Consuming healthy snacks between meals can provided athletes with tremendous benefits. But what makes a snack healthy?
This post is provided by My Sports Dietitian
By Tavis Piattoly MS, RD, LDN
Can snacking really boost performance?
How do I put together a healthy snack to curb my hunger levels throughout the day? I don’t have time to eat a snack between meals because I don’t have time and there are not any healthy options on campus. These are questions I get and statements I hear all the time from athletes. I’ll answer the questions and provide practical guidelines to help you fix your snacking woes if you fall into the same boat.
Perception of Snacks
Athletes typically perceive the word “Snack” as some sort of junk food option (i.e. Chips, Candy, Cookies, etc). They typically don’t view it as an opportunity to get quality calories to fuel their body between their major meals. A snack can be comprised of anything you want it to be but what you choose, may determine how hungry you are in the next hour as well as how good you feel going on the field for practice at 3:00 pm, especially if you’re a high school or college athlete. This also depends on the sport as some collegiate sports practice and lift in the morning depending on the student athlete’s class schedule. Regardless, I’ll discuss what your snack should consist of to provide your body with a great source of fuel for the next 2-4 hours.
Benefits of Snacking between Meals
Dr. Dan Benardot, Professor of Sports Nutrition at Georgia State University, and Nutrition Consultant for USA Gymnastics, conducted a study on comparing the effects of consuming a healthy snack between meals in athletes vs. those who do not eat a healthy snack between meals. His findings were those who consumed a healthy snack demonstrated the following:
- Improvement in Anaerobic Power (Strength)
• Significant Increase in lean muscle mass
• Significant reduction in body fat
• Improvement in energy levels
• Weight remained the same while muscle mass increased and body fat decreased
Additional benefits include blood sugar control, lower levels of hunger throughout the day which will reduce how much you eat later at night.
What Makes a Snack Healthy and Balanced?
There are 3 components of a healthy snack: Protein, Fiber, and Fat. When consuming these 3 nutrients synergistically, they help keep you full longer. Below is a chart that provides you with examples from each category.
Lean Turkey, Ham, or Roast Beef Deli Meat
*Extra Lean Beef
*Lean Beef Jerky
*Low Fat Cheese
Low Fat or Fat Free Greek Yogurt
100% Whole Wheat Bread
Whole Grain Cereal
Whole Grain Waffle
Whole Grain Crackers (i.e. Triscuits, Beanitos)
*Nut or Almond Butter
Ground Flax Seed
The above chart will give you a few examples of foods in each category. Those listed with an * next them indicate they are a source of Fat and Protein. Below are some examples of healthy snacks you can use between meals. These are just examples and may not apply to caloric needs.
• Peanut Butter Sandwich with Fresh Fruit
• 1 oz or Handful of Almonds with an Apple or piece of fresh fruit
• 1 scoop of Protein Powder with low fat milk or almond milk and a tbsp of Peanut Butter
• 6 Triscuit Crackers with 1 oz of low fat shredded cheese
Challenges for Athletes
High School and College athletes may face challenges in their schedule to where they may not have the ability to eat a snack. Some of these challenges are:
- Only 5 minutes between classes to eat
• I don’t have time to make snacks in the morning
• Teacher may not allow athlete to eat in class
• Healthy snack options are not available on campus
• I don’t know what’s safe to pack in my bag
Putting together a Plan for Success
To be successful, you must develop a plan. All of the above are realistic challenges for athletes but they can be accomplished by doing the following:
- It only takes 2-3 minutes to a PB and J sandwich, Protien Bar, or a handfulof nuts and blueberries.
• Use a day off (i.e. Sunday) to make 10 Peanut Butter sandwiches or portion out your snacks for the week
• Pack snacks from home and bring to school so you don’t miss your chance to eat
• The following foods do not require refrigeration so you don’t have to be concerned about food spoilage.
o Nuts or Trail mix
o Nutrition Bars
o Peanut Butter Sandwiches or Bagels
o Whole Grain Crackers
o Fresh Fruit
o Dried Fruit (Raisins, Dates, Prunes, etc)
o Beef Jerky
o Whole Grain Chips (i.e. Sun Chips, Beanitos, Multigrain Tostidos)
o Whole Grain Cereal (i.e. Special K Protein Plus, Kashi, Cheerios)
o Whole Grain Waffles
Click the link below to get a free eBook that gives you tips for finding healthy snacks at the grocery store.
3 Guidelines for Choosing a Healthy Snack