Every bodybuilder likes to eat, but it’s not always easy or convenient to get all the protein you need from your main meals. Sometimes, you might not find the time to sit down for a proper meal.
That’s when the right snacks can be a lifesaver.
Of course, you don’t want to reach for a candy bar when it’s snack time. You want something that’ll benefit your muscles, not just your sweet tooth. The best snacks for bodybuilding are nutritious, high in protein, and taste good.
Here are 15 snacks that cover all the bases and provide your body with the protein you need to build muscle all day long. In alphabetical, no other particular order.
The almond is a tree nut packed with protein and other nutrients. You can eat them raw or roasted, with or without salt. Almonds are easy snacks that can be stored anywhere and eaten as they are without any mess.
Almonds have a very high protein content and give you more than 20 grams of protein per 100 grams.1 That equals meat or fish, although the quality of the protein isn’t quite as good. They also provide plenty of healthy fats, primarily unsaturated fats, with only a small amount of saturated.
Including almonds in your diet is associated with several heart health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.2 In addition, almonds are low in carbs and help with blood sugar control.3
Almonds are excellent sources of various antioxidants, including vitamin E, which protects your cells from oxidative damage. Most of the antioxidants are found in the almond skin.4 A handful of almonds gives you a third of the RDI for vitamin E.
Almonds are naturally high in calories, but your body can’t absorb all of them. About 10–20% of their energy content gets lost during digestion.5 If you want all the calories, go with almond butter. Breaking the almonds down into butter makes them very easily digestible.6 Almond butter might not be the best snack on the go because it could get a bit messy, but if you’re at home, it’s a nutrient-rich, high calorie treat.
Nuts, including almonds, generally do not promote weight gain.7 That makes them a good snack even during a cutting diet. In moderation, of course.
If you’re looking for a high-protein snack you can take anywhere and requires no refrigeration or preparation, stocking up on quality beef jerky is a good idea. You get the nutritional benefits of meat in a very convenient package.
When buying beef jerky, look at the list of ingredients and make sure you’re not getting excessive amounts of preservatives, sodium, sugar, and nitrates along with the meat. Beef jerky can be very high in sodium, providing a significant amount of the recommended daily intake in just a few slices. Sodium isn’t bad in itself, but if you eat a lot of jerky, you might get more than you expect or want.
In addition to regular beef jerky, pork jerky and turkey jerky provide variety but with similar amounts of high-quality protein. Turkey jerky is an excellent option if you’re trying to cut down on red meat but still want the protein and the jerky experience.
Canned tuna is a staple bodybuilding protein source for a good reason. It’s almost pure protein, with zero grams of carbohydrates and very little to no fat. A can of tuna takes little space, provides you with enough high-quality protein to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and doesn’t require refrigeration or preparation.
You can eat the tuna straight out of the can for a hard-core protein snack on the go. It can be a bit rough, though. Suppose you have the time and option and don’t find tuna on its own a culinary sensation. In that case, you might want a more palatable snack like a tuna salad with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce, for example.
When buying canned tuna, go for tuna in brine or spring water. The oil used for oil-packed tuna is often sunflower oil, which contains little omega-3 fatty acids but a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, which most people already get plenty of. Some tuna is packed in olive oil, which is a better option but also more expensive.
Cottage cheese is a cheese curd product made from cow’s milk. It’s a fresh cheese with a mild flavor that doesn’t taste “cheesy” compared to aged cheeses. One cup of low fat cottage cheese provides a whopping 28 grams of protein but only 163 calories.8 The low calorie content makes low fat cottage cheese an excellent staple during a bodybuilding cut and for general weight loss.
Like many other dairy products, cottage cheese is naturally rich in calcium, a mineral essential for bone and tooth health.
The primary protein in cottage cheese is casein, which your body absorbs slowly and which keeps you full over a long time. That’s why many bodybuilders use cottage cheese as a bedtime snack.
