While a healthy, balanced diet is made up of 30% of your overall calorie intake coming from protein, it is safe to say that the average person’s diet only contains roughly 15%. When advising our members on the amount of protein they should be eating, most look at me like “How am I supposed to eat that much chicken?” Well here is the good news…you can eat a lot more than just chicken! And eating more often…as in snacking throughout the day…has many proven benefits for athletes specifically.
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:
- 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.
- 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 trying to lose weight.
- 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 candy 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 of 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Lunch Meat
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- String Cheese
- Protein bars/drinks
A couple of high protein snacks throughout the day are a great way to get in a solid 40-50g of your protein needs…so the next time you are hungry…take a minute to think twice about the type of snack you should have!