Great Snack Ideas

This article is for hungry triathletes looking for what to eat in between meals that are fulfilling, nutritious and won't compromise your weight management goals. We include low-carb, low-fat, high protein snacks that can be served up at home in less than 10 minutes.
Created: August 2011
Latest Feedback: November 2011

Understanding Carbs and Proteins

Triathletes require strength, endurance and consistent energy levels that come from eating the right kind of food. Muscles, energy and weight are the three areas that are affected by the kind of food you eat. Eating healthy to meet the demands of endurance training can be difficult. Your nutrient needs are much more than that of an average person. Diet and nutrition are among the most important elements in an athlete’s fitness goals however nutritional needs vary from athlete to athlete and depend on external factors too. However, it is clear that endurance sports demand a balanced diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates so the key is to ensure you understand how your body uses these macronutrients so you all your meals, including snacks work together to keep you on track.

Carbohydrate consumption is what gives your body enough fuel to perform at your peak during a competition, however the key to performance and recovery happens well before race day. A low carbohydrate, low fat, high protein diet throughout your training phase provides the right mix to fuel the rigours of endurance training and will prepare you for performing at your peak come race day.

A high protein diet is essential to repair muscle tissue that constantly breaks down with endurance training. Protein intake is essential every hour during an event, in order to maintain peak energy levels. The muscle glycogen is depleted after 90 minutes of exercise. Without protein, the body will burn muscle tissue, leading to sore muscles and fatigue. Therefore, protein is an essential element of your fuel mix. Protein rich foods include mushrooms, legumes, eggs, milk, vegetables, greens, lean meat and whey protein.

During the training phase, which may take up to 20 weeks if you're training for a long distance event such as Ironman, you will have recovery days (either planned, or non-planned due to illness, injury or lifestyle commitments). These days are just as important as your solid training days however the focus of what you eat can be varied to maximise your recovery and utilise the rest period for injury management, mental rest, or even weight management aims.

If weight management is one of your concerns, then adjust your food consumption on non-workout days. Still eat the same foods, but opt for smaller helpings of carbohydrates, proteins and fat. The objective is to reduce calorie intake during these days. Soups in winter and salads in summer are ideal for non-workout days. Whole grains, greens, almonds and fruit must be an integral part of your diet. Fruits, especially berries, and nuts contain antioxidants that boost your immune system.

Sample Daily Menus

One of the perfect examples of an athlete’s daily diet can be as follows:

Breakfast: 3 eggs with grilled tomato
Snack: ½ cup of almonds
Lunch: 200g smoked salmon, salad with tofu or 50 grams of feta cheese
Snack: 300 ml milk with a protein supplement
Dinner: 200 gm of roast chicken (or other lean meat) with cheese sauce and steamed vegetables

This plan will provide you with 190 grams of protein, 60 grams of carbohydrate and 140 grams of fat, with energy levels of 9,500 kilojoules.

A moderate balance of protein and carbohydrates may suit some athletes. A good quality protein and carbohydrate diet plan may include:

Breakfast: Low fat yogurt and skimmed milk with 100g raw muesli
Snack: Banana and almonds
Lunch: 50 gm lean beef wholegrain sandwich with salad and fruit
Snack: Peanut butter or tuna sandwich or banana low fat milk shake
Dinner: 150 gm lean meat with stir fried vegetables, 1 cup noodles, a baked apple and low fat yogurt.

This type of an athlete’s diet plan will include 300 grams of carbohydrate, 150 grams of protein, 65 grams of fat and energy levels of 9,400 kilojoules.

Recovery Diet

Some triathletes do not spend as much time on their recovery plans, as they spend on workouts. It is essential to eat within one hour after an intense workout or session over 1.5 hours to restore glycogen and help the muscles recover. For this, you will need to eat the correct balance of protein and carbohydrates in a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein plan. For 20 grams of carbohydrates, combine 10 grams of protein.

Combining Food

The important thing to remember is that there is no single item of food that can provide you with all the nutrients necessary for peak performance. It is essential to eat a variety of food such as wholegrain cereals, plenty of nuts including almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts; lean meat, eggs, fish, and tofu.

Sometimes, when athletes focus on training and their busy schedules, they tend to forget the simple principles of nutrition. However, you must ensure that you eat sensibly so your body receives adequate minerals and vitamins.

Whole Food and Raw Food Diets

A whole food diet involves eating unrefined and unprocessed food, or food that is the least processed or refined. This type of food does not contain sugar, preservatives, unnecessary fats or artificial flavours. A salad with avocados and low fat yogurt can be a part of your nutritionally sound diet plan. Whole foods include the full spectrum of nutrients comprising of natural vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. Most of these foods are better when consumed raw. Processing and cooking often removes some vital nutrients that are essential for your diet. Therefore, you need to make sure you get more than sufficient amounts of nutrients to support the higher levels of physical exertion during training and racing.

