Need to Know
  1. The perfect snack includes carbs, protein, and healthy fats
  2. Salty or sweet cravings can indicate imbalances
  3. Added sugars might give you energy — but then you'll crash

Snacks are the best. Hungry after an intense workout? Snack. Not sure how to make it from lunch to dinner? Snack. Need an extra boost of energy? You guessed it — snack!

There is an art to perfecting your snack. Sure, it’s easy to head over to the vending machine and F-6 your way to crunchy chips and sugary powdered donuts. But, as tempting as these quick fix snacks sound, there is a much better alternative for settling your rumbling tummy. (Note: being hungry and being bored is not the same thing — but more about that later.)

First, let’s talk about the science behind these in-between meals.

I talked to holistic health coach Marnie Northrop, and she shared  the important essentials of snacking. Going into this research, I was looking for a specific nutrient ratio of what the perfect snack looked like. Northrop quickly simplified it: “I think we overcomplicate things with numbers. There are so many dietary theories […] so it really depends on what dietary theory you believe in,” she said. “I do think it’s important to pay attention to the combination, so ideally there needs to be some protein, fat, and carbohydrate that will be stable and satiate you. Try that combination instead of just having straight-up carbohydrates, which will spike up your blood sugar and likely, in the end, create more hunger.”

So: What makes the perfect snack?

  • Carbohydrates. When many people think of carbs, they think of white bread and starchy pasta. Not in this case. These carbs are the healthy and wholesome kind — think fruit, whole grains, sweet potato, or legumes.
  • Protein. A serving of protein will make your snack feel satisfying and prevent you from eating more later.
  • Healthy fats. Don’t be scared of fats! They make meals feel satisfying. Think nuts and avocados.
  • Added bonus: Include foods that have fiber. Fiber makes you feel fuller longer and keeps you energetic for the rest of the day.

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What should you absolutely stay away from?

  • Avoid added sugars. This will give you immediate energy — but then a quick crash.
  • Be careful of snack or protein bars, as they may have a lot of hidden sugar.

What are my snack cravings telling me?

  • If you have specific cravings during snack time, your body may be telling you something.
  • Cravings may be a sign of imbalance in your system. Salty cravings can signify mineral deficiencies or too much sweetness, Northrop told me. Sugar cravings may mean you are dehydrated or tired. Your body knows that it needs energy, and that quick energy comes from sugar. Unfortunately, giving into sugar cravings can make your body want even more sugar. Try creating meals that are balanced between sweet and salty so that your snacks aren’t falling to either side of the extreme.
  • Have you ever been to a bar where they serve beer and nuts? That’s most likely because beer and wine have a tinge of sugar to them and nuts have a salty compound. Drinking sweetness and eating saltiness actually prompts you to keep eating and drinking to stay in balance. Sneaky, right?
  • There can be a psychological component, too, Northrop said: “Oftentimes we crave things because our life is out of balance, so we might be really sad or our life isn’t how we want and that’s why we crave sugar. Because the sweetness isn’t in our lives so we get it from food.”

Potato Chips

Snack Tips and Tricks

  • Pre-workout: Eat about 60-90 minutes before sweating.
  • Post-workout: Consume protein within 30 minutes of working out.
  • Be sure that you are snacking to satisfy hunger, not boredom.
  • If you are snacking, try to incorporate movement in your day. Oftentimes, people eat hefty snacks as they sit in the office, which can end up making you feel tired and lethargic.
  • Snacks are meant to quickly fuel or recharge you. They are not meant to replace a full meal, so be mindful of how big your snack is.
  • If you are hungry, try drinking a cup of water first. Water abates hunger and can help curb any cravings until meal time. On the other hand, if you are still feeling hungry post-water, then grab that snack!
  • Northrop recommends paying attention when we snack: “Snacking is also something we do when we are mindless about eating — like when we’re snacking at our desk while we are working, we can go through an entire bag of nuts. You want to pay attention while you’re eating so you can enjoy it and your brain and your body both participate. […] We overeat when we snack because we’re not paying attention.”

Need some snack ideas to make it to that next meal? Check out some easy snacks here.