Athletes often need to pack a lot of calories and nutrients in to their diets to compensate for all of the energy their grueling exercise schedules require. Healthy snacks are a great way to boost nutrients between workouts without taking too much time to prepare or eat.

Snacks that are high in protein are particularly important for athletes, as protein is crucial for muscle growth and recovery (as well as maintaining healthy skin and bones). Smart athletes eat a variety of proteins -- like eggs, lentils and quinoa -- that provide the body with essential amino acids that it can’t create itself.

When it comes to finding protein-rich foods, athletes are like the rest of us and often go straight to meat. However, some of the best protein-packed snacks are meat-free as well as fresh and delicious. Almost all vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts contain protein, making them a tasty, inexpensive and healthy source.

Sports nutritionists recommend getting protein from a variety of fresh food sources, instead of falling into the trap of using sports food supplements, as a fully balanced diet helps the body function at top capacity. Here is a selection of healthy protein-rich snacks that will boost any sports diet:

1. Cottage cheese with honey & berries – 16 grams of protein

Mix half a cup of cottage cheese with some fresh berries and drizzle with honey for a quick, healthy snack. A half cup of two percent cottage cheese contains on average 16 grams of protein, yet only has 102 calories and two grams of fat (as compared with other types of soft cheese that are often very high in fat).

2. Roasted pumpkin seeds – 17 grams of protein>

Roast two ounces of pumpkin seeds on a pan with a dash of olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt for 20 mins at 375° in a pre-heated oven. An even higher source of protein than nuts, pumpkin seeds contain approximately 8.5 g of protein per 1-oz. serving.

3. Omelet – 13 grams of protein

Throw two eggs in a pan with some peppers and onions for a quick, nutritious mini-meal high in protein and nutrients (including vitamin D, which is good for bone health). If you’re concerned about cholesterol, leave out the egg yolks for a fat- and cholesterol-free alternative that still contains four grams of protein per egg white.

4. Edamame – 11 grams of protein

Snacking on a handful of fresh edamame beans is a simple way to get a huge protein boost. There are 11 grams of protein in half a cup of beans, which are great alone, added to salads or roasted and seasoned with coarse salt.

5. Protein smoothie – 20 grams of protein

Combine half of a frozen banana, two tablespoons of yogurt, nut tbsp butter in a blender. Add a complete protein such as 4 tbsps of hemp seeds, which provides about 15 grams of protein. Check health food stores for other vegetarian protein powders that are derived from plants, such as rice and flaxseed.

For a green smoothie alternative, blend dark leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach and collard greens) with carrots, ice, filtered water and a pea-based protein powder.

6. Yogurt with grape nuts – 14.5 grams of protein

Combine three ounces of non-fat Greek yogurt (which is higher in protein than regular yogurt with 7.5 grams of protein per six ounces) with half a cup of grape nuts (7 grams of protein). For a sweeter twist, add honey, jam or fresh fruit.

7. Baked beans – 12 grams of protein

For quick and easy filling snack, heat up a cup of baked beans and spread on whole grain toast. A cup of baked beans is a great source of protein with 12 grams per one cup serving, which is equal to a 50-gram steak or 2 eggs. Baked beans also contain energy giving, low glycemic index carbohydrates.

8. Cinnamon oatmeal – 5 grams of protein

Oatmeal with water, honey and cinnamon is a delicious balanced snack. One packet of instant oatmeal has about five grams of protein, 105 calories and two grams of fat. Elite athletes favor oatmeal for its balance of protein and good carbohydrates, which gives them the energy necessary to make it through long, intense workouts.

9. Quinoa veggie dip – 12 grams of protein

Sprout half a cup of quinoa and add it to hummus for a high-protein veggie dip. Quinoa is a complete protein and high in fiber. Raw, sprouted quinoa, will provide you with 24 grams of protein per cup (one cup cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein), according to the USDA Nutritional Database, Quinoa contains the most abundant variety of amino acids when compared with other plant-based foods.

10. Lentils – 18 grams of protein

Although they may not seem appetizing on their own, putting a handful of them in your soup or salad will give your snack a protein boost. One cup of lentils has about 230 calories, one gram of fat and 18 grams of protein. This provides long lasting energy for the whole day and is a great recovery dinner option.

This article is republished with permission from
10 protein-packed snacks for the sports addict
Try these protein-packed sports and athlete snacks instead of reaching for meat.