Raising the Bar: How to Choose Healthy Snacks

How to Calculate

What we do is add the total sugar to total carbohydrates and then subtract fiber. We take that number and divide it by total fat plus total protein. If the result of this is less than 2, the bar (or other non-core food) is okay to eat between workouts and for convenience.

(Sugar + Carbohydrates - Fiber) / (Fat + Protein) = The CORE Ratio

This equation attempts to magnify the blood sugar impact of the bar's carbohydrates by double counting the sugars. It also tries to take advantage of the low blood sugar response of fiber by subtracting it from the carbohydrate count. We then divide by the combined fat and protein, because both have a diluting effect on blood sugar response, due to slowed digestion.

This equation satisfies the first two guidelines, above. The remaining guidelines should be satisfied by inspection of the ingredient list and nutrition label.

Naturally, the best way to provide nutrient density, antioxidants and macronutrients between workouts is through real foods such as lean meats, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. However, it is often difficult and impractical to lug around a grocery cart of these items while traveling. Given that, nutrition bars are convenient, and are a superior option to having nothing at all, they can be an appropriate replacement during these periods, This is particularly important to the athlete for whom frequent eating, stable blood sugar levels and steady intake of sufficient protein and fat are paramount.

The problem that most endurance athletes face, particularly at the elite level, is that carbohydrates and grains are overly emphasized. As a result, they can end up displacing opportunities to have more nutrient-dense, or "core", foods during the day.

Assuming an athlete sleeps approximately eight hours each night, they have about 16 waking hours—four to five of which are spent training and consuming vast amounts of refined sugars and grains. We don't have much of a choice there. With that chunk of time being completely devoid of nutrient dense foods, we really need to focus on these during the periods between workouts.

The Point

Unless you are training, just about to train, or just finished training, your foods should consist of core choices, namely lean meats, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. In a pinch, use the Core Ratio to help you choose between nutrition bars and other labeled foods for the healthiest snack.

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Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite-level triathlon coach who founded QT2 Systems, a leading provider of personal triathlon coaching; TheCoreDiet.com, a leading provider of sports nutrition; and Your 26.2, a leading provider or marathon training programs. He coaches professional athletes Caitlin Snow, Jacqui Gordon, Ethan Brown and Tim Snow among others. He coaches professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. Find more coaching comments and ideas at kropelnicki.com.

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