Athletes love snacks. These small meals keep us going during the day, especially when our training load increased. They typically fall somewhere in the 100-400 calorie range, depending on your daily caloric needs.
Why are snacks important to athletes? There are a few reasons:
- Snacks give us top off our “fuel tank” we need for our workouts when it’s been awhile since our last meal.
- Snacks help us recover from the workout we just did.
- Snacks help us keep our blood sugar stable during the day.
Snacks should be appropriate for our training load. If you just ran 30 minutes easy on the treadmill and head into your local coffee shop, should you snack on that scone that is staring you down? Probably not, because you likely only burned half of the caloric content and you probably don’t need that many carbohydrates.
Snacks should be chosen smartly. They should be quality calories and make sense for the workout you are about to do, just did, or for one you aren’t doing.
Pre-workout snacks should be easily digestible and give you that little bit of energy you might need to get you through the workout. Depending on the length of your workout and the intensity, you may have different go-to snacks. But pre-workout snacks should often be higher in carbohydrate content. A banana with a little bit of nut butter work really well for a lot of people.
Post-workout snacks will likely be a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Now, if your workout is short and easy, you probably don’t need a recovery snack unless you are hungry. If your next meal is coming in the next couple hours, you should just be fine.
If you had a long or intense workout, then a recovery snack will be more important to replenish glycogen stores and take in the protein you need.
My notes from a talk that Stacy Sims gave back in October at the USA Cycling Coaching Summit says women should take in a 3:1 CHO:PRO within 30 minutes if possible, and that the total recovery window is about 3 hours, but definitely try to eat something within 90 minutes. Men should consume a 4:1 ratio, their initial window is about 40-45 minutes, and they have a much longer total recovery window (18-21 hours).
Keeping your blood sugar stable is something I’ve gathered from a lot of the nutrition reading I have done. That means go for protein and healthy fats in addition to the carbs. So don’t go for the high carb, high sugar content snacks (even though they may be tempting). Grab some greek yogurt with fruit and some nuts.
Depending on where you are in your day and your training load can help determine what kind of snacks you should be eating. Doing high intensity back-to-back days like I just did? Your carbohydrate intake should be higher than if you are doing an hour long easy bike ride one day and a thirty minute easy run the next.
One more tip: reach for real food as often as possible. While bars and pre-packaged shakes can be convenient in a crunch, make sure you know what is in them.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some snack ideas and recipes with you. To get you started, here’s a quick snack idea taken from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guide Book, 3rd Ed, p.266.
Makes eight 1/4c. servings at 220 calories/serving.
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 t. curry powder
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt
1 t. sugar
2 c. walnut halves
Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, mix egg white with spices, then add walnuts and coat thoroughly. Spread on non-stick baking sheet and bake 15-18 minutes or until dry and crisp. Let cool then enjoy! These spiced walnuts would also pair well with some chopped fruit and a little bit of yogurt.