Most runners are particular about their shoes. And if you're a runner, there's no doubt you're also picky about your snacks. But are you snacking smartly?
The best snacks for keeping your energy levels balanced throughout your day as well as before, during and after your runs combine whole grains, (good) fats, fruits and vegetables.
Let's break it down a little more.
Low-carb diets aren't for runners. Carbohydrates are important for energy, and the more often and longer distances you run, the more carbs you'll need. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates give you an immediate energy boost, while complex carbohydrates give you sustained energy as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals. Runners also need to replenish their electrolytes (including the minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and chloride), which are lost when you sweat. Electrolytes are important for hydration and for good muscle function. And then, there's protein. Protein helps with the recovery process after a run, and the body needs it to rebuild and repair its muscle tissue.
Most runners should aim for two snacks a day in addition to three balanced meals, and each snack should be between about 100 and 200 calories (any more than that, and you're encroaching on meal replacement). Snacking about an hour or two before a run will help boost your energy and your performance. And when it comes to refueling after your run, choose a carbohydrate-loaded snack and nosh within 30 minutes of your run to get the biggest post-workout recovery benefits.
Energy bars are convenient, and we're all guilty of reaching for them from time to time, and maybe more frequently than we'd care to admit. Energy bars aren't a bad snack if you're in a pinch -- many of them are good sources of the nutrients runners need -- but they can be packed with more calories than you need in a snack. You can do better. Let's talk more about smart snacks and what makes them so, next.