FOR those who want to keep a healthy body, they eat healthy by watching what they eat, whether meals or snacks. For them, they make sure even snacks they consume should be healthy enough since healthy snacking is also an important part of anyone’s diet.
For athletes and active individuals, snacking ensures adequate fuel for exercise, improves muscle recovery, boosts mental performance, and helps maintain healthy body composition.
As a sports dietitian, athletes often ask Dana Ryan, Ph.D:, MBA, M.A., the Director for Sports Performance and Education of Herbalife Nutrition, about what should they eat before and after a workout? Or what’s a good sports snack?
Healthy snacking: pre-workout and post-workout
Ryan said snacks are “mini-meals” between the main meals and are necessary to get the calories and nutrients the body needs. The number and type of snacks should be determined by one’s hunger signals, as well as work, academic, athletic, or sleep schedules.
She emphasized that the key is to make smart snack choices to keep anyone on track with their nutrition and performance goals.
Ryan listed some of her top tips on healthy snacking:
1. Combine lean protein with a carbohydrate and/or healthy Fat.
She pointed out that in general, think of the balance when looking for snacks to curb hunger. Pair protein-rich foods with a carbohydrate or healthy fat for a balanced snack. It is crucial to have lean protein at every meal and snack to support muscle growth and repair. Protein also promotes fullness, helping ward off hunger until the next meal.
Carbohydrates provide both the body and the brain with energy. She recommended whole grains like whole-wheat bread or crackers or a high-fiber cereal, for long-lasting energy. Healthy fats, like nut butter or avocados, also provide energy with staying power, she said.
Ryan pointed to some examples of balanced snacks such as Greek yogurt with granola, half a turkey sandwich, a fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt, a banana with peanut butter, string cheese and fruit, and trail mix.
2. Don’t Ignore Hunger Cues.
People should listen to their body and pay attention to their hunger cues. Common signals include stomach rumbling or growling, fatigue, shakiness or dizziness, and poor concentration.
If these symptoms are present, Ryan said too many hours have passed without fuel. “Being able to recognize these signals is crucial for athletic performance. You’ll need energy to perform your best.”
She said that typically, spacing meals and snacks out every 2-3 hours is adequate timing to avoid hunger pangs and to ensure that the body has enough fuel. This amounts to 2-3 snacks in addition to three main meals per day.
3. Fuel your exercise with pre-workout snacks.
Ryan explains that carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for exercising muscles. Timing is important: prioritize easy-to-digest carbs in pre-workout snack.
A small amount of lean protein is okay, she said, but limit or avoid fats, as they may cause digestive issues if eaten too close to the time of the workout. “Timing will vary, but eating your snack one-hour pre-workout should allow enough time for digestion.”
Examples of pre-workout snacks include a fruit smoothie or applesauce, a handful of dried fruit plus whole-grain cereal, Greek yogurt with berries, a piece of fruit plus a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage, and a piece of whole-grain toast with jam.
4. Refuel, Repair, and Recover with post-workout snacks.
Ryan explained that a good post-workout snack should have three components: protein, carbohydrates, and fluids. “The goal after exercise is to replace the fuel that was burned, restore fluids lost through sweat, and provide protein to promote muscle repair,” she emphasized.
Her recommendation is to aim for at least 20 grams of protein in the snack to prevent muscle breakdown and to promote muscle building. Ryan averred that snack eating within the first hour after exercise is ideal for replenishment and rebuilding.
Her examples of good recovery snacks include low-fat chocolate milk, a protein shake, a fruit and Greek yogurt smoothie, trail mix with dried fruit, whole grain bread with nut butter, and banana plus low-fat milk.
5. Snack mindfully and avoid distractions.
Munching mindlessly, she warned, is an easy way to end up with the hand at the bottom of an empty bag of chips without knowing how it got there.
“First, make sure to choose a healthy snack that aligns with your performance and health goals. Then, stop what you’re doing for a few minutes – turn off the TV, put down your phone, and close your laptop – and eat your snack.”
She said eating without distractions will help one feel more satisfied and less likely to overeat.
6. Don’t get tricked by treats.
Distinguish a healthy snack from a treat. Ryan said healthy snacks are nutritious and satisfy hunger. Treats, such as sweets, fried foods, and chips lack useful nutrients and provide “empty” calories,” which she pointed out cannot really help the body grow, recover or perform to the best of one’s ability.
Treats might satisfy a craving, but they rarely satisfy hunger, leaving anyone to reach for something else soon after. Treats often lead to overeating, which could eventually lead to weight gain. Instead, choose a healthy snack that can satisfy any craving without the feeling of being full.
7. Choose healthy, convenient snacks to fill nutrition gaps.
Whether fueling for exercise, replenishing energy losses, or building and repairing muscles, the body needs constant nutrition, Ryan said. “In my experience, many athletes are consistently hungry and can’t seem to get enough calories throughout the day.”
So, when on-the-go, choose a convenient snack such as a protein bar, fruit, or Greek yogurt. Snacking is a great way for active people to get the extra nutrition they need to achieve body composition and performance goals, Ryan added.
8. Plan ahead.
There’s no harm in planning ahead. Ryan said better prepare healthy snacks at home to bring to work, school, or training. Skip the vending machine and avoid buying snacks where healthy options are limited.
“You’ll not only save money, but you’ll also get a bigger bang for your nutritional buck by preparing healthy snacks ahead of time. Pack portable snacks in your backpack or sports bag” was Ryan’s suggestion.
She said that planning ahead and knowing your schedule will keep you from missing your healthy snacks, Ryan ended.