1. Blood sugar regulation
Eating only meals typically means many hours between eating sessions. Athletes should be eating every 2-3 hours to be sure to keep blood sugar stable. Spikes in blood sugar can lead to loss of focus and concentration and increased headaches as well as feeling cranky, dizzy or lightheaded. These symptoms can keep athletes from getting the most out of a training session.
2. Metabolism regulation
The body can only use so many calories and nutrients at one time. So, if an athlete eats three very large meals only, this can force the body to store instead of burn, which may lead to an increase in body fat. To help the body most efficiently use the calories being taken in, athletes should eat snacks between meals. This will naturally make meals a smaller, more efficient size and continuously feed the metabolism to help the body properly use everything coming on board.
3. Muscle preparation
Pre-workout snacks are essential to help prepare muscles for exercise. Without good pre-workout fueling, energy levels can drop too early, leading to a poor workout. A proper snack gets muscles needed fuel for that upcoming workout session.
4. Muscle protection
Muscle mass is maintained best when muscles are provided with a frequent source of energy. Athletes that get too hungry or work out with low energy stores are risking breaking down muscle for energy. Add in snacks to protect muscle.
5. Enhanced immunity and injury protection
A body that gets too hungry with sharp spikes in blood sugar is a body that is under stress. Too much stress and inflammation increases an athletes risk of injury and illness. Proper snack intake helps protect the body from insult as well as decrease stress after workouts.
Some quick and easy performance-enhancing snacks:
- Trail mix with dried fruit and either nuts or seeds
- A piece fruit with a serving of nut butter
- Tuna and whole grain crackers
- Jam and nut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and honey
- Beef jerky and a no added sugar fruit strip
Katie is the owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition Consulting, based out of Naperville, Illinois, where she offers expertise in sports nutrition, eating disorders/disordered eating, intuitive eating and weight management for sport. Katie holds a master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in exercise physiology. She is both a registered dietitian and one of only 550 RDs in the United States to be board-certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. As a runner, triathlete, snowboarder and rock climber, Katie understands the physical and mental challenges of being a top athlete. Katie has previously consulted with NCAA Division I and Division III, NFL and NBA athletes; she truly brings both her knowledge and experience to the table as sports dietitian. Katie is available for individual consulting, team talks and group seminars. Visit her website at RDKate.com; from there you can navigate to her weekly blog, Eat to Compete, and connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Contact her directly at YourRDKate@gmail.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.