You know you're supposed to eat healthy, which is no problem when you've got plenty of time on your hands. But what about on those difficult days, when you're on your way to the gym, slammed at work or battling a late-night snack craving? Read on to discover six common situations and the best foods dietitians and nutritionists recommend you nosh on.
Before a Workout
Whether you work out first thing in the morning or after work, you don't want to go to the gym on an empty stomach. "Before a workout, you want carbohydrates to fuel your muscles," says Ursula Whitney, RD, president of North Shore Nutrition Consultants in Danvers, Massachusetts. That means an English muffin with peanut butter for carbohydrates and protein, oatmeal with fruit or berries for staying power or even whole-grain pancakes. "You don't want to get bogged down, but you do want to get a good carbohydrate source," she says.
After a Workout
Post-gym, your body has different needs. "You're replacing carbohydrates, so you can start building up your stored energy as well as getting some protein, to help with muscle repair," says Bethany Thayer, RD, a Detroit-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "A glass of milk is one of the best after-exercise foods," she says. "Even chocolate milk, which gives you a little more carbohydrates, is OK because you want to replenish the stored fuel in your muscles." Other good post-workout snacks include trail mix, crackers with peanut butter or chopped vegetables with hummus.
Whether you're eating in a rush between meetings or your kids' activities, speed is often the name of the game. But that doesn't mean you want to sacrifice quality; seek quick options that still provide a healthy balance of nutrients. Whitney recommends no-cook meals like refried beans spread on a tortilla with cut-up veggies, hummus with crackers, an English muffin pizza (an open-face English muffin with pizza sauce and a sprinkling of low fat mozzarella), hard-cooked eggs or water-packed tuna in a pita.
It happens every afternoon—around 3 or 4 p.m., you hit a wall. A cup of coffee is tempting, but drinking it that late in the day is bound to keep you up half the night. Instead, "have something thats mells delicious, like an orange," says Lisa Cohn, RD, nutrition strategist at Park Avenue Nutrition & Spa in New York City. "It's a happy scent, it's hydrating and refreshing, it's easy to digest and it gives you a little sugar and vitamin C." If you're bottoming out, Whitney also suggests a carbohydrate and protein one-two punch for energy and lasting power. That means whole-wheat bread with nut butter, yogurt with a sprinkle of granola or an all-natural granola bar such as KIND Bars, which mix whole grains with nuts and a bit of honey,
It happens time and again: You're so famished when you get home from work that you can't wait until dinner. You either gorge on cheese and crackers or end up dipping into what you're cooking. Either way, your appetite is shot. To curb your hunger without ruining dinner, Whitney suggests slicing up some fruit like cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon ahead of time so you have "something that's [appealing to the eye] and easy to grab, hand-to-mouth." Plus, the low-calorie, water-dense fruit will curb hunger pangs without filling you up.
Whether dinner just didn’t do the trick or you got home late from work, you don't want to eat too much close to bedtime. "It's important that you don't overeat, because that can really interfere with what kind of sleep you get," Thayer says. Instead of digging into cookies or leftovers, try a small bowl of cereal or a glass of warm milk, she suggests, which will sustain you but not fill you up. If you want something comforting, Cohn recommends part-skim ricotta cheese on toast with a drizzle of honey, plain Greek yogurt with a few berries or a sweet potato cooked in the microwave.