At Life Time’s LifeCafe, menu development and product selection are approached differently than at most retailers or eateries. A team of registered dietitians and qualified trainers carefully pick and vet every offering — and it’s not only about what tastes good, although that’s certainly important. It’s also about what’s going to best fuel your results.
Considering the growing desire for grab-and-go options, the LifeCafe team decided now was the perfect time to overhaul its snack offerings to better tailor them to customers’ individual goals and diet needs — while still selecting ones with a short list of familiar ingredients and minimal processing.
Paul Kriegler, RD, CPT, and the program developer for nutritional products at Life Time, weighed in on the selection. “You’ll notice all products fall under one of two categories: Carb-Conscious, which includes options with less than 10 grams net carbs, or Quick Energy, which features options with more than 10 grams of net carbs,” says Kriegler. “All are also tagged with any specific ways of eating they align to, including organic, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, keto, and protein-packed.”
Carbohydrates were chosen as the focus because, of all the macronutrients, carbohydrate requirements differ the most among individuals — and can even vary within the same individual, depending on their activity level and metabolic health. Some people can tolerate and need higher amounts of carbohydrates, while some do better health with less.
You can think of carbohydrates (except fiber, which is a subcategory of carbohydrates that doesn’t provide calories) purely as fuel — they mainly deliver energy for the body. We can store enough carbohydrates as glycogen to fuel about two hours of strenuous activity. But if carbohydrates are overconsumed relative to immediate fuel needs, they can then be stored in nearly unlimited quantities as adipose tissue, or body fat.
According to Kriegler, 10 grams or less of carbohydrates is a reasonable amount for most anyone at any time they’re looking to curb hunger, which is why that amount was designated as the guideline.
“If someone isn’t about to go burn a bunch of energy exercising, then choosing a lower-carb snack is often a better option to help them maintain stable energy and glucose levels,” says Kriegler. “The items in this category can be thought of as anytime snacks, whereas higher-carb options are usually better reserved for before or after hard exercise.”
“Quick Energy speaks to the convenience of the items, as well as their ability to provide easy-to-burn sources of fuel — meaning carbohydrates — for highly active people,” says Kriegler. “They may not contain considerable sources of fat or protein the body needs for repair or maintenance, so this category is curated for people to consume before and/or after strenuous training to fuel or replenish energy stores.”
Once you recognize which category is best for you to select from on a given day, you can then use the tags to further narrow in on items that fit any specific dietary needs or desires. “The tags are a nice wayfinding system for consumers,” says Kriegler. “They’re not meant to be health claims, but help with shoppability.”
- Organic: Products have met the USDA organic requirements and been certified as organic.
- Gluten-Free: Items meet the established regulation for the claim.
- Protein-Packed: Products contain 20 grams or more of protein per serving. “Protein is essential to building and repairing muscle tissue, with 20 grams or more required for most adults,” says Kriegler. “We chose to highlight these options to help people looking to recover and rebuild muscle efficiently between hard workouts.”
- Vegan: Brands have provided documentation that their products are free of animal-based ingredients.
- Keto and paleo: Appears on products that claim to align with these popular lifestyle diets.
Kriegler shares his go-to picks in each of the two categories.
“I like this category mainly for the protein content to help me build and maintain lean tissue, as well as manage my appetite,” says Kriegler.
- For a sweet, high-protein snack that travels well: No Cow® protein bars (Kriegler loves to recommend these plant-based bars to his vegetarian or vegan clients. They’re also dairy-free.)
- For a salty, savory lean protein snack: Epic™ venison bar
- For something crunchy and filling: Orchard Valley Harvest® almonds
- For packing in protein: Nick’s Sticks™ grass-fed beef sticks (Kriegler says he usually eats two or three of these at a time to deliver desired protein)
“For the most part, I’d personally choose something from this category only before or after tough workouts, or if I’m looking for a quick meal-replacement option or substantial snack,” says Kriegler. “The main reason for this is that I tend to group my larger carbohydrate intakes around when my body will use them best and be least likely to convert them to body fat. Eat fuel when you need fuel, don’t when you don’t.”
- For a substantial snack: Applegate Naturals® Charcuterie Plate with Genoa salami and cheddar cheese
- For a smaller, portable snack: Orchard Valley Harvest® cashews
- For a pre- or post-workout energy hit: RXBAR® protein bars
- For a salty treat: Rhythm™ beet chips
- For dessert: Theo® 70 percent chocolate bar with sea salt