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Snack Time

If you're feeling a little sluggish during the day, it may be because you're not making the most of mealtime.

Between your training runs and running to catch the commuter train, runners might end up with an energy crash during the day. If you’re feeling a little sluggish during the day, it may be because you’re not making the most of mealtime. Whether you’re running long distances or increasing the intensity of your training, as Jennifer Bowman, MS RD an Oakville, Ont.-based registered dietitian tells her clients, getting more energy means giving your body the proper nutrition. “We all know that skipping a meals isn’t good,” says Bowman. “Runners may be even more prone to low blood-sugar levels since they tap into their body’s glycogen stores for fuel during training.”

To prevent your body from suffering a total energy meltdown, Bowman advises putting a little extra planning into your snacking strategy.  More specifically, depending on what you’re currently eating pre- or post-run, your snacking habits may need a minor makeover or a major overhaul, in order to replenish your energy stores. When it comes to snacking, ask any dietitian (including Bowman) about the importance of these mini-meals and they’ll dish out the benefits from keeping your metabolism burning, a key factor and necessity for long-term weight loss, to improving your running performance.

Pre-Run Snack

Whether you’re running as the sun is rising or logging your kilometres at dusk, you’re mostly likely exercising long after your last meal. Early morning runners haven’t eaten since the previous night’s dinner and early-evening runners haven’t had a meal since lunch. For Jason Crane, a Toronto-based runner and triathlete, when it comes to snacking timing is everything. “The key is having a snack at least 30 minutes before my run but no more than two hours before,” he says. Generally speaking, Crane prefers lighter fare such as yogurt and fruit or raisin bread with peanut butter that offers easily accessible energy.

Keeping your body fuelled will help restore a balance of nutrients that are paramount to a successful run. “The goal is to consume sustainable energy that will carry you through your training,” says Bowman. For a pre-run snack, choices are as individual as running programs. As a general rule, Bowman suggests runners pair complex carbohydrates with protein, a combination that not only offers a steady source of fuel for working muscles but also stabilizes blood-sugar levels. At the same time, runners may want to avoid high-fibre foods as their pre-run snack as the roughage could cause gastrointestinal problems during the run.

Pick It: With less saturated fat than peanut butter, a dab of all-natural almond butter on half a whole-grain pita offers just the right energy kick.

Post-Run Snack

Depending on the length and intensity of your run, you may feel hungry after your training. As a general rule, eating no later than 30 minutes after you run will give you the greatest benefit by providing the fuel your muscles require for recovery. “The focus is on refuelling and repairing your body,” says Bowman. Unlike a pre-run snack, Bowman suggests choosing a more substantial snack that includes a four-to-one ratio of carbohydrates and protein, which helps replenish your glycogen stores and repairs your muscles.

Bowman also recommends runners consider low-fat snacks to promote nutrient absorption, rather than higher-fat fare, which can delay the digestive process. Rita Dottor, an avid distance runner who raced the 2010 ING New York City Marathon, chooses lighter vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes paired with tuna. “I try to get in a quick, healthy kick of protein right after a run for muscle repair,” she says, adding that water-based vegetables also aid with hydration. If you’re planning your dinner immediately following your run, prepare a dish that combines complex carbohydrates with lean protein, such as a lean beef or chicken stir-fry with brown rice.

Pick It: Blend a protein-rich smoothie with low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit to tide you over until mealtime or pack a slice of the layered pineapple energy bars to make a quick recovery.

Pre-Dinner Snack

If you’re an after-work runner, you likely experience the challenge of finding something to eat that’s will not only stave off the munchies but also help keep the pace of your run. But when you know you’ll be sitting down to dinner some time later on in the evening, you don’t want to go overboard on your snack. It’s a tough balance to strike, but is feasible if you’re choosing the right foods.

For Crane, it’s a matter of stocking his desk with healthy eats including fruit and whole-grain bagels, to make his life easier on days when he’s training after work. Having healthy options readily available also means you’re more likely to avoid the inevitable mid-afternoon mad dash for the vending machine. You’ll need to consider a mix of slow-digesting, carbohydrates teamed with protein to keep you satisfied without loading up on extra calories. For runners who find fibre-rich foods such as raw vegetables less appealing before or after a run, this is your ideal time to work in an extra serving.

Pick: It: When it comes to vegetables, maximize your nutrients by making a colourful selection. Mix it up with a blend of pre-cut bell peppers, carrots, zucchini and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, teamed with all-natural hummus or black bean dip for protein.

Bedtime Snack

Even if you’ve eaten a well-balanced, nutritionally sound dinner, sometimes you’ll got an inexplicable hankering for a late-night bite. “When I’m training a lot I’ll eat the odd snack as late as 9 p.m.,” says Crane, “but I know my body needs it.” Even when we’re not hungry, our bodies can occasionally crave the comfort factor provided by food. Don’t be mistaken; this isn’t an excuse to gorge on candy. You’ll still want to avoid foods that will spike your blood sugar levels and prevent you from sleeping soundly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still satisfy your craving.

If you’re planning an early-morning run, select an after-dinner snack that’s both easily digestible yet filling enough to keep your muscles fuelled. Keep in mind that your body will absorb the nutrients it requires as you sleep, which means combining complex carbohydrates, protein and a little fat is the way to go.

Pick It: Eat a bowl of high-fibre cereal paired with milk or keep a batch of the Cereal Snack Mix on hand for a quick late-night treat.


By Anna Lee Boschetto

Snack Mix

Makes 5 cups

3 cups whole-grain cereal, such as Kashi GoLean Original

½ cup high fibre cereal (on e to try: Fiber One)

½ cup raw almond slivers

½ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup all natural almond butter, melted

2 tbsp honey, melted

½ cup egg whites

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

Sea salt to taste

½ cup dried cranberries

1) Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare baking sheet with a light coating of vegetable oil spray and set aside.

2) In a large bowl combine cereals, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, set aside.

3) In a small bowl mix almond butter, honey, egg whites, cinnamon and nutmeg until well blended. Drizzle evenly over cereal mixture and toss to coat.

4) Transfer mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet. Once cooled, toss with cranberries and season with sea salt, if desired.

5) Store snack mix in an airtight container for up to a month.

Nutritional Information (per ½ cup serving)

Calories: 225

Total Fat: 9 g

Sat Fat: 1 g

Carbs: 24 g,

Fiber: 7 g

Sugars: 9 g

Protein: 10 g

Sodium: 58 mg

Layered Pineapple Energy Bars
Makes: 24 bars

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup apple butter

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 ¼ cups rolled oats

¼ cup vanilla protein powder

1 can (14 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

1)      Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare an 11- by 9-inch pan with a light coating of vegetable oil spray and set aside. In a large mixer bowl, combine oil, butter and brown sugar. Combine 2 cups whole-wheat flour, rolled oats and protein powder then blend with oil and sugar until mixture is crumbly. Pat into the bottom of an 11×9-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

2)      In a medium bowl, combine pineapple, eggs, brown sugar and remaining flour. Stir in nuts. Pour over baked crust.

3)      Bake 30 minutes or until set. Cool completely in pan. Cut into bars.

Nutritional Information (per bar)

Calories: 175

Total Fat: 8 g

Sat Fat: 1 g

Carbs: 20 g

Fibre: 2 g

Sugars: 11 g

Protein: 6 g

Sodium: 14 mg