Healthy snacks make a big difference in productivity levels. How can you concentrate if you’re hangry? You can’t. That’s why we can’t stress the importance of meal-prepping enough. We’re talking about everything you plan on munching on throughout the work day—it arms you with the fuel you need to keep trucking along with sufficient energy to power you through the last 4 p.m. meeting, the gym, and home to your (extremely) lively kids.
Snacking between meals can be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to optimal macronutrient intake. Aiming for more protein? Supplement your meals with easy, grab-and-go high-protein snacks. Need more stamina in the gym? Opt for carbohydrates to fuel you to the finish line.
Mindless snacking can derail your dietary goals if you’re not intentional. That’s where we come in. From healthy pre-packaged options to quick homemade snacks, here’s how to do it the right way.
The Importance of Nutritious Snacks for Sustained Energy
Healthy snacks for work consist of nutrients needed to stay productive and energized. “Opt for snacks that offer a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to keep energy levels stable and promote satiety, since they will provide steady energy and improved focus,” says registered dietitian Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD.
Consuming carbohydrates, protein, and fat on a regular basis throughout the day “will balance blood sugar, energy intakes, and hormones like cortisol and insulin,” says Ginger Hultin MS RDN CSO, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, and author of the e-book, Meal Prep for Weight Loss 101. All of these, according to a 2021 study in the journal Nutrition Research, contribute to better management and improvement in health and well-being and lowering the risk of disease and obesity, based on quality and nutrients (1).
Hultin considers these three macronutrients essential in a snack and for blood sugar. Nutrition is vital for sustained energy in the day, as it directly impacts blood sugar. A 2018 study in the journal Nutrients found a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and micronutrients stabilized blood sugar levels and reduced perceived fatigue during physical activity among participants (2). “This supports that balanced nutrition and healthy snacks for work sustain energy levels for daily tasks, not just for sports or exercise, by preventing both rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar,” Best explains.
Quick and Easy Protein-Packed Snacks
Protein is needed for sustained energy. “It takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, providing a steady release of energy over a longer period to help maintain steady energy levels and have less risk of crashes later,” Best says. We also need it for muscle maintenance, blood sugar and appetite control, focus, and productivity. Aim for 5 to 10 grams from lean sources (avoid fatty meats or fried foods with excess calories).
Peanut Butter/Nut Butter and Whole Grain Crackers
Pairing these foods provides sustained energy to combat midday fatigue from fiber, thanks to whole-grain’s complex nature. “I love the combination here of healthy fat and protein from the nut butter combined with whole grain crackers, which provide low glycemic fiber and a balance of all three macronutrients,” Hultin says.
Greek Yogurt With Nuts and Seeds
“Greek yogurt has probiotics for gut health and immunity, and protein for muscle maintenance and long-lasting energy, which is especially important for active men in work or lifestyle,” Best says. Nuts and seeds are satiating with a dose of fiber and add texture and crunch. “I often suggest a low- or no-fat option topped with chopped nuts or seeds for unsaturated fats that benefit heart health,” Hultin says.
Hard-Boiled Eggs or Egg Muffins
Both allow for versatility and creativity and to customize with different toppings and flavors. “Easy-to-pack hard-boiled eggs or a pre-made batch of egg muffins are convenient, practical options for busy men in need of fueling and focus during work hours,” Best adds. Eggs are rich in choline for cognition and a brain-booster, Best notes. “I like combining eggs and high-fiber veggies for egg cups or hard-boiled eggs and fruit for a balanced midday snack,” Hultin says.
Dried Meat/Jerky Snacks
Jerky is rich in protein and a savory, salty snack. “Dried meat or jerky is a concentrated source of protein that’s portable and needs no refrigeration, and is also usually low in carbohydrates and sugar to stabilize blood sugar and avoid energy crashes,” Best says. It’s low in fat and calories, which may appeal to men who want to lose weight, too. “Try traditional jerky or get creative with turkey or fish jerky for a lower-fat option,” Hultin says.
Shop our healthy beef jerky picks here.
Fiber-Rich and Nutrient-Dense Options
“Consume fiber-dense foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, for fiber and vitamins and minerals to support health, stabilize energy, and boost cognition for focus and sharpness at work,” Best says. Aim for a goal of 2 to 5 grams of fiber per snack, Best suggests.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Sticks With Hummus
“Hummus is made from chickpeas, which is a protein-packed plant-based protein, which is why I recommend hummus and veggies all the time to clients because of its high fiber and protein content,” Hultin says. They’re healthy foods for sustained energy that’ll last hours.
Trail Mix With Dried Fruits and Mixed Nuts
Trail mix with dried fruits and mixed nuts has a combination of protein from nuts and fiber from dried fruits, so make a big batch to have on hand as healthy snacks for work in the week. “Make sure the fruit isn’t sugar-coated, for a balanced snack high in fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fat,” Hultin says. For store-bought convenience, try these brands.
Homemade Whole Grain Granola Bars or Energy Bites
Complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, indicate fiber and offer a slow, steady release of energy. “They are convenient, portable, and often fortified with vitamins and minerals, with a bit of protein and healthy fats,” Best says. When making your own, Best suggests adding protein sources, such as protein powder, nuts, and seeds, for increased macronutrient power.
