The staying power of food refers to how long it keeps you feeling satisfied and energized. Simply put, your meal’s staying power helps to support feelings of fullness— at least until your next opportunity to eat. I’ve previously discussed how to identify and honor fullness cues. In this article, we’ll uncover specific tips for leveraging your meal’s staying power to support energy and metabolic functioning.
Foods low in staying power (sometimes called “air” foods) are, per serving, low in calories and scarce in macronutrients (low fiber, low fat, low protein). These options might provide volume and even promote an immediate degree of physical fullness, but this fullness is typically fleeting— leaving you hungry within 30-60 minutes after eating. Examples of foods with a low degree of staying power:
- Leafy greens
- Rice cakes
- Nonfat dairy
- Wheat bread
- Popcorn (plain)
It’s important to note that each of these foods is not discouraged from being included in your meal plan. In fact, many of them—notably the fruits and veggies— are rich in a plethora of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Rather, it’s encouraged that these foods be incorporated as part of a mixed meal (alongside other ingredients). Tools like gentle nutrition can further help to boost the degree of staying power for these options. As an example, a few simple tweaks like swapping nonfat yogurt with a fuller fat option can help.
5 effortless tips to increase your meal’s staying power
#1: Prioritize Balance
Aim for a balance of the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. I call this combination of macronutrients a dancer’s fuel mix and it’s an elemental factor in The Healthy Dancer® Functional Fuel algorithm. To review the basics, carbs are a favored source of energy for dancers; pairing this with foods rich in protein and fat further regulates your blood sugar and promotes sustained energy. For example, topping a colorful salad with grilled chicken, shredded cheese, black rice, and an oil-based vinaigrette can provide a more satisfying and well-rounded mealtime experience.
#2: Include Protein
Boosting the protein of your meal or snack will help to increase it’s staying power. Food rich in protein like meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, dairy, and dairy-free alternatives have been shown to increase levels of hormones— peptide YY (PYY), glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), and cholecystokinin (CCK)—that signal fullness. Additionally, protein digestion requires more energy and time, thus prolonging the feeling of satiety.
#3: Boost the Fiber
Fiber is an indigestible component of carbohydrates that adds bulk to our meals. Soluble fiber, in particular, forms a gel-like substance when combined with water, slowing down digestion and promoting satiety. Moreover, fiber aids in regulating blood sugar levels, preventing energy crashes and warding off extreme hunger to keep you fuller for longer. Dancers can add fibrous foods to all meals and snacks but it is possible to overdo it. Click here to learn more about the role of fiber in a dancer’s diet.
#4: Add Fat
As part of our meals, fat has long been misunderstood and wrongfully demonized. Fat is a concentrated source of energy that helps slow down digestion and contributes to a feeling of fullness. It’s also an important factor in the regulation of leptin, another hormone known to promote feelings of fullness. Including foods rich in fats, like avocados, butter, whole milk dairy, nuts, seeds, oil, and fatty fish can enhance the satiety factor in your meals.
#5: Reconsider “Portion Control” and Try Mindful Eating
As discussed in this article, dancers often fall vulnerable to limiting food rules that aim to reduce their overall intake. It’s important to swap goals for “portion control” with attunement. Recognizing individual appetite cues is incredibly important for dancers to gauge how much of their meals and snacks will leave them feeling comfortably full, not overly full (of course, nothing wrong with the latter… it should be used as a learning experience). Remember that individual needs may vary, so it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your meals and snacks according to your personal preferences.
Examples of foods with more staying power
- Instead of snacking on sliced veggies alone, add crackers and hummus to the mix.
- Try fatty fish like salmon or tuna
- Add beans to rice, or try a fibrous alternative like wild rice or potatoes.
- Add bananas to your fruit salad and pair it a full fat yogurt.
- Top cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal with nuts and/or seeds