Just like there are two sides to every coin, there are also two sides to snacking. On one hand, snacking throughout the day can be a convenient way to ensure your body is getting much-needed nutrients. On the other hand, eating too many sugary, or ultra-processed foods (and some snacks fit into these categories) can leave you feeling sluggish and may eventually lead to health issues.
While you might think grabbing a quick low-calorie pre-packaged snack is the best option for filling you up when you need a quick bite, the best low-calorie snacks are packed with carbohydrates, protein, and fat—and come straight from the items in your kitchen.
“Cyclists really need carbs, and they also want a steady intake of protein throughout the day,” Namrita Brooke, Ph.D., R.D.N., sports dietitian and cycling coach at Velocious tells Bicycling. When it comes to picking the ideal low-calorie snack, Brooke says, a great rule of thumb is to choose energizing snacks that are anywhere between 250 to 300 calories each to help you meet your calorie, carb, and protein needs.
The key to choosing a fueling snack that meets your nutritional needs? Making informed decisions that align with your training—and checking out the label on pre-packaged options.
“If you’re not making really wise choices with your snacks and you’re consuming more processed foods versus the nutrient-dense [whole foods] options, then you can definitely overshoot your calorie needs while still being low on protein,” Brooke says.
Here are the best low-calorie snacks that you can make at home. Plus, some healthy pre-packaged options you can grab when you’re in a hurry, according to Brooke and the team of editors at Bicycling. Each one packs energizing carbs and muscle-building protein so you’re satisfied and ready to take on some miles. Enjoy them pre or postride, or anytime you need a bite.
Low-Calorie Snacks for Cyclists
1. Toast with avocado and hemp seeds
Topping whole grain toast with avocados and hemp seeds creates a tasty snack filled with a ton of nutrients that can keep you fuller for longer. Avocados, Brooke says, are filled with healthy fats, protein, and fiber that cyclists need for a strong performance. And hemp seeds supply ample protein to boost muscle recovery, along with B vitamins, magnesium, and iron to keep you strong and healthy.
2. Bagel thins with cream cheese and smoked salmon
Brooke says this snack is filled with protein and carbs that cyclists will need for recovery and general health. Salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation, promote heart health, and support athletic performance, so it’s always a good idea to get more in your diet.
3. Whole grain crackers with cottage cheese
This snack is filled with carbs and protein, plus it’s super easy to make. Pick your favorite 100% whole grain crackers, then top or dip them in cottage cheese, which packs tons of protein for a relatively low number of calories, along with vitamins and minerals like calcium and phosphorus.
4. Fresh fruit, like apple or banana slices, with peanut butter
Brooke says this is an excellent preride snack filled with carbs and protein to give you energy, as well as fiber that fills you up and keeps you (and your gut) healthy. You also get a decent amount of healthy fats. One key: keep an eye on the portion size of peanut butter, sticking to about one to two tablespoons.
5. Hummus with baby carrots
When paired together, baby carrots and hummus make a high-fiber and protein-rich snack, Brooke says. Hummus, made from a reliable source of plant-based protein a.k.a. chickpeas, can be enjoyed anytime.
6. Toast with nut butter
7. Nuts (almonds, peanuts, or cashews)
Depending on the variety, nuts can be a good source of vitamin E and magnesium, Brooke says. The catch with these healthy fat-filled ingredients: They can pack a lot of calories if you don’t watch your portion sizes. So aim for a handful of nuts which is about an ounce or 20 nuts. Also, go for raw options, rather than something like honey roasted, to maximize benefits and minimize empty calories. Also, consider mixing them with a sweet energizing carb like raisins, Brooke says.
8. Trail mix
Trail mix is a great energizing snack that you can grab in a hurry. But be mindful of serving size, especially if you’re grabbing a big bag or making your own. The typical serving size is one to two ounces or about a quarter of a cup. Grab the kind with dried fruits and nuts, Brooke says, because they’re packed with healthy fats, protein, and carbs.
9. Fig bars
These portable bites can be a great source of carbohydrates that you can munch on before, during, or after a ride, Brooke says. (They’re super portable, so easy to grab midride.) Look for whole grain options or ones with fewer ingredients, containing about 25 to 30 grams of carbs. The more natural the better, Brooke says.
Popcorn can be a convenient carb source, especially postride, Brooke says. This tasty snack can help you reach your daily fiber goals, considering just one ounce (or about three cups) contains nearly 4 grams of fiber.
11. Roasted chickpeas
Brooke says chickpeas offer complex carbs that are rich in protein and fiber. This means eating just one serving (about a 1/3 of a cup), can provide you with long-lasting energy.
12. Salted edamame
Edamame is another complex carb that cyclists can enjoy anytime for long-lasting energy. Just one cup of these green seeds serves up 8 grams of fiber, helping you get your daily fill of the gut-supporting nutrient. Top it with salt for a dose of electrolytes—good for super sweaty workouts.
13. Mini energy bars
These are easy go-tos because they’re portable and pre-packaged, but make sure you read the labels to find the best pick. Consider grabbing varieties made with nuts, seeds, or nut butter, as opposed to chocolate or caramel, Brooke says. And look for bars that are 250 to 300 calories, have 30 grams of carbs, at least 10 grams of protein, and less than 5 grams each of added sugars and fiber. For those looking to munch on a bar midride, go for a little less protein (and lower on fat) because it’s takes longer to digest, she says.
The Bottom Line on Low-Calorie Snacks
There are a ton of low-calorie snacks to choose from, and what you eat throughout the day is largely based on your own personal preference—what you enjoy eating, what fills you up, and what helps you feel strong and capable on the bike. Pre-packaged snacks can be a fine option, but keep in mind, there are plenty of low-calorie, nutrient-dense options you can make right at home that will meet all your energy needs and keep you fueled for every ride.
Also, know that you need calories to support your athletic pursuits, and you’ll want energy-dense foods to support you through long rides. So it’s often better to focus on nutrition and taste than solely on calorie counts when choosing your foods.