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The Science of Snacking

Sep 12, 2012

Got the munchies? Good. Snacking is a must to fuel your active body. As a clean eater, you're used to eating five to six meals a day, which includes two to three snacks (up to four if you're very active). But did you know that snacks do much more than tame your between-meal hunger? Research shows that eating the right combination of nutrients in these small meals can enhance gym performance, fat-burning, muscle-building and recovery. Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association says, "We already know that the timing of snacks eaten in relation to exercise is very important, but what is new is the focus on nutrient composition (protein/carbohydrate/fat) of snacks eaten before and after exercise as well as between meals." For example, a pre-lunch snack that's high in protein may be the best-kept secret to staying slim. Recent research in the British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that eating a high-protein, moderate-calorie cheese snack one hour before lunch led participants to eat less at the next meal. Because snacking serves many purposes for you - weight maintenance, energy replenishment and muscle repair - here's how to snack right.

Macro Mix
So when do you need to pare down your fat, reduce your carbs or load up on protein? Studies indicate that the recommended percentage of each macronutrient - protein, carbohydrates and fats - changes from snack to snack. (See the "Nutrient Breakdown" for each snack time throughout this piece.) And while it's important to take this into account, you also need to consider your body's own tolerance levels. "Our bodies know amounts, not percentages per se," says Andrea Chernus, MS, RD, co-author of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance (Human Kinetics, 2010). A half-cup of cottage cheese before bedtime has proven muscle-preserving benefits, but if you can't stomach that at night, there are other good options that fit the macro-mix recommendation that may work better for you. Ah, choices - that's the beauty of snacking and ultimately what will keep your diet on track. The following guide not only explains the simple science of snacking, but also arms you with a variety of options. Nosh away!


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