Who doesn’t love to snack? But is snacking beneficial or detrimental when you are trying to lose weight? Smart snacking can help you to eat less overall and keep your energy levels up between meals.
To get the best benefit from your snack, follow these tips for smart snacking from my new book Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week.
- If you are working out intensely for an hour or more, you may want to have your daily snack after your workout. This will help your body refuel and help your muscles rebuild, provided your snack contains the recommended combination of carbohydrates and protein.
- Any time you have a gap between meals that lasts four hours or more, you should have your snack time during that gap. This will help prevent overeating and keep your energy levels up. Make sure to always keep a healthy snack in your car or purse just in case you end up having a longer gap between meals than you were planning on (see the “Top 10 Emergency Snacks” breakout box for ideas).
- If you eat an early dinner and stay up late, or if you have trouble sleeping at night, you may want to have your snack before bed. No matter what you may have heard, there is no “curfew” on when you should stop eating to promote weight loss. However, what you choose to snack on (and the amount of it) at night is super important. Try a piece of fruit or some air-popped popcorn.
- One snack time you might want to skip is mid-morning. A 2011 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that dieters who noshed between breakfast and lunch tended to snack later in the day too. This seemed to be an obstacle to their weight loss, as morning snackers lost 4% less weight in a year than did those who didn’t snack between breakfast and lunch. If you follow your meal pattern to consume a balanced breakfast and eat lunch within four hours after breakfast, skipping a mid-morning snack shouldn’t be a problem.
And let’s be real—you won’t always be in your kitchen with access to fresh fruit and veggies when the munchies hit. If you find yourself ravenous between meals when you’re out and about, you need to have a plan. Otherwise, you will get so hungry that you’ll eat anything you can get your hands on, even that calorie-bomb candy bar or those salt-laden chips from the convenience store or the office vending machine.
Keep an emergency snack stash in your car or purse, with healthy eats that don’t require refrigeration. These snacks should still fit into my Schedule Me Skinny snack guidelines of 200 calories and be a combination of carbs or fruit or veggies plus a healthy fat or protein. If you need some ideas for getting your stash started, check out the ideas below (and the book) for even more suggestions!
Emergency Snacks Stash:
- Nutty popcorn trail mix: In a baggie, combine 2 tablespoons almonds + 2 tablespoons dried cranberries + 2 cups air-popped popcorn
- 1 small banana with 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter (look for single-serving packets)
- 4-ounce unsweetened applesauce cup with ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- Lean beef jerky (single-serving pack) and 1 small apple
- Snack bars: Choose bars with a combination of carbohydrates and protein, with less than 200 calories and at least 3 grams of fiber, such as Luna bars*. I always keep one of these in my gym bag and my purse.
*Full disclosure: I have acted as a consultant for CLIF/Luna
Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, is a registered dietician and author of "Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week."