Snacking is an important part of our daily nutrition. When used the right way, snacks have the potential to provide excellent benefits to our diet.
Providing us with energy before and after workouts, controlling hunger, increasing metabolism, and helping reduce late-night cravings are some of the positives of healthy snacking. Snacks also provide additional nutrients - calories, protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals we might miss at other times of the day.
Being mindful of portion sizes to reduce overeating is an important aspect of snacking. Eating directly out of the bag or container of a certain food item can cause overeating. Portioning out your snacks can help you eat adequate amounts without overdoing it. For very active or larger individuals who may need more calories, sometimes a standard serving size is too little. Knowing you can always go back for more food may help provide a source of comfort while listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Nutrient-dense snacks can help reduce sources of empty calories and added sugar when knowing what to look for and how to prepare. When choosing a snack, it is important to focus on at least two food groups with an emphasis on protein, paired with a complex carbohydrate or healthy fat. A protein/complex carbohydrate snack is an excellent choice prior to a really tough, high-intensity workout session (such as sprint training), as the body prefers to use carbohydrates as a fuel source during this time. If the session is low intensity, such as yoga or walking, the body may not need as many carbohydrates, and a protein/fat snack may be beneficial during this time. After a workout, a quick sugar such as fruit or honey, combined with protein, is a great choice to help repair the muscles while providing some energy.
When shopping for the week, don’t forget to pick up some snack items. Put them in your gym bag, keep them at work, or in the car so you always have something on hand. This way, you will be less likely to make impulsive snack choices or go through the drive-thru out of convenience. Eating early, eating often and having a plan may help reduce some of these impulses and cravings for less nutrient dense food choices.
With that said, all foods can fit in a fueling plan when eaten appropriately and in moderation. If these cravings are popping up frequently, it is important to assess your food choices to ensure you are consuming enough calories and variety throughout the day, or if they could be emotionally driven.
Need help coming up with some nutrient-dense snacks? Here are a few great ideas...
1) Build a delicious yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and granola.
2) Make some easy no bake protein balls by mixing oats, peanut butter, honey, chocolate protein powder and chocolate chips (optional). Roll them into balls, refrigerate, and enjoy.
3) Make your own trail mix: nuts and seeds of choice, dried fruit, and some dark chocolate.
4) Grab some savory hummus and pair it with your favorite veggies.
5) Looking for a pre-workout snack with a little more carbohydrates? Replace the veggies with a handful of pretzels or your favorite whole wheat crackers.