There’s nothing quite like the feeling of working up a good sweat.
A quick pre-workout snack gives your body the fuel it needs to perform at its best. However, what you eat after exercising plays a more significant role over the long-term.
The post-workout meal should contain ingredients that repair muscle fibers and replenish glycogen (that is, stored energy in the form of sugar). But what, when, and how much should you eat after expending all that energy?
When to Eat
After a strenuous workout, the body has a 20- to 30-minute window when it best absorbs nutrients. Because glycogen depletes with intense effort, it’s important to replenish this supply ASAP. Registered dietician Leah Kaufman recommends prioritizing carbs and protein to support muscle recovery and reduce soreness.
What to Eat
The intensity of the workout determines how substantial of a snack you’ll need after. For example, many experts recommend eating a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein after HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to optimize glycogen replenishment.
Along with a glass or two of water, these mighty post-workout snacks can help you maximize the benefits of exercise. We’ve included some that are on the lighter side as well as ones that are denser and venture more into the realm of a “meal” as opposed to a “snack.”
Use these as a starting point, and don’t be afraid to create your own tasty, nutrient-replenishing eats!
8 Easy Post-Workout Snacks
1. Classic Protein Shake
Protein shakes are a favorite among athletes because its liquid form allows the body to absorb the nutrients quickly. Mix whey protein, water, and a small serving of banana for a quick recovery snack. You can adjust the portion size based on the intensity of your workout.
2. Peanut Butter & Banana on Grain
Peanut butter and banana is another classic that provides essential post-workout replenishment. You can spread the ingredients on your choice of healthy grain: whole wheat bread, whole-grain crackers, brown rice cakes, etc. This ensures that you get not only the triumvirate of protein, carbs, and healthy fats, but also the often over-looked fiber necessary for maintaining healthy bowels, lowering cholesterol, balancing blood sugar, and achieving a healthy weight.
3. Hummus and Pita
Hummus packs a tasty combination of carbs and protein thanks to its chickpea-base. The low glycemic index of the hummus and pita pairing will keep you energized for hours after your workout. You can also add some leafy greens or a slice of tomato to enhance the taste and reap the additional vitamins and minerals.
4. Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fruit
Choose plain, low-fat Greek yogurt for the protein necessary to repair muscle tissue. Yogurt is a source of complete protein, providing all the amino acids your body needs to function at its best. It’s also a great source of calcium for strong bones, and the Greek variety contains probiotics, “good bacteria” that aid in healthy gut function. Add some fresh fruit such as berries or peaches for some much-needed carbs and vitamins. You can also sprinkle on some nuts or seeds for additional nutrients and to feel fuller.
5. Whole Grain Cereal with Milk
A bowl of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk provides vital carbs and protein. Most whole-grain cereals are also high in fiber and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to aid in recovery. Choose low-sugar varieties to get slow-release energy without the sugar crash. If you just finished intense cardio, add some nuts and/or berries for more substantial recovery and nutrition.
6. Tuna Sandwich
Tuna on whole wheat bread provides the protein-carb combo your body needs to feel energized and repair muscle. Add leafy greens such as kale or baby spinach for a low-calorie nutrition boost. A spritz of lemon juice and olive oil will make your tuna sandwich a tasty and satisfying post-workout snack.
7. Turkey and Cheese with Fruit
If you are gluten-intolerant or just don’t fancy bread, you can make a sandwich with only the fillings. Roll lean, sliced turkey and cheese together for a simple, protein-packed snack. An apple or banana can provide the energizing carbs instead of bread.
8. Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato
After high-intensity cardio, you’ll need a more substantial post-workout snack. Couple a 4-ounce serving of chicken breast with a sweet potato for an ample boost of lean protein and carbs. The chicken breast will supply essential B vitamins, and the sweet potato packs vitamins A and C along with fiber. You can add a small serving of fats such as almonds or peanut butter to improve the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins in the sweet potato.
Eating a variety of nutritious foods is key to maximizing the quality and benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables all provide vital nutrients and energy.
Age, weight, frequency, and intensity of exercise and pre-existing health conditions determine which foods you should choose or avoid. It’s essential to adopt a healthy diet to not only refuel after physical activity but also to supply your body with all of the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to support all activities of daily life.
A licensed expert such as a certified personal trainer or a registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan designed specifically for you.