In many ways, snacking is the Rodney Dangerfield of eating. It simply doesn’t get the respect it deserves. That’s because when most people think of snacking, what comes to mind is nibbling on nutritionally corrupt vending-machine offerings, wolfing down a calorie tsunami jumbo muffin or partaking in midnight rocky road binges, all of which can leave you more blubbery than buff. But a well-planned snack replete with healthy food choices can boost energy levels, flood your body with the nutrients it needs to build muscle and help solve the riddle of your expanding middle by keeping your metabolism humming along and cravings at bay.
During the day, there are several times that scream snack time, most predominantly midmorning, midafternoon and after dinner. You should think of the snacks you plan for these times as mini-meals because, for most people, the big three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) won’t supply all the macronutrients and micronutrients necessary to support training and muscle gain. Plus, extended periods without nourishment can zap your energy levels and instigate muscle breakdown. But the types of foods you choose to eat in the morning aren’t necessarily the best choices for a pre-bed nosh. Here’s how to craft winning snacks all day long.
Good Eats: Cheese and Apple
2 sticks reduced-fat string cheese
1 medium apple
Nutrition facts: 215 calories, 10 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fat
Why it works: Reduced-fat string cheese gives your morning a shot of protein for very little caloric cost, making it one of the best portable low-carb snacks around. Eating protein during morning snack time can help prevent overeating at lunch. Turn to apples for a source of soluble fiber, which according to an International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition study can reduce feelings of hunger and help instigate fat loss.
Good Eats: English Muffin With Salmon
1 whole-wheat English muffin
3 ounces pouched pink salmon
Toast English muffin and top with salmon.
Nutrition facts: 224 calories, 21 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fat
Why it works: English muffins are often less carbohydrate dense than bagels or sliced bread. And as long as they are made with 100 percent whole wheat, they’re a good source of fat-fighting fiber. The fiber also will help keep your energy and concentration levels on an even keel during the morning hours. Located alongside the canned fish, salmon packed in convenient pouches is a great way to reel in significant amounts of muscle-friendly protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Who says fish is just for lunch or dinner?
Good Eats: Waffles With Almond Butter
2 frozen whole-wheat waffles
1 tablespoon almond butter
Prepare waffles according to package directions and spread almond butter on top.
Nutrition facts: 251 calories, 6 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams fat
Why it works: A good store-bought whole-grain waffle, like those made by Kashi, can deliver solid amounts of dietary fiber, which helps snuff out hunger so you’re less tempted by the birthday cake making its way around the office. Healthy fats in almond butter, which is more nutrient dense than peanut butter, also helps squelch cravings. If you’re following a lower-carb diet, you can cut out one of the waffles and replace it with string cheese.
Good Eats: Maple Greek Yogurt With Fruit
1 cup reduced-fat plain Greek yogurt
½ cup blueberries
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
In a bowl, stir together yogurt, fruit and maple syrup.
Nutrition facts: 244 calories, 20 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat
Why it works: Perfect for when your sweet tooth just won’t shut up, this recipe boasts plenty of high-quality protein (from the Greek yogurt) and a wallop of antioxidants from the blueberries and, yes, the maple syrup. A recent study by researchers at Appalachian State University in North Carolina suggests that antioxidants in blueberries may quell oxidative stress and inflammation associated with working out. And scientists from the University of Rhode Island reported at a 2011 meeting of the American Chemical Society that they had discovered 54 antioxidants in maple syrup, including five new ones.
Good Eats: Edamame
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Prepare edamame according to package directions and season with salt.
Nutrition facts: 240 calories, 22 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fat
Why it works: Perhaps the best snack nobody is eating, edamame provides a stellar mix of protein, slow-digesting carbs and fat to keep your insulin levels and afternoon energy levels steady. These green gems are also chock-full of many must-have nutrients, like folate, vitamin K, iron and magnesium. You can find edamame in the freezer section of most supermarkets.
Good Eats: Rye Crackers With Ricotta
3 rye crackers (made with whole-rye flour, such as Wasa)
½ cup low-fat ricotta cheese
Spread an equal amount of ricotta cheese on each cracker.
Nutrition facts: 211 calories, 11 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat
Why it works: Ricotta cheese contains more fast-acting whey protein than most foods, making it a stellar option. The slower-digesting carbs provided by rye crackers can give you a boost of energy.
Good Eats: Chicken Wrap
1 small whole-wheat tortilla/wrap
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 ounces canned chicken
Spread mustard on wrap and top with chicken.
Nutrition facts: 190 calories, 22 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat
Why it works: Though often overlooked for tuna, convenient canned chicken breast is a lean protein source. Choosing a bread product made with whole-wheat flour as opposed to refined wheat flour will give you more sustained energy. Too many fast-acting carbohydrates like white bread can lead to a sugar spike and subsequent energy-sapping drop.
Good Eats: Chocolate-Strawberry Protein Shake
1 cup skim chocolate milk
1 scoop whey protein isolate
½ cup frozen strawberry slices
Mix ingredients in a blender.
Nutrition facts: 266 calories, 29 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fat
Why it works: Chocolate milk provides a dynamic duo of top-notch protein and quick-working carbohydrates and has been shown to rehydrate the body better than water. Fat-free whey protein isolate digests very quickly and is rapidly sent to muscle cells. It also has been shown to be a potent hunger fighter. Strawberries provide slower carbs to help keep you feeling full longer, as well as a payload of antioxidants.
Good Eats: Cottage Cheese With Walnuts
When: before bed
¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
In a bowl, stir together cottage cheese and walnuts.
Nutrition facts: 218 calories, 21 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fat
Why it works: Cottage cheese contains copious amounts of casein protein, which is a slow-acting protein, meaning you will have a steady supply of amino acids during the wee hours to repair and build muscle tissue. The healthy fats in walnuts will further slow the release of the amino acids from cottage cheese. After dinner, you want to avoid snacks with a surfeit of carbohydrates because these are more likely to be converted to body fat as your metabolism begins to slow down.
Good Eats: Egg Mash
When: before bed
2 hard-boiled eggs
½ teaspoon paprika
Mash ingredients together in a bowl.
Nutrition facts: 235 calories, 14 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams fat
Why it works: The abundance of branched-chain amino acids in eggs are highly anabolic, meaning they’ll help counteract any catabolism that can occur during the night. The heart-healthy monounsaturated fat in creamy avocado will prolong the protein release by slowing down digestion.
The Numbers Game
Use the numbers in the chart below as a guideline for the calories and macronutrient levels your snacks should contain. Here are a few other important considerations when pondering your snack choices: