March is Nutrition Month and one of the topics is unlocking the potential of food to fuel. Canadians can stay energized by planning nutrition snacks into their day. Almost half of all Canadians say that eating a balanced diet is challenging because they are so busy. This means they often skip meals and eat a lot of snacks to stay fuelled in a busy day. As a dietitian working with young athletes I know that busy schedules is a reality for many of them with their training sessions, school, after school practices and competitions throughout the week. Snacking can be part of a healthy diet and is a great way to get all the nutrients the body needs each day. Snacks are foods or drinks that are consumed between meals. When athletes are on the run during a busy day, snacks are mini-meals that offer some nutritional value and an energy boost to support their activity.
The key to healthy snacking is to choose nutritious foods and match portion sizes to hunger and energy needs. Now it is important to distinguish snacks from treats. Treats such as cookies, chocolate and chips are not as nourishing as snacks. A healthy snack should provide some carbohydrates, protein and fiber to help athletes get all the nutrients their body needs each day. Helpful snacking tips for athletes include:
Plan ahead. Athletes can take some time every week to prepare and plan snacks that can be packed for on the go. Keep a variety of healthy ready to eat snacks on hand such as cut up vegetables, nuts and cubed cheese. Pre-portion trail mix, yogurt and cut up fruit so they are ready to grab and go. Being prepared with healthy snacks helps athletes avoid less healthy treats.
Fuel up with carbohydrate rich foods. The body needs carbohydrates to fuel itself during activity. With athletes busy schedules it is important they choose carbohydrate rich foods often. Foods that contain carbohydrates include vegetables and fruit, whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain crackers, milk and yogurt and legumes such as split peas, beans and lentils.
Include some protein. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps to build and repair body tissue including muscles. Athletes can easily eat enough protein in their diet by choosing protein rich foods as part of their healthy snacking habits. Protein rich foods include milk, yogurt and cheese, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, beans, lentils and tofu.
Snack on vegetables! About half of all Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit. Brightly colored vegetables and fruit are full of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants which are important in helping protect the body’s tissues against the stresses of hard exercise. Snacking on vegetables and fruit between meals is a great way to add extra servings to an athlete’s diet.
Keep a list of healthy snack ideas on the fridge. Sometimes it is hard to think about what to pack for snacks. Having a list of snack ideas to choose from can help with grocery shopping, planning and preparing nutritious snacks to go. Here are some great ideas!
- Carrots and peppers with hummus
- Almond butter on banana slices
- Greek yogurt topped with berries
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter
- Cheddar cheese and apple slices
- Small handful of trail mix made with nuts, seeds and raisins
- Whole grain cereal with milk
- Sliced vegetables with yogurt dip
- Tuna on crackers
- Whole grain toast with avocado and sesame seeds or hemp hearts.
Stay energized by planning nutritious snacks into your day!
Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org