Smart Snacking With Healthy Fats
Healthy fats, in foods such as nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocados, have a substantial dose of calories to boost satiety. “Healthy fats are needed for brain health, so eating them supports cognitive functions, such as memory, focus and clarity,” Best notes. Fats enhance feelings of fullness to minimize cravings, too. Best suggests aiming for 3 to 7 grams of fats per snack.
Avocado Slices on Whole Grain Toast
“Avocado with whole grain is a dynamic duo rich in monounsaturated fats for heart health and improved mood and energy,” Best says. Whole grain toast has fiber and avocados have protein, electrolytes (like potassium), and vitamins and antioxidants for anti-aging, hydration, and muscle repair, Best notes. “I advise clients to add an egg on top, which boosts protein and choline content,” Hultin says.
Homemade Guacamole With Veggie Crisps
“Guacamole with veggie crisps offers healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients to support overall health and sustained energy,” Best says. Veggie crisps are a lower-calorie swap for traditional potato chips that bulk up nutrition, too. “Veggie crisps provide crunch and carbohydrates too, which can be very satisfying and satiating as a workday snack mid-afternoon,” Hultin says.
Mixed Olives or Roasted Almonds
If you’re craving a salty, savory snack, olives can be a great option. They’re rich in fat, but not protein, so either add a protein source or combine them for both fats and protein. A little sodium is great for active men, in particular. “I advise salted nuts for my male clients who exercise a lot and may benefit from electrolytes for replenishing,” Hultin says.
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Hydration and Refreshing Snack Choices
Foods with high water content, such as watermelon, cucumbers, oranges, and lettuce boost hydration. “Drinking fluids provides quick hydration, but foods with water content release fluids gradually as digested, for more sustained hydration in the day,” Best explains. Hydrating foods contain electrolytes, which regulate fluid balance and suppress appetite. “Drink water during the day to stay hydrated and avoid confusing thirst with hunger,” Hultin notes.
Infused Water With Fresh Fruits or Herbs
Infusing water with fruit and herbs is a refreshing, easy way to remember to hydrate and adds vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s a great low-calorie swap for sweet beverages. Be wary of fruit portions and sugar, though, and avoid using other sweeteners. “Experiment with combinations of fruits (e.g., lemon, lime, berries) and herbs (e.g., mint, basil) for a big batch to store in the refrigerator,” Best says.
Chilled Green Tea or Herbal Tea
“I recommend green tea constantly to clients, as it has unique antioxidants (namely EGCG) with potential health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory support for heart health, thus giving more reason to drink it besides the hydration aspect,” Hultin says. And, a 2020 study published in the journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found greater intake of tea, including green tea, to improve heart health and lower risk of stroke (3).
Sliced Cucumbers or Watermelon Cubes
“Sliced cucumbers or watermelon cubes make water interesting to drink and flavorful, and add extra nutrients and health benefits,” Hultin says. “Both are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, so by adding them, you may experience more nutritional perks for a productive, energized, and better day at work,” Hultin notes. Snack on cucumber when water gets low, if you can’t refill it.
Benefits of Incorporating Healthy Snacks into the Workday
“Planned snacks can help to curb excessive hunger, reducing the likelihood of overeating during meals, and snacks offer an ability to incorporate more nutrients into the diet, so men can better meet their daily needs,” Best says. A 2019 study published in the journal BMJ found that planned snacks, when incorporated into a balanced diet, contributed to better appetite control and weight management (4).
Spreading snacks out during the day as a part of your daily meal plan will provide maximum benefits for sustained energy and productivity, concentration, and mood. “I recommend snacks between 150 and 300 calories, depending on clients’ needs and hunger levels in the day,” Hultin says. “Avoid snacks either too high or low in calories or those that may end up spiking blood sugar quickly, then dropping as a ‘crash’ later on,” Hultin adds. These include high-carbohydrate, sweet snacks that lack fiber, such as candy, chips, and baked goods.
Healthy Snacking Mistakes
Timing is a common challenge and obstacle. “One mistake I see is men either skipping meals or snacks and getting overly hungry, leading to overeating or grabbing less-than-healthy options later in the day,” Hultin says. “On the other hand, I see people grabbing snacks too often, or not being mindful about them, and then ending up constantly grazing, which can lead to consuming excess and too many calories in total during the day,” Hutlin explains.
Snack strategically—set an appointment, as “snack,” on the calendar, or an alarm or alert on your phone, for a reminder. “I suggest planning out your weekly snacks, packing them for work, and keeping them on hand so they’re a natural and easy part of the day,” Hultin says. Figure out the best times of day that work for you.
“I recommend a snack in the mid-morning and one in the mid-afternoon for sustained energy between meals,” Best says. “I often suggest clients eat before getting to work, having a midday snack, creating space for lunch, then having another snack in the afternoon, either at work or on the way home, before dinner,” Hultin says. Snack every three or four hours, as a rule of thumb.
Factors including body size and weight, activity level, and health goals matter. A one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t work. Listen to your body for effectively scheduling and determining which healthy snacks for work are best for you. Read labels to see suggested servings, as well as the number of calories there are in a serving, how many grams of nutrients are within a serving, and the density in volume to determine whether a snack will actually satisfy, realistically.