When working with clients, one of the first things I ask when diving into their history is how often they eat. Of course, when you are listening to your hunger and satiety cues, this may vary depending on the day. But most clients I meet with are not at that point and typically eat based on a routine. I’m always amazed with how long people go without eating. (Meanwhile, my stomach is growling just thinking about it.) While my ultimate goal is to move people towards intuitive eating, I often use a customized plate method in the meantime. The plate method is what I consider a bridge to intuitive eating. We all have to start somewhere!
At the same time, I often encourage eating every 3-4 hours until your body finds its own rhythm. When I taught outpatient diabetes classes as a clinical dietitian, I often recommended snacks in the afternoon and before bed to stabilize blood sugars. (Sometimes I’d even recommend a snack in the morning depending on how early someone woke up). In my experience working one-on-one with clients, the importance of snacks between meals holds true for everyone in keeping energy levels consistent. I’ve even noticed this with myself. If I get wrapped up in my work in the afternoon and start to get groggy and lose focus, this is often my body telling me that I need a little something to keep my blood sugars stable.
So what do I recommend for snacks?
By now, you guys know that I’m not a fan of food rules. I hate them. But when people are lacking ideas for snacks, I do have some tips up my sleeve. I usually encourage snacks with at least two components: carbs + protein. The carbs give you a boost in energy and the protein can help stabilize blood sugars to sustain your energy levels. A lot of the time, these snacks will naturally have some fat in them too–which is bonus points in my book!
For some people, the recommendation to include carbs and protein in each of their snacks, still seems too “diet-y.” I totally get it. If you’re breaking away from food rules, then I usually recommend striving for two food groups in your snack. Like I mentioned, there are no rules as far as these snacks go. Do some experimenting with what feels best to YOU.
These recommendations are not “black and white.” They are simply meant to give you a loose structure to work with. Your snacks won’t always look like this and there is NOTHING wrong with that. (In fact, just yesterday I had a donut for an afternoon snack and I felt like a million bucks! 🙂 ) But below are some examples of how you might pair a protein-rich food with a carbohydrate. The ideas on the bottom are ones that are already “paired.” For example, I like to keep a Nature Valley Protein Bar or Kind Bar in my purse for when I am on the run. (I linked my personal favorites!)
What about before workouts?
For pre-workout snacks, my recommendations are a bit different. While protein, fat, and fiber work well to balance our meals the rest of the day, they can leave you with gastrointestinal (GI) distress if consumed before exercise. In addition, fat can also inhibit the body’s ability to absorb carbs consumed during exercise for fuel because the carbs stay in the stomach with fat rather than being efficiently passed to the small intestine for absorption. So stick with a snack that emphasizes carbs for energy and make sure to hydrate as well. This may depend on the time of day. For example, when I go on a mid-distance early morning run, my body feels best with half a banana. While it may be tempting to skip a carb before workouts (especially in our carb-phobic society), there are a number of benefits of a pre-workout snack (1):
- prevents low blood sugar
- helps settle the stomach, absorbs some of the gastric juices, and abates hunger feelings
- fuels the muscles
- pre-exercise beverages can provide fluids to fully hydrate as well as additional carbohydrates
I could probably do an entire post on sports nutrition. In graduate school at Illinois State University, my sports nutrition class was easily one of my favorite courses. Sometimes I still want to frame the 20-page literature review I wrote on whey protein. I called it “‘Whey’ing the Benefits: The Efficacy of Whey Protein.” (still proud of that food pun haha!) While I’ll write about the 4:1 or 3:1 carb to protein ratio for post-workout another time, today I just want to briefly mention the importance of carbs before exercise. 🙂 (Let me know if a sports nutrition post is one that you would like to read more about in the future).
I hope your week is off to a fantastic start. I have more frequent posts planned for the upcoming weeks. Now that I am on “summer break” from teaching my college class and also have completed the course I was taking, I should have a bit more time to dedicate to the blogosphere. 🙂
Clark, N. (2014). Nancy Clark’s sports nutrition guidebook. Fifth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.