Why should I snack?
There are three main reasons to include a snack between meals; hunger management, keeping up with energy needs, and to supply adequate protein and carbohydrates to fuel and refuel your workouts.
The top reason we snack or might want to snack is to help manage hunger! It may sound fairly intuitive, but for those who have ever been on a diet or are considering weight management, snacks are often the first thing we skip. Athletes especially should eat every 2-4 hours on average, and adults who are prone to overeating may want to stick to this rule as well. To figure out if you need a snack or are ready for a meal, refer to this Hunger and Fullness Scale to apply a number to your hunger or fullness before and after meals. Aim to eat at a “3”, and stop at a “7”, but simply reflecting on this scale to help with meal timing is a great strategy towards more intuitive eating.
Keeping up with energy demands of the day can be tricky for athletes. Just getting from place to place takes energy, then we add in practice, lifting, running, skills, and an athlete’s energy needs are through the roof compared to someone who is sedentary. We get energy from calories, and we get our calories from foods. For serious athletes, it’s really hard to keep up with the demands of your body if you’re only eating 3 meals per day.
What are some other benefits of snacking?
Eating carbohydrate and protein in and around your training sessions is another reason athletes will want to include a high quality snack between meals. Carbohydrate foods are the muscles primary source of energy. If you include a carb source in your snack before and again after your workout, you are topping off and refueling your energy stores to help get the most out of your workout. Protein foods help build and repair muscles throughout the day and after training, so including a protein source between meals is critical to help building muscle and repairing damage from training sessions.
To take your training to the next level, read below to learn what to include in a snack, and to see some examples for athletes to snack on to make it easy, and help you capitalize on this opportunity!
What do I include in a snack between meals?
1. Protein source
Protein helps build and repair muscles to help with “muscle protein synthesis” or creating new muscle. As discussed in our Sept 2021 blog, Breakfast for Athletes 101, it’s important to include small amounts of protein throughout your day. In this way, snacks are an opportunity to help you get stronger. Popular high protein snack examples include beef jerky, hard boiled eggs, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, tofu, humus, beans, chicken or tuna salad, milk, Third-party tested protein powder, among others. Ask Nutrition Synergy about safe and effective protein supplements if needed to meet your protein needs.
2. High Fiber Carbohydrate
Carbohydrate foods or “carbs”, include grains, starches, fruits, dairy, and sweets. Athletes, don’t be afraid of carbs, they are your MAIN SOURCE of energy for your muscles, body, and brain to perform! It is critical to include these in your snacks, especially if you’re looking to improve your performance, or are snacking right before a workout. Look for simple carbs like fruit, pretzels, cereals, sports drinks, pretzels, dried fruit right before a workout, and choose more complex carbs like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, beans, nuts, if you’re eating 2+ hours before a workout or right afterwards. Ask Nutrition Synergy if you’re struggling to eat right before exercise but need to get more fuel in during your day!
Athletes need more fluid to keep up with sweat losses during workouts. Include a drink with your snack to make sure you are properly hydrated for training. For most people, water is the best choice! While water needs are varied between individuals, in general, aim to drink 16 oz water 2-3 hours before training with your snack, and another 8 oz right before you’re going out for practice.
When should I eat a snack?
Most people like to eat every 4-6 hours, but that may be too long to wait for some athletes, especially if training takes up a big part of your day. A good goal for very active individuals is to eat 3 meals, 3 snacks per day, or think of eating every 2-3 hours in order to get enough nutrition to fuel your workouts, and refuel afterwards. Here’s a sample eating schedule for a busy athlete with practice + lift trying to get enough nutrition in to fuel for their sport;
8am – Breakfast
10:30am – Snack
12:30pm – Lunch
2:30pm – Snack
3-6pm – TRAINING
6:30pm – Dinner
8:00pm – Snack
While every day will not look exactly the same, this athlete has planned snacks before and after lift and training to make sure they’re getting the most out of their workouts. The goal is to avoid large gaps without eating, where your carbs (energy for exercise) run low, and you’re not supplying enough protein to build and repair muscles after workouts. To craft a balanced snack, remember to include the 3 components you need; 1 Carbs, 2 Protein, 3 Fluid. Ask Nutrition Synergy if you need help with finding the right amount of food to eat at meals or snacks as this will vary between athletes!
Banana with nut butter
Protein smoothie (with fruit + greek yogurt or protein source)
Egg + Avocado toast
Humus + Pita
Greek yogurt + granola
Trail mix (with dried fruit and/or chocolate)
Oatmeal + nuts and/or seeds
Peanut butter + jelly on whole wheat bread
Apple + Cheese
Beef Jerkey + Fresh cherries
The Bottom Line About Snacks
Athletes should aim to include a snack between meals to provide energy for exercise, build and repair muscles, hydrate for training, and manage hunger. Each snack should include a carbohydrate source, protein source, and a fluid, and you should aim to eat every 2-3 hours or so, to get what you need to fuel your exercise! Bring your snacks with you when you’re on-the-go, and try some of these top snacks for athletes on the go to keep you fueled and focused during your busy day!
If you need help figuring out what to eat right before training, or how big portions should be for you, ask Nutrition Synergy for help!
In Strength and Wellness,