Being fit means being able to do what you want to do. Whether you’re aiming to start an exercise program or simply to get your work done, it’s frustrating to be stymied by the effects of junk food and bad eating, which can drag you into a low-energy cycle. Switching to healthy snacking may boost your energy level and fitness. But first things first. quell that instinct that has you reaching for the four “Cs”: coffee, cola, cookies and chocolate. Sure, unhealthy snacks and beverages might boost your energy—in the short term. But they do so at the cost of your mood, health and long-term energy levels. Avoid feeding a caffeine addiction or the “sugar blues.” Get into a program of healthy snacking for energy and fitness by following these realistic tips.
Be prepared. Don’t let hunger take you unawares. When you’re hungry and tired, you automatically reach for the nearest tasty convenience food, which is probably junk food. Form a snacking plan to make sure healthy foods are on hand. Bring healthy snacking food along whenever you go out, and keep your pantry full of delicious nutrition-packed snacks like organic protein bars, trail mix and fresh fruit. And do yourself a favor—don’t stock what you don’t like, just because it’s good for you: The healthiest food in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t eat it.
Listen to your hunger signals. Don’t snack on what you’re not hungry for. Pay attention to your cravings and give your body what it wants, or it will keep wanting more until it gets the nutrition it’s craving. If you want meat, then eat fat-free beef jerky, turkey jerky—or even the wild Alaskan salmon jerky that’s available through mail order and in specialty stores.
Sweet cravings are something else altogether. You may need to do some “translation” of your hunger signals. A craving for ice cream may actually be a craving for fat and calcium—organic whole milk, organic cheese or full-fat yogurt will probably do the job. A craving for candy probably translates to a craving for fruit or nuts. Dreaming of salty crunch? Air-popped popcorn sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and garlic powder will be a satisfying, high-fiber, low-salt substitute.
Eat less more often instead of more less often. Given the choice between frequent small snacks or one heavy binge, go for the frequent small snacks. Big meals make you sleepy; small, healthy snacking keeps your energy levels peaking.
Forget calories. Think of foods in terms of high or low energy. Sugar is low energy ultimately, because of the “crash” after the initial boost. When you need to perform, go for high-energy snacking. High-energy snacks include complex carbohydrates and protein foods that are high in nutrition, such as protein bars, granola, dates, berries and nuts. Brown rice cakes or high-fiber rye crackers spread with natural peanut butter makes an ideal high-energy snack. In “Natural Highs: Feel Good All the Time” (Penguin, 2002), Dr. Hyla Cass plugs foods high in the amino acid tyrosine, such as yogurt, for giving you a natural dose of dopamine and adrenaline, two energy-boosting chemicals.