Many fitness facilities offer food for their clients — from drinks and energy bars to smoothies to full-service cafés. A snack bar has the potential to be a great profit center for your facility and a quality snack bar may help your clients realize better results — therefore retaining them for a longer period of time. At the same time, I believe it is our responsibility to care about the client's well-being. Offering products that have no scientific basis, are ineffective or possibly dangerous crosses the ethical line for an organization that present itself as a healthcare facility.

Before you begin planning for the snack bar you need to determine a need for the service. Objectively assess the “personality” of your clientele. As mentioned above, the level of snack bar that you develop depends on many factors ranging from available start-up costs, available space, staffing options and your clientele personality. The operation of the snack bar will be completely different for each facility. The scope of this subject is too complex to cover in this article. Instead, I want to discuss what type of food and products you may want to offer at your snack bar. Below are basic staples for your snack bar, keeping in mind both healthy eating principles and performance nutrition:

  • Offer fresh, prepared foods in addition to packaged foods and beverages. Contract with a local restaurant or caterer to provide fresh food daily. This service requires much effort to maintain, but I believe that your clients will absolutely love the option.

  • Offer smoothies. There are several companies that offer bottled fruit concentrate and flavors like mocaccino, vanilla crème, etc. You can also use fresh ingredients, but the drawbacks to this are obvious. There are several delivery systems that you can use, but the easiest is to buy a granita machine. These machines freeze and continuously stir the product for up to a week — all your clients do are fill their cup. The only drawback is the cost of the machine and the time-consuming cleaning between batches. Another option is to have blenders and make the smoothies fresh. This requires more work and can be messy. Since research has shown that consuming a carbohydrate to protein meal at a three-to-one ratio within the first 40 minutes post-exercise is optimal for repair and recovery, offer protein powder as an add-in. There are many other vitamins, minerals and nutrients that companies offer as add-ins, but I suggest you err on the side of caution and start with the following nutrients: glutamine, creatine, ground flaxseed or oil.

  • Stock your refrigerator. Spring water, sports drinks, fitness water, juice, iced tea, cottage cheese, yogurt, fruit, pre-mixed protein shakes (caution: be wary of energy drinks that contain stimulants…even if they claim to be natural or herbal) can round out your refrigerator options.

  • Stock your shelves. Offer a variety of energy bars, trail mix, protein muffins (work with your caterer to develop a high-protein/low-sugar muffin or find them online) and instant oatmeal.

  • Avoid conflicts of interest. If you choose to sell nutritional products (supplements, energy drinks, shakes, bars, etc.) you need to know what you're doing. You may want to consult a registered dietitian who is familiar with supplements and performance nutrition products. A sports nutritionist can be found on the American Dietetic Association's “Find a Dietitian” web page at www.eatright.org. I believe offering some level of snack bar is good business because it shows your clients that you care. Remember to start small and you can always build your selections based on client feedback.

  • Christine Karpinski is a registered dietician and exercise physiologist. She can be reached at chris@nutritionedge.net.