Depending on your preferences, you can choose full fat, low fat, or fat-free cottage cheese, with the full fat option providing a little more than 4 grams of fat per 100 grams of cottage cheese.
You can eat plain cottage cheese with a spoon straight out of the tub if you’re on the go and need a snack with a good amount of protein. At home, adding berries or fruits to your cottage cheese gives you natural sweetness and a balanced meal. Cottage cheese is a great bodybuilding snack with plenty of protein for muscle growth regardless of when and how you eat it.
If you’re a vegan bodybuilder or just looking for a plant-based protein snack, edamame beans have you covered. They are immature whole soybeans, often sold pre-cooked and frozen. You can heat them in the microwave or boil them in salted water for a few minutes. Because they are pre-cooked, you can bring them along as a snack without preparing them. Just let them thaw out and you’re good to go.
One cup (155 grams) of edamame provides 18 grams of protein, plenty of fiber, and several vitamins and minerals.9 Unlike most plant proteins, the soybean contains all the amino acids you need to build muscle in appropriate amounts.10
When it’s snack time, simply pop the beans out of the pods into your mouth, and you’ve got a healthy, high-protein snack right there.
>> Soy – Healthy Alternative to Meat or Toxic Hormonal Disruptor?
Greek yogurt is a perfect high-protein bodybuilding snack. You can find both plain and flavored Greek yogurts, with everything from full fat to fat-free variants available. You can enjoy them even if you are lactose intolerant, as there are plenty of lactose-free yogurts to choose from.
A 200-gram serving of Greek yoghurt provides 20 grams of muscle-building protein and significant amounts of valuable nutrients like selenium and several B vitamins like B2 and B12.11
The majority of the protein in Greek yogurt is casein, which you absorb slowly and provides your muscles with amino acids for many hours.
Greek yogurt is not just good for building muscle but also for building your bones. Research shows that Greek yogurt is an excellent addition to strength training for better bone health.12
Available in convenient ready-to-eat packages at any grocery store, Greek yogurt makes for a great snack on the go. At home, you can add fruits, berries, or your favorite healthy topping to plain Greek yogurt for an even more nutritionally balanced snack and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time.
You might want to check the nutrition facts label when buying flavored and sweetened Greek yogurt, as some brands contain plenty of sugar. If you’re only looking for protein and don’t care about fancy flavors, plain Greek yogurt might be the best option. You can opt for full fat, reduced fat, or fat-free variants. They are equally suitable for building muscle, the difference being the fat and calorie content.
Eggs are close to being the perfect food. Eggs are often referred to as the golden standard for protein quality, with a biological value of 100. They are easily digested and filled with nutrients. In fact, whole eggs provide you with pretty much everything you need, except for vitamin C.
Bodybuilders often remove the yolks and only eat the egg whites. That can be the way to go if you’re looking for a non-fat, low-calorie protein source, but you’re missing out on most of the valuable nutrients of the egg. The high cholesterol content of eggs used to be a fear, but numerous studies have not found evidence that dietary cholesterol leads to heart disease. That’s why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans got rid of the recommendation to limit your cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day a few years back.13
In addition, cholesterol is the precursor of testosterone.14 The Leydig cells in your testicles use the cholesterol in eggs and other foods high in cholesterol you eat to produce testosterone.
Both egg whites and whole eggs boost muscle growth, but some research suggests that including the yolk offers some benefits. While gains in muscle mass appear to be similar, whole eggs promote muscle protein synthesis and increase testosterone.15 16
Keeping some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge ensures you always have access to a high-quality, nutritious protein source when you need it. Unfortunately, eggs don’t make the best snack on the go, as they don’t keep very well at room temperature. Eggs shouldn’t be kept out in the open for more than two hours.17 They don’t automatically go bad after that time, but it could mean bacteria growth that might make you sick. You’d probably be fine 99 times out of 100, but the hundredth time wouldn’t be pleasant. Unless you have a cooler to bring with you, it’s best to store your hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator and pull a few out when you need them. They keep for at least a week in the cold of the fridge.
