Snack attacks for runners

Getty Images

Whether you’re cutting calories or looking to add more nutrients, smart snacking - emphasis on smart - can play an important role in helping you meet your goals. Low-calorie snacks can help fill the void between meals, giving you the willpower to say “no” to more decadent, diet-derailing choices. High-calorie snacks can be the difference between maintaining your current mass and making the move to the next weight category. And if running further or faster is your goal, the right snack at the right time can be crucial.

Ask any runner who’s gone out on empty, hitting the wall early, and they’ll likely agree with what the research shows: eating before a run may help boost speed and endurance, especially at the end of the workout. And when you’re finished with the workout and know you need to recover - but a full post-run meal isn't feasible (or you don’t have the stomach for it) - a snack that supplies vital protein, carbs and electrolytes will all serve in repair and recuperation. 

Snacking throughout the day - eating a manageable, sensible portion of an item with filling fibre and satiating protein a few hours before mealtime - can help curb your appetite, prevent overeating and, therefore, lower overall daily calorie intake. Snacks can be a great tool in the healthy eating arsenal. Try as we might, thanks to busy lifestyles and long hours at work and play, many of us do not always have time to cook an elaborate meal. End result? By the time dinner is on the table, many of us are ravenous and ready to eat anything that’s not nailed down.

Over time, as we consume larger portion sizes because we’re desperately hungry or go the drive-thru route because we’re excessively busy, we don’t do our waistline or health any favors. While it may seem counterintuitive to add eating occasions (and calories), small meals and snacks carefully planned throughout the day can actually provide the willpower we need to say no to tempting treats and overeating.

Here are some tips to make snacking work for you and your health and wellness goals: 

Time it right

Because most runners you’ll meet are hungry 24/7, they’re naturally like the majority of the population - consuming mini-meals throughout the day or consuming three square meals and several snacks. Others feel best when they stick to three meals and skip the snacks. Regardless of whether you’re a grazer or a sit-down-and-tuck-in kind of eater, it’s important that you time these meals and snacks right. When headed to the gym, you’ll want to consume either a light meal or a snack so that you can power through your workout feeling energised but not overly stuffed and uncomfortable. For most people, the best option contains a blend of carbs and protein and just a hint of fat and fibre.

As you look to stay energised throughout the day, anecdotal evidence suggests consuming a blend of “clean fuel” like that found in fresh fruit, low-fat dairy, protein smoothies, whole grains and minimally processed foods will lead to better runs and better health. Well balanced and convenient choices like energy bars or protein shakes are a great fit for those on the go, or pressed for time yet looking for a snack that provides just the right blend of calories and nutrients.

Even if you’re not regularly running or are currently in an off-phase of training, nutrient timing still applies and snacks can be just the tool you need to prevent blood sugar swings and overeating at your next sit-down occasion. Healthy snack choices enable any athlete to fill the long void in between meals, keep blood sugar levels relatively stable and provide extra nutrients - like protein and fiber - that keep you full a bit longer, enable you to resist tempting junk food options.

Make it sustainable

With the long run in mind, sustainability means that the best diet and snack choices for you are ones that help you meet your health goals without derailing day-to-day operations. For some, this means a sustainable diet is simply a sensible one - plenty of fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean proteins - throughout the week, but maybe a more liberal diet on the weekends. For others, sustainable means honing in on a performance-centered diet during months of training but taking time to let loose a bit after racing season is behind you.

Whatever your goals, take time to select a pattern of eating and food choices that are balanced and work for your schedule, health goals and lifestyle. Research has shown that while fad diets and strict diets might accelerate weight loss in the short term, in the long term, weight loss is generally linked to making better choices over time - healthier eating and more exercise tend to do the trick. And, really, optimal health and wellness really is about the long run rather than a short sprint. Keep your health goals and weight goals in mind.

Most health experts agree that fad diets which overpromise results and call for stringent, unbalanced eating plans can disrupt health if they eliminate essential nutrients over time. Which leads me to the common thread of success when it comes to eating right: variety.

Vivid variety

Eat the rainbow. Eat the rainbow. It might sound like a broken record, but there’s a method to the madness of recommending more natural colour in the diet. When you find foods that are bursting with colors, you find foods that are naturally rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. From blueberries to raspberries to goji berries to cranberries, every one of these colourful gems offers a health boost.

Foods that are deep green contain a wealth of nutrients such as lutein, fiber, folate and vitamin A. Foods that are naturally white (milk, yogurt, cheeses) contain a healthy dose of calcium, potassium and hard-to-find vitamin D, while their white produce partners like cauliflower, onions and garlic contain immune-boosting and inflammation-fighting components, respectively. When choosing orange produce, you’ll find collagen-protecting and immune-boosting vitamin C, and vision-protecting vitamin A.

As you can see, by eating a wide range of natural colours, you’ll ensure that you meet your needs for essential vitamins and minerals from whole foods rather than taking a supplement. 

By following some of the tips above, it can be easy to make better choices in the short and long run. Certainly there will be days when you don’t eat right, days when you forget to pack your healthy snacks and instead eat less-spectacular choices, or even days when a long run and a balanced diet are simply not on your radar. The secret is to find a pattern of eating that works best for you, your health, and your lifestyle.