Instant-Energy Snacks

The right snacks to eat — before work, after the gym, during a 4 p.m. slump — to rev up and slim down.

Power Snacks

Do you feel yourself dragging during the day?

Grab a thirst quencher!

Believe it or not, a simple glass of water is one of the best pick-me-ups around. "If you're dehydrated, you can't get nutrients from the foods you eat to the cells in your body, and you're going to feel tired," says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, director of the Center for Effective Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia Therapies in Annapolis, Maryland. If you're used to an afternoon soda, try carbonated or flavored water instead. But beware: some contain added calories. The same goes for flavor packets (including those with vitamin C), so use in small amounts.

Can't wake up?

Start your day with a smoothie.

After getting the kids out the door, breakfast for yourself is a mere afterthought. "But don't skip it," says James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado in Denver. An easy way to get the nutrients you need — and propel your day forward — is to fill your blender with ingredients for a smoothie the night before and pop it into the fridge. In the morning, blend, pour into a travel mug, and you're good to go.

View our yummy smoothie recipe

Want a great pick-me-up after exercising?

Try a soft taco.

Especially if you've worked with weights, you'll want to eat a combination of low-fat protein and complex carbohydrates. These will help you get the most from your exercise routine and prevent an unnecessary postworkout crash. Protein helps your body repair muscle fibers, which are broken down when lifting weights, which in turn increases muscle strength and density. "The carbohydrates aid in getting the protein to your hungry muscle cells," explains Donald D. Hensrud, MD, MPH, chair of preventive medicine and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Just be sure you work out at a high-enough intensity to warrant a postworkout meal. "Push yourself to the point where you feel comfortably tired," says Dr. Teitelbaum. But you shouldn't feel pain. If you do, you're probably damaging your muscle, he warns.

View our satisfying soft taco recipe

Need something to keep you going until lunch?

Eat a banana.

Foods release their sugars at different rates. The most beneficial are those that provide a constant stream of energy for a number of hours. Avoid sweets and chocolates, which provide a sugar surge but leave you feeling more tired than before. Instead, grab a piece of fruit. "Fruit has water and fiber and not as many simple carbohydrates as many people believe, so their sugars are absorbed slowly," Dr. Hensrud says. "Bananas are great because they're quick and come in their own package." Plus, they're packed with vitamins A, C, and B6, potassium, and dietary fiber, and are easy for the body to digest.

Need to work through lunch?

Go for yogurt and granola.

If you don't have time to "do lunch," make it fast and healthful by grabbing some low-fat yogurt and mixing in some granola. "Emerging research is beginning to draw a correlation between losing weight and dairy calcium," says Dr. Hill. For instance, researchers at Purdue University found that women who consume three to four servings of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products daily burn more fat than women who consume one to two servings -— enough to weigh perhaps 10 pounds less over the course of a year. "Several more studies need to be done before we can say there's a direct association between dairy and weight loss," says Dr. Hill, "but the science is definitely going in that direction." In addition, granola is a whole grain, which, according to USDA dietary guidelines, may also help with weight control. Be careful when judging portion size — just a quarter cup of dense granola cereal equals one serving.

Need a good night's sleep?

Indulge in an oatmeal cookie.

About 33 percent of people suffer from some form of insomnia at some point in their lives. To combat counting sheep and to make sure you're bright-eyed the next day, eat an oatmeal cookie before bed. "Oats contain high levels of tryptophan and, much like that turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, help make you sleepy," says Richard DeAndrea, MD, of the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, California. "Since a big bowl of oats may be a bit heavy on the stomach, eat a cookie and hit the sheets."

View our sleep-inducing oatmeal cookie recipe

Want to work out longer?

Sip some green tea.

Having green tea before you exercise may improve your exercise endurance by as much as 24 percent, according to a study by researchers at the Biological Sciences Laboratories in Tochigi, Japan. Findings suggest that green tea extract improves endurance by stimulating fatty acids that the body then uses as an energy source. An added bonus: Research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reveals that green tea may also be able to prevent skin cancer.

After-School Energizers

Kids often hit an energy slump between lunch and dinner and, like adults, need a pick-me-up, says Anita Bean, author of Awesome Foods for Active Kids (Hunter House). Rather than let them reach for a sugary snack, provide them with a nutritious treat. Here are some smart choices.

In Front of the TV

  • One slice of whole-grain toast or a single rice cake with a light coating of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) and jelly
  • An 8-ounce glass of skim or low-fat milk with one or two pieces of fresh fruit
  • A 1-cup bowl of whole-grain breakfast cereal (look for those with more than 6 grams of fiber) with 8 ounces of low-fat milk
  • Low-fat cheese (1 ounce) and whole-grain crackers (about 2)
  • A fruit smoothie (see recipe on previous page)

Before the Big Game

  • A small handful of dried fruit (raisins or apricots)
  • Two pieces of fresh fruit
  • One slice of whole-grain bread (at least 2.5 g of fiber) with honey
  • Plenty of water before, during, and after physical activity. If your kid will be at it for more than 90 minutes, give her a diluted sports drink. A half-and-half mixture of 100 percent juice and water will help maintain blood sugar without loading her up on unnecessary carbohydrates and sugars.

After a Long Practice

  • A cereal bar packed with fiber and protein
  • A mini whole wheat bagel with a single serving (1 ounce) of soft cheese
  • A homemade muffin containing whole wheat and fruit

View our filling apple-raisin muffin recipe