Icelandic Yogurt (Skyr)
Skyr is similar to Greek yogurt but a bit thicker and creamier. Like most dairy products, Skyr is high in calcium and good for your bones. It’s naturally high in protein and virtually fat-free.
A recent study examined what happens when you eat a serving of Skyr as a post-exercise meal.18 Compared to placebo, Skyr improved lean muscle and strength significantly. Of course, that’s expected when you eat or drink any source of high-quality protein after your intense workouts, but it shows that Skyr is viable as a workout snack as well as a great source of protein in general.
Nuts and Seeds
In addition to almonds, there are many other nuts and seeds you can snack on to boost your protein intake. You always get healthy fats and plenty of other nutrients along with protein when you eat a handful of nuts and seeds. Some examples are hemp seeds, pumpkins seeds, and walnuts.
- Walnuts improve blood lipids and help protect against heart disease without promoting weight gain if eaten in moderation.19 20
- Hemp seeds are incredibly nutritious. Whole hemp seeds contain 25% to 35% healthy fats, 20% to 25% protein, 20% to 30% carbohydrates, 10% to 15% insoluble fibers, plus vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc.21
- Pumpkin seeds are exceedingly high in protein. A cup (46 grams) provides close to 14 grams of protein as well as many micronutrients like magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and manganese.22 Pumpkin seeds also contain powerful antioxidants that help protect your cells.23
Other nuts like hazelnuts and cashews are nutritious, tasty, and high in protein, too.
Whenever you need a healthy and tasty snack, a handful of nuts or seeds provide plenty of nutrients and antioxidants in addition to protein. If you want carbs, extra calories, and more energy, you can add dried fruits of your choice for a delicious trail mix.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanuts aren’t real nuts. They belong to the legume family, like peas and lentils. That doesn´t make them less nutritious, though. On the contrary, peanuts can provide nutritional benefits and a protein content comparable to any real nut. They are also less expensive.
Peanuts contain more protein than many nuts, along with plenty of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition, peanuts might offer several health benefits associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.24
Peanuts are considered a high-calorie food, but research shows that even a sizeable daily peanut intake does not increase body fat.25 Like almonds, your body can’t absorb all the calories and fat from whole peanuts.26 Close to 20% of the fat in peanuts passes through your body and into the toilet. If you eat peanut butter instead of whole peanuts, you absorb many calories and nutrients.
A handful of peanuts or a tablespoon of peanut butter is an excellent way to boost your protein and calorie intake and provides a healthy snack for any bodybuilder without a peanut allergy.
You probably don’t think of sausage as a bodybuilding food, and to be fair, they aren’t. However, in a pinch, a pepperoni stick or two gives you plenty of protein in a convenient package. The protein is of high quality, as it is pork or beef, or both, excellent proteins for building muscle.
Don’t reach for the pepperoni sticks if you want a “clean” source of protein, though. They are high in calories, filled with saturated fat, sodium, and often additives. If you’re in a bulking phase, having some pepperoni sticks at hand makes for a good snack for bodybuilders, but they aren’t the best cutting snack.
Unopened pepperoni sticks don’t require refrigeration, making them suitable for snacking on the go.
Protein bars come in numerous types and flavors. Many are excellent sources of protein and make perfect muscle-building snacks, but others contain filler ingredients and are high in sugar and fats.
When picking a protein bar, always look at the nutritional information label before buying. Here are some things to look for:
- You want around 20 grams of protein, or more, per serving. You need 20 grams of protein to stimulate muscle protein fully.
- Make sure the primary source of protein is of high quality. That means looking for whey protein, soy protein, milk protein, and the like early in the list of ingredients. If you see collagen protein as a main source of protein, put it back on the shelf. Collagen might benefit skin and joint health, but it’s not very good for building muscle.27 28 Some collagen is fine, as it gives the bar a thick, chewy consistency, but it shouldn’t be the main protein source.
