Never Snack Down: Are Small Bites Screwing You Over?

Never Snack Down: Are Small Bites Screwing You Over?

You pound pavement and lift like a pro—and yes, that's half the battle—but perhaps you still haven't nailed your nutrition. And who could blame you? Unless you're an elite athlete with RDs on speed dial, it's tough to know how to eat for your workouts to optimize performance. Whether your meals just aren't cutting it, or those extra lbs won't melt away, or you lack energy throughout the day, being improperly nourished could be the culprit. In this series, we share our top Spartan-approved, nutritionist-recommended healthy-snacking hacks to power you up so you can stride out strong. No. Matter. What. 

Sponsored by our partner, Gone Rogue Protein Snacks

If cheat-snacks are your thing, listen up. We're not against the odd sugar treat or glass of red wine here and there. But when it comes to training seriously for OCR, and living The Spartan Way, there's little wiggle room for bad nutritional habits if you want to perform at your absolute best.

What you eat before bed, between workouts, and on the go matters when it comes to properly fueling up for your workouts. In fact, even if you think you’re grabbing a healthy snack when hunger strikes, like non processed options, you may still be screwing yourself over in the long run. 

Kylee Van Horn, RDN based in Carbondale, CO, works with runners, triathletes, OCR athletes and nordic skiers on the regular. She says the most common snacking mistakes athletes make include skipping macro pairings (i.e. not eating carbs and protein or protein and fat together), eating snacks that are too small and therefore not satisfying, and opting for carbohydrates just because cravings set in—especially right before bedtime, which can disrupt sleep patterns and hinder recovery. 

“Carbohydrate-heavy choices are not always the most satisfying [as a stand alone snack],” says Van Horn. “But this doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule [if you snack right].” For example, choosing protein-rich snacks with a few grams of carbs, as opposed to a handful of popcorn, which is high in carbs. 

Here are a few solid (and surprising!) ways reaching for less-healthy snacks will impact your fitness efforts—and well-intentioned nutrition plan—big time. Remember: knowledge is key to making mindful choices and optimizing your performance. Plus, our new favorite healthy snack alternative to curb hunger (and help you recover) when you need it most. 

Related: Stronger Than Yesterday: Kiss Empty Cals Goodbye & Revamp Your Pantry Like This

3 Ways Bad Snacking Habits Can Screw You

healthy snacks for athletes

Because metabolism, activity level and consumption is so individualized, it’s tough to create hard and fast rules when it comes to snacking well. However, to regulate blood sugar levels, eating high-quality snacks more frequently in smaller portions generally does the trick for OCR athletes. “This continues to supply your body with energy throughout the day with less risk of crashing or getting too hungry,” says Annalee Althouse, RDN, CYI at Bayfield Hospital in Dover, DE. “You also have to think about storage. The body can only absorb and utilize so much before it needs to start storing or excreting.” Here’s what to avoid (and what/how to eat instead) to up-level your snacking game. 

1. Consuming Heavy Foods Right Before Short Workouts

Nothing is worse than gut rot and a gurgly stomach while trying to crush HIIT or single track. Use this rule of thumb: if you aim to sustain exercise lasting under 60 minutes, it’s smart to avoid eating 60 minutes before you start your workout. “Depending on how heavy your snack is, waiting at least one hour before exercise will provide your body with additional energy without compromising performance,” says Althouse. “You may also experience less gastrointestinal issues like heartburn, upset stomach and cramps.” 

(Note: longer workouts or races over an hour require fuel to sustain them at about 200-300 calories per each hour of exercise. We’ll get into that in a second.) 

2. Not Eating Enough Snacks Throughout the Day

Think of your metabolism like a burning campfire. You must periodically feed the fire with wood to keep it going so it doesn’t fizzle out. Same goes for food and your body’s energy output. Outside of a practice of intermittent fasting, it’s generally good to eat several small meals or snacks per day, or risk running on empty. “Besides maintaining blood sugar levels and avoiding unwanted drops in energy and focus, consuming a balanced snack of protein, carbohydrate and fat every 2-3 hours will help regulate metabolism,” says Althouse. “The body can only absorb so much in one sitting and utilize energy right away, so eating more frequently will encourage a metabolic equilibrium between anabolism [constructive] and catabolism [deconstructive] stages.” In other words, to avoid flip-flop energy burnout, keep snacks with you on the go and ensure you’re taking in calories more frequently in smaller portion sizes. 

Related: If You're Going to Eat Chips, It Better Be These

3. Under Eating Quality Carbs & Protein During High-Volume Training

When you’re training at an amped-up mileage or lifting heavier, it’s important to eat enough carbs to sustain your body as you demand it to work harder, longer, or increase power output. When paired with protein, your body uses carbs in two main ways. First, during intense exercise over 60 minutes, replenishing your glycogen stores with simple carbs (think: energy gels or bars or waffles) helps you avoid a fatigue wall. “When you’re consuming meals or snacks outside of an event, head for the complex carbohydrates [like veggies, beans and whole grains] which are nutrient dense sources and contain fiber, which is also important to maintain GI health.”

The key here, especially after a tough workout, is to pair them together for maximized recovery. “Post workout, just eating a carbohydrate snack or vice versa with just a protein snack is not maximizing recovery due to protein and carbohydrate needing to work together to replace glycogen stores and repair muscle,” says Van Horn.    

TRY THIS: The Ultimate Protein-Rich Chip to Curb Cravings 

healthy snacks for athletes

If you’re dying for a new snack, we got you covered. Gone Rogue Protein Snacks did what no one in the snacking industry thought to do.  They took all-natural cuts of lean chicken that are smoked in a smokehouse, thinly sliced, air-baked and then seasoned with spices to craft their protein-rich chips. (Yes, CHIPS.) Instead of mowing down a bag of carb-heavy, fried tortillas, these chicken chips (made from fresh, never frozen dark and white meat) literally give you a boost of protein at 17+ grams per serving, and a small injection of carbs at less than 2 grams per serving. Boldly seasoned in flavors from BBQ to Teriyaki, they’re tasty and satiating. 

So when you find yourself reaching for a late-night protein snack because you’re too wiped to cook (we get it), opt for these instead. Plus, sore muscles will thank you in the morning as a healthy dose of protein works to repair tissue while you sleep. 

Get 25% off ANY Gone Rogue Protein Snacks on Amazon.com. Enter Code Spartan25 at checkout to save 25% off any qualifying items of Gone Rogue.