What you eat after a workout can help to optimize your recovery, maximize performance in your next workout and help you reach your goals. Depending on the time of day you workout, you may be able to consume a complete meal post-workout but for the days you’re in between meals or in a pinch here are some quick, easy and healthy post-workout snack ideas.
What to Eat After a Workout
The objective of post-workout nutrition is to refuel, repair, and rehydrate. Generally speaking, during exercise the body utilizes stored energy from our muscles, muscle is broken down and damaged, and fluid is lost through perspiration. Therefore, by providing the body with the appropriate nutrients post-workout it is able to restore balance and optimize recovery. Also known as the three Rs of post-workout nutrition, consuming protein, carbohydrates and fluids can help the body to adequately refuel, repair, and rehydrate.
Carbohydrates to Refuel
Carbohydrates are the body’s natural form of energy and are stored in our muscles as glycogen. During exercise, glycogen is utilized as fuel and our stores are depleted; the more intense the activity the more glycogen is utilized. (1) By consuming carbohydrates post-workout we are able to more easily replenish stored glycogen and initiate the recovery process. Consuming carbohydrates post-workout is especially important for endurance athletes or athletes who are training for several hours or multiple times per day.
Examples: Fruit, oats, bread, crackers, rice, granola, and potatoes
Protein to Repair
Consuming protein post-workout helps to repair and rebuild muscle. Generally speaking, exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle, although the exact level will vary from one form of exercise to another, consuming protein post-workout helps to prevent the breakdown of protein and stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which supports the increase and maintenance of muscle tissue. (2)(3) An individual’s exact protein requirements will vary depending on the form of exercise and type of athlete, however, consuming 15 to 25 grams of protein post-work is a good guideline to follow. Consuming adequate protein post-workout is especially important for strength athletes or individuals who partake in strength and resistance training.
Examples: Eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, poultry, seafood, meat, and protein powder
Fluids to Rehydrate
Consuming water or hydration drinks post-workout helps to replenish the body with fluids lost through perspiration during exercise. Calculating the exact amount of fluid necessary is especially important for endurance athletes or individuals training in high-temperature climates. For the average gymgoer, it is best to focus on consuming water post-workout, as well as before and during. Fluids can be obtained through beverages, as well as hydrating fruits and vegetables.
Examples: Water, electrolyte drinks, sports drinks, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables
Post-Workout Snack Ideas
Here are 12 healthy post-workout snacks you can pull together in a pinch.
1. Eggs + Toast
Whether you workout morning, noon, or night, eggs and toast is a quick and easy combo that you can whip up in minutes. Not only are eggs a good source of protein but they are also a natural source of cholesterol, which has been shown to have a beneficial effect on muscle building and recovery. (4)(5) A post-workout snack of two eggs and 1 slice of whole-grain toast provides an average of 16 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrate. (6)(7)
2. Greek Yogurt + Granola
Although any type of yogurt makes a good post-workout snack, Greek yogurt is particularly high in protein making it a great option. Given yogurt is a natural source of sugar it can actually provide both protein and carbohydrate post-workout, however, pairing it with some granola helps to add a little extra boost of fiber-rich carbohydrates. If you are buying store-bought granola be sure to read the ingredients and opt for versions with limited added sugar and oil, especially if you are concerned about calories. A post-workout snack of 3/4 Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of granola provides an average of 17 grams of protein and 22 grams of carbohydrates. (8)(9)
3. Cottage Cheese + Fruit
Cottage cheese is an excellent source of dairy protein in the form of both whey and casein protein: whey is a high-quality well-absorbed protein, while casein is a slow-digesting protein that has been shown to boost muscle growth and aid recovery. (10)(11) Much like yogurt, cottage cheese is available in 0%, 1%, 2%, and full-fat versions so, depending on your health goal, you can pick the option that works best for you as they are an equally good source of protein. Pairing cottage cheese with some fruit helps to provide some additional carbohydrates and fiber at the same time. A post-workout snack of 1/2 cup of 1% cottage cheese and 1 orange peach provides an average of 15 grams of protein and 21 grams of carbohydrates. (12)(13)