Vegetable Protein Diet

While lean meat, whey and eggs are a rich protein source, there is plenty of protein in vegetable sources, a fact supported by many extreme sports athletes. Vegetable protein does not contain any fat but does include other essentials such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and some types of amino acids required to build muscle tissue. Among the vegetables rich in protein are nuts, lentils, split peas, beans, beets, spinach and onions. Vegetable protein may not contain all the amino acids but you can combine them with rice or whole grain bread for the complete meal. This benefits vegetarians who can safely continue to perform as an athlete, without worrying about sufficient fuel intake from vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts.

Snack Ideas

The following recipes make great snacks based on a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. Some don’t even take 10 minutes to prepare.

Triathletes Salad

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to make a super-healthy salad dressing. For the salad you can combine spinach with tomatoes, avocados and broccoli. You can add black beans, lean meat, tofu, tuna, turkey or chicken and almonds as topping. To add a little variety, try different combinations every day.

Smoked Salmon Snack

You will need 50g chopped and smoked salmon, 4 teaspoons of low-fat sour cream, 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh dill and sliced radish. Combine the sour cream and dill. Top each slice of radish with salmon and sour cream. This is a high protein snack with zero fat content.

Banana and Almond Pancakes

Banana is a power-food for athletes and a rich source of potassium which will help you avoid cramping. It is also rich in vitamins C and B6 and manganese. To whip up this power-food, combine half a cup of mashed banana, two teaspoons of low fat butter, 2 tablespoons of ground almonds and 1 egg. Place a scoop of this mixture in a pre-heated skillet and cook like pancakes.

Homemade Protein Bars

This energy bar is packed with proteins and an excellent addition to a race meal. In a bowl, combine 2 cups of oats, 4 tablespoons of vanilla protein powder, ¾ cup of low fat butter, two tablespoons of ground or chopped almonds, ¼ cup water, raisins and a teaspoon of flaxseed in a bowl. Knead it with your hands and add a little water if necessary. Put the mixture in a baking pan sprayed lightly with oil and bake. Place in the refrigerator for an hour and then cut into bars.

Low fat banana protein shakes

You can make your own protein shake with 2 scoops of vanilla whey powder, 1 banana, ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, 2 cups of milk (or water and pure maple syrup). Combining these in a blender will make one of the healthiest protein shakes that are a great filling meal substitute or pre-training snack.

NOTE: When purchasing protein poweders, opt for the highest quality whey protein isolate (usually refered to on the packaging as WPI). Avoid those with higher amounts of carbohydrates that usually contain flavours and sweeteners from fructose. Buying in bulk (5kg +) is the most cost effective way to buy protein powders however consider buying vanilla if buying in bulk - this way, you can avoid the monotony of the same taste daily by adding different fresh fruits or berries (try rockmelon, frozen banana pieces, frozen or fresh berries, mango etc).

Rice cakes with peanut butter

Peanut butter contains lots of protein, vitamin E and heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Rice cakes are known to carry low calories, therefore this snack is ideal for the mid afternoon or even morning.

Food obsessions!

As an athlete, it is essential to pay special attention to your diet. It is inevitable that you'll start viewing food as fuel - thinking purely about its role in your recovery and being critical of its efficiency in providing energy.

You will also start to avoid eating certain foods as you'll learn what gives you stomach cramps during rides, or foods that just seem to keep "repeating" on you in the pool. Finding foods that give you energy plus are easily digestive becomes critical when you perform a couple of training workouts in your day. Naturally, you will choose food that can be easily digested, and many people find that sports nutrition products (such as Energy Bars, Gels and Carbohydrate/Electrolyte Sports Drinks) do just that so these supplements are not just as race day food, but part of a serious training diet.

While fruits and vegetables are among the easiest to digest, make sure to add whole foods so your body gets the fibre it needs, although, timing your intake of fibre will be the key to avoiding a bloated stomach. Breakfast and lunch are typically the ideal times of day consume whole foods. A bowl of muesli topped with berries and low-fat natural yoghurt is the ideal mix of fibre, complex carbohydrates and low-fat protein to eat after your morning ride, but before your ride you might choose an easily digestive energy bar and carbohydrate sports drink. Lunch time is another opportunity to top up your fibre intake but beware of consuming complex carbs at each meal if you are weight conscious (see our article Weight Management, for more on this topic). Most triathletes will avoid fibre in the dinner meal the night before a race, and choose a refined (easily digestible) carbohydrate with protein for breakfast on the day of the race.

Whilst to some, this obsession with food may seem all-consuming, it won't be for long. Once you've started to experiment and observe what works best for you, you will soon develop your own good habits. At the end of the day, one thing is for sure - the more you train the more you will love your food, and deserve it!

TIP

See the Sports Nutrition, and Nutrition Guides & Cookbooks categories for relevant products available from our online shop.

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