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Healthy Snacks for Athletes

If you’re serious about improving your performance, make eating frequently through the day part of your sports nutrition plan.

But if you find yourself snacking on glazed doughnuts, candy bars, cookies and chips, be aware that you’re fueling yourself with goo and grease, rather than the nutrients you need for optimal athletic performance.

Beware of Grab and Go

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to find time to sit down to three meals a day – and easy to find yourself in a grab-and-go habit. That’s not all bad: eating small, frequent meals can fuel your body for quality workouts and good health.

Active people tend to get hungry every four hours. So, if you eat at 8 a.m. (never skip breakfast!) and again at noon, you’re likely to be hungry around 4 p.m. – or even sooner. If you plan on exercising in the afternoon, you’ll need to eat to provide energy for your workout.

An afternoon mini-meal will also prevent you from getting hungry later, which makes you susceptible to snack attacks that can result in less-healthy choices.

There’s no magic number of meals for everyone, but most nutrition experts agree that three meals a day is too few. If you’re active, six small meals spread over the day is a good goal. But be sure you’re redistributing your caloric intake over more meals and not increasing your total number of calories.

Mini-Meals

When it comes to snacks, plan ahead to ensure you have healthy foods available when you need them. Make note of some good mini-menu choices, and keep your reminder handy.

Try putting it on the refrigerator door, along with a picture of you participating in your favorite activity. Choosing foods from different groups will help balance your diet and go a long way toward providing the nutrients you need for good health and top performance.

Mini-Menu Ideas

Dry cereal: Try some finger-food cereals (unfrosted) alone or mixed with nuts, raisins or dried fruits. Take your cereal blend with you and eat it dry if you don't have time to add milk.

Trail Mix: Choose one that contains nuts, fruit and some cereal or pretzels.

Yogurt: Buy it with the fruit added, or buy it plain and add your own favorite fruits or granola. Try the regular or thick-and-creamy fruited versions or the yogurt drinks.

Instant oatmeal: Make it with low-fat milk instead of water. Add chopped nuts and raisins.

Crackers: Try the whole-grain or stone-ground wheat variety and reduced-fat versions.

Nut butter (almond, cashew and peanut): Spread it on a banana, bagel or rice cake. Make your own snack using peanut butter and whole-grain crackers.

Pretzels: Try various sizes and shapes to find the ones you like best. Buy the salt-free variety, or knock off the salt entirely if reducing your salt intake is important. Avoid pretzels with fat added.

Fruit: Fresh fruit is always a good choice. Make your own snack packs using dried fruits like raisins, cherries and cranberries.

Frozen fruit bars: Choose the ones with fruit or fruit chunks at the beginning of the ingredients list.

Nuts and seeds: Find ways to add peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc. to foods or eat them alone. They’re a healthy choice, but be aware that they’re also high in calories.

Baked potatoes: Microwave them in minutes, and eat them hot or cold. Add cheese for protein and calcium. Don't forget sweet potatoes as an option.

Pizza: Order thick-crust with vegetables and/or Canadian bacon instead of pepperoni, sausage or the meat-lover’s version.

Energy bars, breakfast bars and low-fat granola bars: Bars are convenient, but they can be expensive. And don't believe all the labels say about enhancing your performance. It’s the calories you’re consuming that give you energy, not some magical ingredient. Be sure to read the label carefully.

Sandwiches: Use whole-wheat or whole-grain bread. Be sure to use lower-fat meat-and-cheese choices and reduced-fat versions of mayo. Add lettuce, tomatoes and green pepper slices to provide another food group.

Cheese sticks and cheese cubes: Reduced-fat choices are available with 5 grams or less of fat per ounce. Eat them alone or with crackers and fruit.

Cottage cheese: Use the snack-size, low-fat versions. Eat cottage cheese along with snack-size canned fruit or green pepper and tomato.

Tortilla: Try the whole-wheat version. Add shredded cheese and vegetables, roll it up and microwave.

Bagels: Toast and top them with reduced-fat cheese, cream cheese or peanut butter. Try the whole-grain versions.

Popcorn: The snack-size microwave light versions are just the right size to take on the run. Instead of using butter, try spraying popcorn with cooking oil sprays and adding spices like chili powder or garlic powder.

Raw vegetables: Baby carrot sticks in individual packages and cut-up, washed broccoli and cauliflower are readily available at the supermarket. Take them along with a snack-size container of a light salad dressing dip.

Tuna: A can of the water-packed snack size goes well with crackers and fruit.