Snacking Simplified: A Comprehensive Guide to Making the Most of Your Snack Breaks

Snacking… is it a good thing, is it a bad thing?! There is a perfectly valid reason why you are so confused because the media makes it unbelievably confusing!

“Avoid Snacking” “Snacking between meals isn’t good for you”… but then your hunger hormones are all over the place, and you are suddenly craving the whole packet of biscuits and the share bag of chocolate that’s staring at you in the supermarket!!

Listen up! Snacking can be a game-changing tool whether you have specific goals or want to focus on being healthier. This might be the tool you are missing in your toolbox.

Having a good meal structure and not leaving huge gaps between meals is critical to help balance energy levels and hunger across the day. Everyone will have a slightly different meal structure; for some people, three main meals and one snack work well; for others, three meals and two snacks work well, yet for others having six or seven smaller meals across the day is preferred. This is why looking at your schedule and finding what works best for you is essential.

If you have energy levels all over the place across the day, from highs to lows, hitting a wall mid-afternoon or feeling irritated frequently, you may need to take a different look at your meal structure. If, for example, you are skipping breakfast, grabbing a croissant mid-morning with your coffee, then having lunch at midday and waiting till 7 pm for dinner, it’s not surprising your energy levels are up and down, and you’re experiencing a 3 pm slump every day.

In this case, aim to have a substantial breakfast in the morning, for example, a bowl of porridge, overnight oats, eggs or a smoothie. Depending on how long you have between breakfast and lunch, you may want to introduce a small snack mid-morning. However, this window isn’t too long for some, so breakfast to lunch after a substantial breakfast is okay. The window from lunch to dinner is typically the longer window. Thus, a mid-afternoon snack is recommended to help stabilise blood sugar levels and improve afternoon productivity and mood. If you know you hit a wall in the afternoon, structure a snack before this happens. That way, you get in there before your blood sugar levels dip too low and your hunger levels kick in.

I recommend choosing a snack based on a protein source with a little fat and carbohydrate. This will help to keep you feeling full through to dinner and will help to control energy levels. On the other hand, if you choose something high in carbohydrates with little protein and fat, it may give you the boost of energy you are looking for but then leave you wanting more half an hour later.

If you are tempted to pick up a sweet treat on your way home or grab a chocolate bar for the train rides home, this afternoon snack might be the trick you are looking for to help pass off this craving. If you work out in the evening, this afternoon snack will also be a game changer. You can’t expect to have a brilliant workout if you are heading to the gym at 6pm after eating your last meal at midday. Remember how important fuelling your body is before a workout.

An evening snack might also be beneficial for some. Too often, I hear, “I always crave something sweet before bed”. Look at what time you are eating dinner and when you are going to bed. If, for example, you are eating dinner at 7pm and then heading to bed at 11pm, your body might not be fully satisfied. This is even more common if you want to lose body fat and have a calorie deficit. Therefore, I would recommend having a small snack before bed.

Some great examples would be a bowl of Skyr yoghurt with berries and a small handful of nuts, a couple of corn cakes with peanut butter or a casein protein shake. Ideally, you want to go for something containing both protein and a little carbohydrate.

Research shows that increasing tryptophan (an amino acid), which you will find in your protein sources, increases serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin influences your circadian rhythm. Research, therefore, suggests that protein and carbohydrates before bed can help improve sleep quantity, quality, and mood.

This is also worth noting if you frequently wake throughout the night – this can sometimes be due to your blood sugar levels dropping and telling your brain it needs fuel. This might mean you are undereating throughout the day and might benefit from more food in the evening.