- Check the sugar content. A little natural sugar is no problem, but you might not want your high-protein bodybuilding snacks loaded with added refined sugar. An endurance athlete might benefit from added sugar as energy during a run or a race, but for bodybuilding purposes, you probably want to get your carbs from better sources.
Back in the day, eating a protein bar would be like chewing on chalk. At best, you’d be able to call them edible. Today, you have an abundant selection of protein bars with great taste and a good nutrient profile to choose from. Keep a bar or two at hand for a convenient snack when you need a high-protein energy boost in a tasty package. Just be sure to check the ingredient label before you buy.
If you’re looking for a pure source of protein, look no further than a quality protein powder. Scoop it into a dry shaker and bring it with you to the job, the gym, or wherever you need a quick source of protein. Just add water, and you’ve got a protein shake for building muscle on the go.
Whey protein is the most popular option, and for a good reason. Being rich in essential amino acids, the ones you need for building muscle, whey protein is the ideal choice to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. According to research, whey protein might maximize lean body mass gain and strength improvements compared to other protein supplements.29
Whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate are the two common types of whey protein and make the perfect snack for bodybuilders who want protein and nothing else.
- Whey isolate is very pure, containing at least 90% pure protein. Its low milk sugar content makes it a viable option even if you’re lactose intolerant.
- Concentrate is less processed than isolate, with more lactose and fat remaining in the finished product. That also means that concentrate contains more biologically active compounds with potential health benefits.30
>> Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Isolate: What’s The Difference?
Because whey protein comes from dairy, soy protein is the best choice for vegan bodybuilders. It’s one of few plant-based proteins providing all the essential amino acids you need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis fully.
>> Whey or Soy Protein for Building Muscle?
Casein protein is another great option. It might not stimulate muscle protein as much as whey protein, as you can see in the graph above, but instead, you absorb it over a much longer time. That is excellent if you know you’ll be going without food for an extended time.
But the most important consideration, by far, is your total protein intake. It doesn’t matter all that much which type of protein powder you pick for your snacking pleasure.
>> The Best Protein Powder for Men and Women Over 50
RTD or ready-to-drink shakes are pre-mixed protein shakes. They are often based on whey protein or milk protein, but vegan-friendly alternatives based on protein sources like almond milk or pea protein are available.
RTDs are an even more convenient snack than protein powder, with the potential downside that you can’t decide the exact serving size yourself. As long as you get 20 grams of protein, though, you’re good to go and will stimulate muscle protein synthesis fully.
You can store an RTD at room temperature, so if you don’t mind if it’s not ice-cold when you drink it, you can bring a shake with you in a bag wherever you go.
Check the nutrition facts label and ensure you get what you’re looking for. Some RTDs are almost pure protein, while others contain carbs as well. There is nothing wrong with carbs it that’s what you’re after, but if you see that the shake is loaded with added sugars, you might want to look for another brand.
String cheese is heat-treated, cut, and packaged sticks of mozzarella cheese in snack-sized servings. One stick of string cheese usually contains 6–7 grams of high-quality casein protein. Like other milk products, string cheese is an excellent source of calcium.
As with other dairy products, string cheese should be refrigerated, making it less attractive as a snack on the go. On the other hand, you can’t go wrong with string cheese when you want an easy snack with plenty of protein for snacking at home. There are also reduced-fat versions made from skim milk if you’re counting calories.
The Bottom Line
Feeding your muscles is essential to any bodybuilder, but eating clean and getting enough protein can be challenging, especially with a busy lifestyle.
Stocking up on healthy snacks ensures you always have muscle-building protein at hand, even when you don’t have time to sit down for a meal. Feel free to add your favorite fruits and berries to make them nutritionally balanced with fiber and more micronutrients. Berries might be messy when you’re out and about, but fruits like bananas, oranges, apples, or pears come packaged and ready to bring along.
Track Your Progress With the StrengthLog App
Being on point with your nutrition is paramount for building an awesome physique. Some say it’s the hardest part of bodybuilding. However, you can’t snack your way to success. It’s the combination of your efforts in the gym and a good diet that packs on the muscle.
