Hi all! Lauren Link here, Director of Sports Nutrition at Purdue University, and former Purdue soccer player. Thanks to Rack Performance for letting me chime in as a guest on this blog!
As a sports dietitian, I obviously spend a lot of time talking about what to eat…but a huge piece of the nutrition puzzle is also when to eat! Eating frequently (every 3-4 hours) actually helps your body build muscle mass, burn fat and it helps you stay full and avoid unnecessary cravings. On the flip side, skipping meals and going long periods of time without eating actually breaks down muscle and promotes fat storage when you do eat. So regardless of your weight goal, eating frequently is a good game plan if you’re making the right choices!
Make sure it includes lean protein. Protein helps stimulate muscle growth and helps keep us full longer. Good examples of protein for snacks include: deli meat, beef jerky, tuna packets, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese stick, hummus, nuts, trail mix and peanut butter.
- But not just protein. A nice balanced snack should also include carbohydrate. Carbohydrate provides energy and is essential to include in moderate amounts throughout your day. Pair your protein with any of the following carbohydrate-rich choices: fruit, dried fruit, bread, tortilla, bagel, granola, crackers, cereal, or Fig newtons.
- Include fruit & veggies when possible. I mentioned that fruit is carbohydrate rich, but that’s not the only reason to include it in your snacking. Fruit and veggies are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Additionally, they’re low in calories so you can eat plenty without racking up too many calories in one little snack.
- Include healthy fats. Healthy fats may sound silly, but Omega 3 and Omega-6 fatty acids actually help fight inflammation – which athletes have a lot of. Foods that are high in healthy fats include: nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado/guacamole, olive oil, chia/flax seed, and seafood.
- Watch portion sizes. Unless you’re trying to gain weight, remember that a snack is just that – a snack – so keep portion sizes in check. Especially when it comes to snacks that include those healthy fats I just mentioned, since calories in those foods can add up quick.
- Don’t abuse convenience foods. Companies know that we’re more on-the-go than ever before, so it’s not surprising that they’re catering to those needs by creating more and more grab n’ go products. While some are great options, don’t rely too heavily on granola bars, ready-to-drink shakes and packaged crackers and other snacks. If you’re in a time crunch, or need something that will last all day in your backpack, these items are great, but if possible stick to whole food options!
- Watch liquid calories. Juices, protein shakes, teas…just a few categories of liquid products being marketed to athletes. While they have their place in our diet here and there, liquid calories can add up fast without really filling you up. Proceed with caution and largely stick to water, unsweetened tea, sports drinks and milk for your hydration needs!
- Plan ahead. It’s going to take some planning and forethought to carry out your plan. It may involve washing and cutting fruits and veggies ahead, pre-making sandwiches, or proportioning out yogurt or smoothie ingredients. Find one day a week to do this if you’re especially busy.
- Get the right accessories. Sounds kind of silly, but make sure you have what you need to bring the snacks you want with you on the go if needed. You may need Tupperware so things don’t get squished, a water bottle to make sure you’re hydrated, or a lunch box/ice pack if you want to bring perishable goods with you. Not only does it taste better, but keeping food at the correct temperatures prevents food poisoning!
- Be consistent. Changing your diet habits a couple days a week won’t greatly impact your performance. However, doing so 5, 6 or 7 days a week will! Be consistent with your plan over time and you should notice a difference in your performance and how you feel!
About the Author
Lauren Link is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Dietetics and in Nutrition, Fitness, and Health from Purdue University, where she played soccer and was a member of the 2007 B1G Tournament Championship team.
After completing her internship through the Coordinated Program at Purdue University, she worked as a clinical dietitian with Touchpoint Support Services and St. Vincent Health. In January of 2014 she stepped into a part-time position with Purdue Athletics, and by July was able to transition the position into Purdue's first full-time Sports Dietitian. She is presently the Director of Sports Nutrition at Purdue, and in addition to promoting optimal performance during their athletic career, she is also passionate about helping her athletes successfully navigate the transition into the real world. She has led multiple initiatives to this end, founding a student-athlete community garden, spearheading a transitional program called BLAST (Boiler Life After SporT), and most recently publishing a book on the subject, “From Athlete to Normal Human”.