Snacking is conventionally viewed as an unhealthy habit, something to be at least minimized if not avoided altogether.
According to Reist, snacking is not only acceptable but vital, especially for swimmers. If you aren’t eating every 3 to 4 hours, you likely aren’t fueling your body optimally.
Snacking has become so core to the nutrition plan at Missouri that “Eat often” is one of the six tenets expressed in the pneumonic device “FASTER,” which is grilled into all Missouri athletes. (The rest of “FASTER”, if you were wondering: Fruits and vegetables, Always hydrate, Start with breakfast, Think lean protein, Eat often, Rest and recover.) There are several benefits to eating often, but the primary purpose is providing your body with enough fuel to train for 20 or so hours a week.
Swimming burns a lot of calories, so it requires eating a lot of food. If you don’t provide your body with enough calories before a workout, it will consume muscle for energy rather than stored fat. If you’ve ever struggled to put on muscle or maintain your weight during a season, eating more often could help. According to Reist, snacking is a more effective solution to the problem than increasing the size of your three main meals because it is easier for your body to digest and convert a snack to usable energy than a four-course dinner.
But even if your goal isn’t to put on muscle, snacking can be beneficial. Eating more often doesn’t necessarily mean eating more food in a day. Having more frequent, smaller meals keeps blood sugar levels steady, which helps prevent overeating. That’s right — while it may seem counterintuitive, eating more often can actually lead to weight loss.
“For those people who may skip meals throughout the day, often times at the end of the day they’re super hungry and then they overeat,” Reist explains. “Having a snack can get that blood sugar back on track, back in the normal ranges, and when that blood sugar is where it should be, your body is not releasing hunger hormones to make you eat.”
The protein-carb combination provides plenty of flexibility based on an individual’s needs. A swimmer trying to gain weight should look for a high volume of calories in a small package, like a PB&J with extra peanut butter or a protein shake. For someone trying to lean out, cottage cheese with berries or greek yogurt might be a better call. The most important thing to remember is to avoid potato chips and other processed foods.