One of the questions I get asked most frequently from my nutrition coaching clients is “What are some high-protein snacks?”
Surprisingly, most people find that when they’re eating enough of the right foods and balancing their plate at main meals with plenty of protein, non-starchy veggies, and healthy fat, the desire to snack plummets since they feel more satisfied between meals.
However, even with a balanced nutrition plan, there may still be times that we need a quick snack or something to tide us over between meals. Since typical snack foods such as granola bars, cheese-flavored crackers, and chips tend to be high in refined carbohydrates, having some high-protein options can be a lifesaver.
Including more protein has several health benefits and can help steady blood sugar, hunger, and energy levels. Here are some options I’d suggest reaching for to help perfect your snack strategy.
A cup of cottage cheese packs a whopping 25 grams of protein — with no preparation needed. While you want to avoid the store-bought packages that pair cottage cheese with a side of added-sugar laden, syrupy fruit, you also don’t have to eat it plain.
Here are some pairings to consider:
- Topped with berries or a small amount of diced fresh pineapple
- Mixed with diced scallions and radishes and topped with a few shakes of pepper for a more savory taste
- Served in the middle of a plate full of carrot sticks, pepper slices, and celery, using the cottage cheese as a dip
With the near-endless number of flavors, types, and sweetened options, that yogurt aisle can be both a snack goldmine and a nutritional pitfall.
To stay on track, keep it simple. Choose plain, and consider the more satiating full-fat yogurt options. Since it’s strained, Greek yogurt is higher in protein than traditional yogurt, which has a bit more naturally-occurring sugar from lactose.
Like cottage cheese, choosing plain yogurt doesn’t mean you need to eat it plain. My clients love adding in a few drops of vanilla extract and stevia with a few shakes of cinnamon for a naturally-sweetened flavor without added sugars.
Note that if you don’t tolerate dairy, the dairy-alternative options made from almond, coconut, or oat are lacking in protein. If you’re choosing those, mix in a serving of your favorite high-quality protein powder for the extra boost (and to add flavor and sweetness).
Try it yourself: Plain Greek yogurt mixed with Life Time’s vanilla Collagen Peptides tastes like fruit dip, and it’s delicious with strawberries. The collagen provides 20 grams of protein per scoop, too.
Protein-Boosted Hummus or Guacamole
Hummus and guac tend to be healthy party favorites, but they don’t necessarily stand out as high protein. Hummus does contain a bit more than guacamole, but it comes with a significant portion of carbohydrates from the chickpeas and fat from the tahini. (Those are not bad, but you might have your calories boosted a bit high if you’re relying on it as a protein source.)
While both options are typically served alongside chips or pita, they can be great with a colorful plate of fresh veggies too.
Unprocessed, portable, and full of hunger-busting protein and healthy fat, hard-boiled eggs are a near-perfect protein option. They also are a great source of choline, an important nutrient for brain and nervous system health.
Try them sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning, or you can even make a healthy egg salad with a small amount of avocado-oil based mayo (or mashed ripe avocado), squeeze of mustard, finely diced celery and onion, and a shake of paprika.
Preservative-Free Beef Jerky or Meat Sticks
The demand for higher-quality meat has made “cleaner” beef and turkey jerky or snack sticks, without added preservatives or unnecessary ingredients, more widely available.
When looking at labels, try to find options that include only organic poultry or grass-fed beef with spices and are free of nitrates or nitrites. As a bonus, most of these options are fully shelf-stable until they’re opened, so they’re great to have stashed away in your purse, work bag, or office.
Non-Snack Foods . . . as Snacks
One of my favorite things to teach clients is to try to stop categorizing foods based on the meal they traditionally belong in. For example, eliminating the idea of “breakfast food” or “snack food” opens up a world of options.
Food is food, no matter what time of day you eat it.
If you have leftover chicken, try having that as a snack with a bit of hummus or small drizzle of barbecue sauce. If you didn’t finish last night’s burgers, why not have a grass-fed patty in a lettuce wrap as a quick go-to? When you make a big pot of turkey chili, have a smaller-size bowl as a snack.
Using leftovers and foods you already have in your fridge makes snacking when you need it a whole lot simpler.
Protein Powder in a Shaker Cup
While I love a good protein shake when I’m at home and have access to my blender, my most frequent snack go-to is protein powder in a shaker cup.
If you opt for this route, carry it with you in your bag so it’s ready to hit with a bottle of water anytime. You can just shake it up and enjoy whenever you need it, and it’s a great way to avoid the drive-through or other unhealthy quick temptations when you’re hungry.
On occasions when I know I’m going to consume it same-day, I sometimes add a couple drops of almond extract to a chocolate protein powder option, or maple extract and a few shakes of cinnamon to vanilla protein powder just to switch things up.
Although you can use any protein powder for this, the best ones to choose are the Whey Protein Plus All in One or Vegan Protein Plus All in One options since they also contain added vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Protein Convenience Foods
This category comes with a significant caveat: These suggestions are not meant to be plan A.
Ideally, you want to focus on real foods first, followed by the option of a high-quality protein powder free of artificial colors and sweeteners. If those both are off the table due to a busy schedule or lack of preparation, some of these options can come into play.
The most common ready-to-consume convenience protein available comes in the form of protein bars. Check labels closely, however, as many of them contain significantly more carbohydrate than protein. Look for bars that are around 20 grams or more of protein per serving and ideally free of soy protein isolate, added sugar, hydrogenated oils, acesulfame-potassium, and sucralose.
Better options typically are made from whey protein or pea protein and are naturally sweetened (without added sugars) with stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, or allulose. If you’re using one of the bar options on the market that are made up of real foods (often containing nuts, egg whites, dried fruit, etc.), be sure to check out how the nutrition breaks down numerically. Many of them have carbohydrate counts that nearly double the protein count, which may cause some energy ups and downs.
Other convenience protein foods include certain brands of cereals, chips, and even pizzas. While it would be a stretch to say these are healthy (they’re usually not), they certainly are better options than their traditional counterparts, which are also processed but don’t have the added protein.
Where’s the peanut butter?
When discussing high-protein snack options with others, this is the next most frequently asked question I get.
Nut butters are great to include in a nutrition plan. And similar to what was mentioned about hummus above, they do contain protein. However, the protein content is disproportionately lower than the other macronutrients it contains. (In the case of nut butter, fat predominates.)
If you’re relying on nut butter to boost your protein, you likely will overconsume fat and calories above what you need.