It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.
You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts are for premium users only.
If you want to download StrengthLog for free and give it a spin, use the buttons below.
For more bodybuilding nutrition, check out these great resources:
- Eating for Muscle Growth: When, How, and How Much to Eat for Adding Lean Mass
- How to Cut: Lose Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass
- Build Muscle on a Vegan Diet: The Complete Guide
- How to Build Muscle on Keto: The Ultimate Guide
- USDA FoodData Central: Nuts, almonds, dry roasted
- J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Nov 14; 70(20): 2519–2532. Nut Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.
- Metabolism. 2011 Apr;60(4):474-9. Almond consumption improved glycemic control and lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- J Food Sci. 2008 Mar;73(2):C106-15. Polyphenols and antioxidant properties of almond skins: influence of industrial processing.
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings 96(3), April 2021. Almond Bioaccessibility in a Randomized Crossover Trial: Is a Calorie a Calorie?
- Int J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Sep; 51(9): 1937–1946. A review of the impact of processing on nutrient bioaccessibility and digestion of almonds.
- Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(1):137-41. Nuts and healthy body weight maintenance mechanisms.
- USDA FoodData Central: Cottage cheese, lowfat
- USDA FoodData Central: Edamame
- Nutrients. 2018 Jan; 10(1): 43. Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets.
- USDA FoodData Central: Greek yogurt
- Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2020 Jan;45(1):91-100. Consumption of Greek yogurt during 12 weeks of high-impact loading exercise increases bone formation in young, adult males – a secondary analysis from a randomized trial.
- Nutrients 2018, 10(6), 780. Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease.
- Sports Medicine Volume 47, Pages 1709–1720 (2017). Endocrinological Roles for Testosterone in Resistance Exercise Responses and Adaptations.
- Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2021 Nov 1;31(6):514-521. The Effect of Whole Egg Intake on Muscle Mass: Are the Yolk and Its Nutrients Important?
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 2021 – Volume 35 – Issue 2 – p 411-419. Whole Egg Vs. Egg White Ingestion During 12 weeks of Resistance Training in Trained Young Males: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
- US Food & Drug Administration: What You Need to Know About Egg Safety
- Br J Nutr. 2021 Jun 14;1-9. Effects of Icelandic yogurt consumption and resistance training in healthy untrained older males.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 108, Issue 1, July 2018, Pages 174–187. Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: an updated meta-analysis and systematic review of controlled trials.
- The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 5, May 2002, Pages 1062S–1101S. The Scientific Evidence for a Beneficial Health Relationship Between Walnuts and Coronary Heart Disease.
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 18(4), May 2019. Processing, Nutrition, and Functionality of Hempseed Protein: A Review.
- USDA FoodData Central: Pumpkins seeds
- Food Research International, Volume 42, Issues 5–6, June–July 2009, Pages 641-646. Antioxidant and lipoxygenase inhibitory activities of pumpkin seed extracts.
- J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Jan; 53(1): 31–41. Peanuts as functional food: a review.
- Nutrients. 2017 Dec; 9(12): 1311. Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review.
- N Engl J Med. 1980 Oct 16;303(16):917-8. Absorption of whole peanuts, peanut oil, and peanut butter.
- Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2022 May 1;32(3):133-143. Whey Protein Supplementation Is Superior to Leucine-Matched Collagen Peptides to Increase Muscle Thickness During a 10-Week Resistance Training Program in Untrained Young Adults.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 3, March 2020, Pages 708–718. Whey protein but not collagen peptides stimulate acute and longer-term muscle protein synthesis with and without resistance exercise in healthy older women: a randomized controlled trial.
- Sports Medicine Volume 46, Pages 125–137 (2016). Effects of Whey Protein Alone or as Part of a Multi-ingredient Formulation on Strength, Fat-Free Mass, or Lean Body Mass in Resistance-Trained Individuals: A Meta-analysis.
- J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Sep; 3(3): 118–130. Protein – Which is Best?