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As children we yearned for snacktime. It meant we could drop our school supplies and join our friends in a communal feast of cookies and juice. The spike in insulin-no less, also got us through to lunch and lunch got us through to our after-school snack leading us to dinner. So, it makes sense that snacks are the way to keep our energy up throughout the day whether we’re five or thirty-five. There is truth to that, as long as you’re eating out of hunger and no longer eating snacks like juice and cookies.

One of the best ways to look at mid-morning, afternoon and pre- and post-workout snacks is to look at them as mini-meals. When we hear “snack” it almost triggers in us a license to eat something sugary or carbohydrate-laden. When we hear “meal” it sounds more substantially filling. Instead, hone into your senses when a craving sneaks in. Also, be aware when you’re being “pressured” into snacking.

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1)   Juices: 

Everywhere you go you hear about the benefits of the almighty juice. Locker room chatter is all about the magnificent super-powers of the Omega or the Cuisinart juicers. And how could this be bad? Consolidated fruits and veggies sound like antioxidant heaven! And yes, they could be.

Celebrity Personal Trainer and Health Expert, Harley Pasternak used the example of the orange at Fitness Magazine’s 2013 Fit Blog LA event.  “How many calories are in an orange?” he asked. The answer? 80 calories. After holding up an 8oz. bottle of water he asked how many oranges it would take to fill that bottle. Turns out, eight. So for 640 calories you can also have 32g of fiber and 168g of carbohydrates. Oh, and 168g of sugar and only 16g of protein! Despite the large amounts of fiber and vitamin C, the fact remains that in this example the calories and the sugar definitely exceed the other benefits. Not to mention that most people don’t feel full after a drink. Wouldn’t you feel fuller after eating just one orange?

RawProteinThe best ways to make use of the juice are to make a few tweaks.  Keep your juice mostly veggies. Fruit, because of the sugar content, will fluctuate your insulin levels affecting the span and depth of added cravings. Also, if your juicer subtracts the pulp, you essentially have a soda fountain in your kitchen. The best juices have fiber and protein. So this may mean not only buying a juicer that keeps the whole party together, it may also mean adding chia or flaxseeds, or a protein supplement like Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein. And check in with those feelings of satiety. How long does a juice last you? Does it give you added energy after you drink it or are you still hungry afterwards? Just because it sounds like a healthy snack alternative doesn’t mean it is. It’s all how you use it!

2)   Snack Bar

30-40% of magazine content is advertisements. In order for magazines to thrive, they need advertisers. So as were peruse the pages for content, our eyes pause at these visually stimulating ads for supplements, beauty products and foods. And it doesn’t stop there.

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Magazines also host races, yoga workshops and other events that are funded by those same advertisers. Free event giveaways like Camelbak water bottles and Clif Bars? Yes please! It’s a win-win. The magazine hosts a wonderful issue or event, readers and participants sample then buy product and then advertisers get paid. Granted, are most of these products solid? Probably. But the point is, we are told what’s the latest eye cream, so we buy it. But do we really like it? Do we really need it or does it sit on the shelf? Did you really need that snack bar or will it sit… You get the picture. Sift through these subtle messages!

The general rule of thumb is to eat a little something about an hour or two before and after your workout. This is not a bad message. However the amount and content of that snack will make or break your workout. If you eat a snack bar with over 200 calories and your workout only accurately burns 400, you are only burning off that snack bar. Make sure you’re hungry for your snack so you’re not exercising in circles. And if eaten post-workout, it shouldn’t leave you ready to inhale a full meal.

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3)   Smoothie

Oh how we love the ubiquitous smoothie. In it could be anything from fruits and almond milk to whey powder, peanut butter and flaxseed oil. The ingredient list is endless at the smoothie bar but so is that of 31 flavors. And the sugar and calorie count? About the same.

One of the reasons people like smoothies is the convenience factor. At some gyms you can even have your drink ready for you at the end of your workout. At home, it takes just under five minutes and you’re out the door. But similar to that of juices and snack bars, smoothies can be all hype and no follow through.

All the ingredients are generally healthy-individually. However, put together and you can have a 500-1,000 calorie snack. While the average meal is 300 to 450 calories and lasts you four to six hours, the wrong smoothie can last you just one to two. Sometimes smoothies are just a guest pass to getting a milkshake.

Your best bet is to make your own smoothie but also to count the calories, sugar and protein content. Get the best bang for your buck by opting for low-calorie almond milk and plenty of ice. When choosing fruits, opt for the lower sugar sort. So stay away or limit use of berries, kiwi or dates. A smoothie under 250 calories that lasts you two to three hours is still a wiser choice than the alternative.

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