Defining a Meal vs a Snack

As you continually optimize your fueling needs for performance and daily energy demands, chances are that your main meals just aren’t going to be enough to get you through the day happily and productively. That’s where snacks come in.

snack-apl-chsLet’s define a meal versus a snack.  A snack should be small, and less than 200 Kcals.  Healthy snacks should be a part of all athletes diets, as it can significantly increase your muscles recovery, replenish glycogen stores, boost stamina, and help with training adaptations.  Many people eat meals close to 6 hours apart, so a well-composed and healthy  snack is essential for curbing hunger.

The size of snack can vary due to your physical size, goal, and time between meals.  Roughly, a snack can be < 200 Calories if you are a smaller athlete or achieving weight loss.  If you are a larger athlete maintaining weight or trying to gain weight- the snack can be ~ 200-300 Calories.

But beware,  not all snacks are created equal!  Choosing a well-balanced snack helps meet your heightened nutrient needs.  Choose or compose a snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates.  For example: 

  • 1/2 a PB+J
  • string cheese + an apple
  • greek yogurt + fruit
  • hummus + veggie sticks
  • palmful of trail mix
  • natural turkey/beef jerky + carrots
  • Or in a pinch: a snack bar

A meal is larger, and composed like the Plate Method:


The Plate:  Notice that vegetables and fruits should cover ½ your plate, with grains and protein sharing the other ½ of the plate.  To increase satiety (or the feeling of being full), choose grains that are low-gylcemic index or high fiber when given plenty of time to digest.  Include small amounts of lean protein with all snacks and meals- this supports muscle development and weight loss simultaneously.  Recent research supports findings that dairy foods/calcium can help aid weight loss and improve digestive abilities.

  • Remember to adjust the amount of food you eat as you ramp up or dial back your workouts!

Weight Loss Quick Tip: During dinner gatherings and parties, avoid sampling everything available and select one or two dishes to try.  Prioritize your plate and fill up first on known foods that work for you while training and racing.

Sarah Weber, MS, RD

Wenzel Coaching nutritionists work daily with endurance athletes to help them refine their food choices and portions and improve performance. Check our current nutrition coaching packages, from four weeks to four months, or ongoing consultation. 



Burke L, Deakin V. Clinical Sports Nutrition 4th edition 2010.  McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ld.
Australian Sports Commission