasks.”
And that fuel isn’t going to come from the candy bowl. Eating carbs (read: sugar) alone is a ticket to the rollercoaster spike of pep followed by the crash that feels worse than if you had face-planted. But since fat and protein slow the rate at which carbs are absorbed by the body, adding them to the mix will lead to a steadier lift in blood sugar levels, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., author of Read It Before You Eat It. Translation: a smoother, crash-free lift in energy.
This list of snacks is perfect for both bringing to work and running errands, and each has a trifecta of nutrients to keep you going harder, better, faster, stronger—even when the toughest slump hits.
1. Trail Mix
When you toss mixed nuts together with dried fruit (and even bits of dark chocolate), you’ve got an easy-to-tote snack—and one of Taub-Dix’s top recommendations. Experiment with these trail mix recipes and see which one provides the tastiest, longest-lasting boost.
Photo: Slender Kitchen
With 8 grams of protein per cup (including all nine essential amino acids) and a healthy dose of iron, quinoa is a solid snack choice when you’re running low on fuel. How do you make a grain portable, though? Whip up Cheese and Vegetable Quinoa Bites, Quinoa Egg Muffins, or, for a sweet treat, Cranberry Quinoa Muffins.
3. Apple or Banana with Peanut Butter
The world became a better place when companies started selling nut butters in single-serving, squeeze pouches. (OK, slight exaggeration.) Take an equally easy grab-and-go fruit like an apple or banana along for the ride, and when an energy emergency strikes, rip open the PB, smear it on, and all will be okay. And delicious.
Get poppin’ to put some pep back in your step. Air-pop some kernels and use a light hand with the toppings to keep the calorie count low—Moskovitz suggests using just a little olive oil (one teaspoon for two cups). We also love using coconut oil.
5. Cheese Kebabs
While most cheese has 6 to 7 grams of protein per ounce, gruyère outshines the bunch with 8.5 grams. There’s the protein and fat, now add tomatoes or grapes for carbs. Make it fun to eat by spearing cubes of cheese and cherry tomatoes or grapes on toothpicks and storing them in a plastic container. Proof, once again, that you can never go wrong with cheese.
6. Ants on a Log
This snack may be a favorite among the playground crowd, but there’s no reason adults can’t enjoy it too. To jog your memory: It’s peanut butter inside of a celery stick with a few raisins on top. Easy, cute, and #TBT-worthy. For more mature taste buds, try almond butter with dried cranberries or cashew butter with dried cherries.
7. Sweet Potato Smoothie
When you think of energizing sips, you probably think of coffee, soda, and energy drinks. But whipping up a smoothie is a quick and easy way to give yourself a jolt without hitting the caffeine. One of Taub-Dix’s favorites is a sweet potato smoothie: Combine 1/2 medium baked potato, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 banana (or 1/2 cup berries), 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, and 3 ice cubes in a blender and mix until smooth. Or follow Moskovitz’s easy-peasy recipe: Blend 6 ounces Greek yogurt with 1 cup fresh fruit and 1 tablespoon peanut butter. Pour into a mason jar for effortless portability.
8. Veggies and Hummus
Thanks to individual-serving cups, hummus can be an anywhere, anytime snack. Dunk veggies like carrot sticks and sliced bell pepper and jicama for a nutritious kick that’ll keep you going all the way to dinnertime.
9. Chicken, Hummus, and Veggie Lettuce Wrap
Hummus isn’t just for dipping! Spread some on a large lettuce leaf and top with 2 slices of deli turkey, 1/4 cup chopped cooked chicken breast (from dinner last night or canned), shredded carrots, and thin cucumber slices, then roll it up. Add some avocado slices for extra flavor and those all-important healthy fats.
Spice up your life (and your day) with this ridiculously easy recipe. Simply season rinsed and drained chickpeas with olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper, and throw them in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
11. Hard-Boiled Egg
Talk about an egg-cellent snack! Eggs pack plenty of protein as well as the vitamins needed for the body to produce energy such as thiamin, riboflavin, folate, B12, and B6 Egg protein as a source of power, strength, and energy. Layman, D.K., and Rodriguez, N.R. Nutrition Today, 2009, Jan/Feb;44(1): 43-48.—plus the hard-boiled version is easy to make in advance, store, and reach for as needed.
We named ‘em a Greatist Superfood for a reason: Almonds are good-for-you bites that’ll help replenish energy stores thanks to their protein and fiber content. They also provide magnesium, a mineral that helps produce energy—research suggests that the bodies of people with deficiencies need to work harder, which means you wear out faster Dietary magnesium depletion affects metabolic responses during submaximal exercise in postmenopausal women. Lukaski, H.C., and Nielsen, F.H. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Journal of Nutrition, 2002, May;132(5):930-5..
The fun-sized version of a wrap, pinwheels are easy, little snacks that can also help boost your energy. Try layering two slices of deli turkey and two slices of cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla, roll it up, then slice as thinly as you desire. Add any veggies you like since it never hurts to get more in.
14. Dry-Roasted Edamame
If the only time you nosh on these green-colored beans is when you hit up your favorite sushi spot, you’re missing out on some energy-boosting benefits that can be used on the reg thanks to dry-roasted varieties. Just pop for a pick-me-up from the protein, magnesium, and iron, which helps transport oxygen to cells, where it’s used to release energy.
Photo: Gimme Some Oven
15. No-Bake Energy Bites
Take your pick from nostalgic peanut butter and jelly, gourmet cranberry pistachio, and treat-yo’self sugar cookie (for real!). In any flavor, these balls filled with goodness will snap you out of the worst slow-mo moment.
16. KIND Bars
Though they’re hands-down one of the most convenient snacks, bars get a bad rap—in part because they can have crazy-high sugar contents and chem lab ingredients. But KIND keeps it real—er, natural—and comes in low-sugar, high-fiber, and high-protein options. Plus with flavors like Cashew & Ginger Spice, Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt, and Thai Sweet Chili, you’ll look forward to snack time.
These green pumpkin seed kernels are small, mighty—more protein per ounce than almonds plus more iron and magnesium than most nuts—and totally delicious.
18. Cheese and Whole-Grain Crackers
For an easy, portion-controlled snack, slice up a mini Babybel cheese round and serve the wedges on top of whole-grain crackers, suggests Taub-Dix.
19. Whole-Grain Cereal
Most of us have had cereal for dinner, so why not snack on it as well? (Though we recommend not doing both in the same day.) Bag up a serving of a high-fiber brand such as Fiber One or Total, and it’ll keep that blood sugar—and energy—strong and steady.
20. Greek Yogurt Parfait
This slightly sour snack packs an energizing punch. Both Taub-Dix and Moskovitz suggest topping a single-serving plain yogurt with whole-grain cereal (bring a little in a sandwich bag to the office). For more staying power and flavor, add a drizzle of honey or sprinkle of berries.
A fiber-ful snack that actually tastes good, berries of any type are amazing on their own or combined with one of the nuts on this list for some protein and fat.