Snacks, Not Just What, but When

By Alexis Finniss | In Food and Diet | on May 22, 2016

Ever notice how toddlers are constantly eating but hardly ever overweight? How is it that they can be eating all the time and is there something to it?

Yes, and no.

First, we need to address the dieter’s mindset that snacks and/or snacking is “bad.” Instead, we should think of food as fuel for our bodies. Everything we eat has calories – period. Food is not inherently “good” or “bad”, it’s calories or fuel that your body needs to function. When we fuel our body at regular intervals it allows us to function properly and not send our body caveman signals that mess up our metabolism.

What do I mean by “caveman signals”? Our body is hardwired for survival. This helped immensely back in caveman days when we weren’t sure if or when we would have our next meal. Once your body went a certain period of time without food, it sent out the signal to slow your metabolism and store fat so that you could survive until your next meal.

In today’s world, most of us only experience self imposed starvation. Unfortunately, it tends to have the opposite effect of what we want. Instead of dropping lots of weight because we have starved ourselves to look good for some event, we are signaling to our metabolisms that they need to slow down and store any food we do eat as fat in preparation for the next self imposed starvation. A better alternative is to spread out our daily caloric intake into regular intervals so we let our metabolisms know 1. food is readily available and 2. burn baby burn, don’t store those calories.

So that means I can eat all the time?? Not quite. What I mean by daily caloric intake is the amount of calories your body needs in a day. How do you figure this out? (Nancy’s Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook Fifth Edition)

  1. First, you need your resting metabolic rate (RMR) or the number of calories your body needs to stay alive. If you are at a healthy weight, take your weight and multiply it by 10 calories per pound. If you are significantly overweight use a weight that is about halfway between your current weight and your desired weight. So for a healthy 150 lb female your RMR is 1,500 calories.
  2. Next, determine how active you are outside of purposeful exercise. For instance if you run for exercise but sit at your desk for the rest of the day you are mostly sedentary. Sedentary people add 20-40% of your RMR. Moderately active people add 50% of your RMR and for very active people add 60-80% of your RMR. So, our healthy moderately active Mom adds 750 calories to her RMR.
  3. Finally, we add calories for purposeful exercise. For example if you run about 4 miles on the treadmill and burn approximately 400 calories, your daily caloric intake would be:               1,500 cal (RMR) + 750 cal daily activity + 400 cal purposeful exercise = 2650 total calories/ day

How we spread out those calories throughout the day determines how we feel, and how well our bodies function. Some food will help your body function better than others, just like some food tastes better than others. The important thing to remember is that you need to fuel your body if you want and expect it to perform. This means eating more calories earlier in the day when your body needs fuel to function versus eating late night when you are about to go to sleep. While your body does burn calories while you sleep, it doesn’t need fuel to sleep. It also means remembering that not all food is created equal. That 300 calorie donut might taste better than 300 calories of an apple with peanut butter, but it will also spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry sooner and tired after the sugar crash. That doesn’t mean don’t ever splurge, just recognize how you are using your allotted calories and how the foods you choose make you feel i.e. full, energized, sluggish, jittery, starving, craving, satisfied.

Where do the snacks fit in? Most importantly in your pre and post exercise routine. You want to make sure your body has what it needs to get the most out of your workout and then to refuel properly. While there is the common misconception that if you exercise on an empty stomach you burn more fat, in reality, if you don’t have any blood sugar available, your body will eat the muscles’ glycogen, or stored glucose. Low blood sugar will make you tired and sluggish during your training session.

After your workout your body has what is called a “golden hour” 45 to 60 minutes after a workout when your muscles absorb the most nutrients, and glycogen is replaced the most efficiently.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a little something that contains both protein and carbs will give the best results.

So what are some good stacks to fuel our bodies and help us wisely use our daily calories? Take a look here!


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