Monday, October 18, 2010

Snacks….good or bad?

Trick question, right? Snacks can be good or bad for the athlete---depending on what, when and how much you choose to eat. You can make snacks work for you—no matter what your athletic goals are. With just a little thought and planning, you can improve your energy, health and training in the off season using high nutrition snacks.

Snacking is a great way to add foods during your day that provide your body with immune-boosting nutrients and energy to fuel workouts. Snacks give you the fuel you need before your workouts to train effectively so adding in an energizing snack an hour or two before heading to work out makes good sense for the athlete. It’s hard to make the gains you want, in endurance or strength, if you have an empty tank! After hard workouts, snacks help muscles refuel, repair and rehydrate so you are ready for the next workout/training session---- whenever that might be. Snacks help you to maintain lean muscle, stay focused and improve your energy levels throughout the day.

When opting for snacks, it’s important to remember that they add calories, as well as nutrition. Although planned snacking is beneficial to athletes, it’s not permission to eat a limitless amount of whatever foods you want. Snacks need to be chosen with some thought or they can work against you and cause unwanted body fat and weight gain. The size of your snack should go along with the length and intensity of your workouts. Try to space them out every 3 hours during the day to boost your energy. Set a reminder on your cell phone to fuel up so that the day isn’t over and you are left wondering why you are starving and have no energy for your workout after school or work! Try to include two different food groups in every snack for longer lasting energy and add some fluids for hydration. Choose a high quality (whole grain) carbohydrate source that is low in fat and a small amount of protein from lean meat, nuts or low fat dairy.

Keep emergency stashes in your backpack or out of sight in your car. I keep mine in my trunk in a box designated as my “snack box.” Keeping them in the trunk of my car prevents me from taking a visible cue to eat when I’m not truly hungry or don’t really need those extra calories. It also helps prevent eating foods out somewhere that are just “empty calories” without any nutrition, because you don’t have the right food with you. These are the moments that matter. Your food choices between your meals will make a difference and ultimately affect your health and training----either positively or negatively. It’s your choice.

Try these simple snack ideas that support good health:

• Whole grain cereals or popcorn with 100% fruit juice
• Low fat yogurt or cottage cheese and fresh berries
• Cereal or granola bars and a V-8 juice
• Small bag of nuts (about 15) and handful of grapes
• Whole wheat fig newtons
• Quesadilla with a thin layer of fat-free refried beans and a sprinkle of low fat cheese or half a turkey sandwich
• 5-6 whole wheat baked crackers with a schmear of peanut butter
• Apple and a piece of mozzarella string cheese
• Chocolate milk and an orange
• Carnation instant Breakfast and a banana
• Baked chips and salsa and a fruit cup
• Mini bagel with low fat cream cheese
• Small bag of trail mix
• Baby carrots with hummus for dip

Kim Larson, RD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

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