4. Tuna + Crackers
Canned tuna is a quick and convenient source of protein that is relatively inexpensive. Not only is tuna a dense source of protein but it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation. (14) Depending on your hunger level, tuna can be paired with vegetables, and crackers, or made into a sandwich to provide some much-needed carbohydrates. A post-workout snack of 1/2 can of tuna and 10 crackers provides an average of 23 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrates. (15)(16)
5. Hummus + Pita
Hummus is made from chickpeas, which are a legume and a source of vegetarian protein. Although chickpeas do contain protein, they are primarily a source of carbohydrates, as well as insoluble fiber, and can therefore help to refuel as well as repair. A serving of hummus alone does not contain a significant amount of protein, only 2.4 grams per 2 tablespoons, however, when paired with a whole-wheat pita the protein content can be increased. A post-workout snack of 1/4 cup of hummus and 1 large whole-wheat pita provides an average of 11 grams of protein and 44 grams of carbohydrates. (17)(18)
6. Milk + Oatmeal
Milk is an often overlooked but great source of protein, especially post-workout. The proteins and nutrients found in milk are high quality and easily absorbable, especially compared to alternative dairy beverages. (19) Although you may think of oats as a breakfast item, a small bowl of oatmeal made with milk creates a well-balanced post-workout snack with protein and carbohydrates in minutes. A post-workout snack of 1 cup of 2% milk and 1/2 rolled oats provides an average of 13 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates. (20)(21)
7. Peanut Butter + Apple
Peanut butter is a moderate source of protein and, when paired with a piece of fruit, works well as a light, quick and easy post-workout snack. Given a 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter only contains 8 grams of protein, it is a moderate source of protein compared to other sources, however, it works well in a pinch or can tide you over until mealtime. Not a fan of peanut butter or allergic to peanuts? No problem, almond butter works too. A post-workout snack of 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter and 1 medium apple provides an average of 8 grams of protein and 27 grams of carbohydrates. (22)(23)
8. Deli Meat + Wrap
Deli meat is a great post-workout protein source when you don’t have time to cook or need something quick. Be it sliced turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef, deli meat can provide up to 33 grams of protein per 100-gram serving. (24) If you’re concerned about calories or fat content, you can opt for leaner options such as turkey or ham, and you can pair any form of deli meat with a whole grain wrap and a dollop of mustard of a savory post-workout snack with protein and carbohydrates. A post-workout snack of 85 grams of sliced turkey and 1 whole-wheat wrap provides an average of 16 grams of protein and 33 grams of carbohydrates. (25)(26)
9. Protein Powder + Banana
Protein powder is a great option when you are on the go or looking to boost your overall protein intake without overly increasing calories. Protein powders are available in both animal and plant-based options, made from everything from whey to pea to rice, and can be mixed into smoothies, mixed with milk or added to water, and provide between 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving. When choosing a protein powder, be sure to read the ingredients and, whenever possible, opt for versions that are third-party tested to ensure quality. A post-workout snack of 1 scoop of whey protein powder and 1 medium banana provides an average of 21 grams of protein and 32 grams of carbohydrates. (27)(28)
10. Protein Bar
Protein bars are a great option if you are not a fan of protein powder or are looking for something you can leave in your gym bag. Often made with protein powder but combined with dried fruits, nuts, seeds, or whole grains, they can be a well-balanced source of both protein and carbohydrates, however, not all protein bars are created equal. When choosing a protein bar, be sure to read the ingredients and avoid options with excessive added sugar and preservatives. Although brands will vary, a post-workout snack of 1 protein bar provides an average of 10 to 20 grams of protein and 25 to 35 grams of carbohydrates. (29)
The Bottom Line
After a workout, it is best to consume a post-workout snack with a combination of whole food protein and carbohydrates. Protein will help to stimulate muscle synthesis and improve recovery, while carbohydrates will help to restore muscle glycogen and replenish energy. In addition to consuming protein and carbohydrates, be sure to rehydrate with water and/or electrolytes for optimal recovery.
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