Snack Without Worrying About Your Weight
Professor Greg Whyte, the celebrity trainer talks about the art of healthy snacking, from post-exercise recovery to pre-bed munchies.
1. If you always crave snacks, it’s time to change your main meals
“As individuals and as a society we need to get back to the concept of regular meals. If we can improve our structured meal times and have three well-balanced meals every day we will avoid the energy peaks and troughs that come with unhealthy snacking. The reason we crave snacks mid-morning or in that 2-3pm mid-afternoon slump is because what we’re eating for breakfast and lunch isn’t right.
Well-balanced meals that contain protein and healthy fats help to improve satiety – the feeling of fullness – much better than foods with simple carbohydrates and sugars. So breakfasts like porridge and fruit or eggs on toast can offset the need for a snack later in the day much better than sugary cereals. It’s the same at lunchtime. Sweet potato and chicken is a much better choice than white bread and jam.
For most meals you’re aiming for a mix of protein like salmon or chicken, colourful vegetables or fruit with lots of micronutrients, and healthier carbs like wholegrain rice. Eat well-balanced meals at regular intervals and you often won’t even need to snack.”
2. Choose your snacks carefully during the working day
“Most of us snack for two reasons: it’s about helping us feel full and providing us with energy. So when you do feel hungry go for things like fruit: a banana brings massive satiety but also an energy boost from the fructose. Muesli bars and nuts are great because they contain complex carbohydrates and protein which help to keep you full. High-protein yoghurts are another great option to fulfil your requirements without taking on unnecessary sugars.”
3. Most snacks just make you more hungry
“Often what we refer to as snacks are things like chocolate and doughnuts which are high in processed sugar. But foods high in sugar content provide satiety for a really short period of time. They cause a big spike in your blood sugar level, followed by a subsequent insulin release to rapidly remove that blood sugar, so you get a real dip in energy afterwards. It is what we call a ‘hypoglycemic rebound.’ The bottom line is that sugary snacks actually drive hunger instead of dealing with it.”
4. Tailor your snacks to your exercise needs
“When it comes to snacks and exercise, you should adapt your choices to what you are doing. If you are doing a strength and power session in the weights room at the gym, your aim is to maintain or improve muscle mass. So after exercise you want a snack that is high in protein, like a protein shake or peanut butter on toast.
“Carbs would be less important in that environment. However, if you are doing endurance activity then you can swing away from protein and go for something with more carbohydrates. And if you are working out at a long and low intensity then fat-based products like nuts are not problematic. Ultimately, it depends on what your goal is. If your aim is weight loss then it is paradoxical to take on extra calories during exercise anyway.”
5. Aim for natural products during exercise
“If you take on food during exercise consider the differences between natural versus processed foods. Your body has evolved to consume and process natural products so the closer you can get to natural products, the better.
“I am an ambassador for 9 Bar products which I used at the London Marathon this year and they have a mix of nuts and seeds, giving you complex carbohydrates and natural sugars, so you get an energy release but also a longer-term, slower-release carbohydrate release. Try to target natural fruit and nuts because your body knows what to do with them.”
6. Snacks are crucial for high-intensity sports performance
“We often demonise carbs for sports performance but if you are doing anything that is of moderate intensity or above for long durations you will be using glycogen as your primary source of energy. That means you will need glucose for sports performance. Again, aim for snacks which are more natural but in that kind of exercise situation you will need to eat to fuel your body.”
7. Eat after exercise to optimise your recovery
“By eating a snack after exercise you are doing two things. First, you are replacing the glycogen stores that you used in training. Second, you are providing protein to repair the muscles. Ideally you want to have your post-exercise snack within 30 minutes of the cessation of exercise.
“The complex answer is because the glucose transporters translocate from the cell membrane during exercise but then go back into the cell membrane after exercise. So imagine that during and after exercise you have these hands coming out of your cells that are grabbing glucose from the blood to try to refuel and replenish your energy levels and muscles. You have got about a 30-minute window to do that so you want something carb-based after exercise to optimise that process. The reason you want something with protein too is that the protein will also support the regeneration of your muscles.”
8. Never snack before you go to bed
“Invariably the reason you are snacking before bed is because of hunger and that comes down to the planning of your meals during the day. You don’t want to snack before bed for lots of reasons but the main one is sleep quality because eating late at night can affect your sleep rhythms. Oral health is another factor because you’ll need to make sure you brush your teeth afterwards if you’re eating late at night. But get those three well-balanced meals in the day and you won’t be hungry at night anyway.”