Like a car or plane, our bodies are complex machines that need to be fueled – but instead of gasoline or jet fuel, athletes rely on food to keep us moving. It’s nice to take a break and consume food thoughtfully, but most people find it challenging to stop what they are doing and sit down to a meal 4 to 6 times a day.
That’s where snacking comes in. A quick hit of nutrients and calories during the day can help keep you working towards the next level, whether you’re in the office, at the gym, or on the field.
But not all snacks are created equal. While the body needs many different vitamins and nutrients, there is one specific ingredient that makes for the best snacks: protein.
Before we explain why protein is the key nutrient athletes should seek from their snacks, let’s look at the biological reasons for eating between meals:
The Science of Snacking
People have been snacking for hundreds of years, but the practice is especially popular today in the United States. There are several reasons to consume snacks throughout the day:
1. Maintain energy levels. Those pushing themselves to their personal best need to ensure they have the fuel for high performance. Snacks can help give the body what it requires to keep going, even after long hours.
2. Control your appetite. When people don’t eat for a while, they can end up binging on huge amounts of food. Snacking can take the edge off your hunger and help you control your meal portions, an especially important tactic when cutting.
3. Extra nutrients. Absorbing the right nutrients goes hand-in-hand with maintaining energy. But getting extra protein and carbohydrates is also important if you are trying to change your body composition.
Unfortunately, most people don’t choose their snacks with these reasons in mind. Studies show that nearly two out of every three Americans choose a snack mainly based on flavor or to satisfy a craving. It’s no wonder that sales of candy and salty treats like chips, popcorn and jerky bring in more money than every other category of snack combined.
While these snacks taste great, they are notoriously high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Consuming some complex carbohydrates is fine, but for best results, look to snack on foods that are either a good source or high in protein.
Why protein-based snacking?
Carbohydrates and sugars are okay in moderation, but the average American consumes three times the World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit for sugar. Besides the well-documented risks of excessive sugar consumption, there are reasons your snacks should be heavier on proteins than carbs:
1. Makes you feel full. Research shows that adequate amounts of protein is closely linked with higher levels of satiety – the feeling of being full. On the other hand, salt and simple carb-heavy snacks like chips will have you looking for more food soon after.
2. Low in calories. Even though protein-based foods with adequate amounts of protein can help make you full, they may not always come with the high calorie count of many popular snacks. 8 oz of chicken breast has the same amount of calories as a typical candy bar.
3. Convenient. Considering the hectic pace at which today’s top performers move, it’s tough to regularly eat snacks that require lots of preparation. The best snacks do right by both your body and your schedule. There are many convenient protein bars and shakes available that even the busiest athletes can fit into their schedules.
4. Great tasting. Snacking with nutrition in mind doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to consume bland foods. With so many different kinds of protein-packed foods, from nuts to lean meats to rich shakes, it’s easy to get the flavor and texture you prefer from your snacks.
Examples of great protein-based snacks
There are many different types of foods that deliver either a good source or have high levels of protein for their size and/or calorie count:
1. Walnuts – An ounce of walnuts contains over 4 grams of protein, and they are easy to eat while working or traveling. Portions are important with nuts, however, as they are high in calories.
2. Yogurt – A typical serving of Greek yogurt contains anywhere from 10 to 15 grams of protein, and many people enjoy their sweet taste and creamy texture. Choose carefully, as some yogurt brands are loaded with sugars and fat.
3. Jerky – These easy-to-eat meat snacks have good protein content and are also low in fat, since they are made from smoked lean meats. The drawback is that many of them are high in sodium.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in convenient, nutritious, and tasty pre-packaged protein snacks made to avoid the downsides of the foods above, try out the new MET-Rx® Snack Cups.
They’re a delicious and fun snack that combines a rich, creamy chocolate hazelnut spread made from real hazelnuts with crunchy breadsticks for easy dipping in any setting. And with 50% less sugar than the leading hazelnut spread brand^ and a good source of protein, MET-Rx® Snack Cups are the perfect option for the on-the-go protein-based snack that all athletes and high performers need to compete – whether it’s with an opponent, or themselves.
^Nielsen Total xAOC Latest 52 weeks ending 2/24/18. Leading hazelnut spread brand snack cup contains 23g of Sugar per 52g serving.