Have you ever stepped off of the treadmill, ecstatic over the number of calories that you burned, only to realize that you are extremely hungry? Most of us can relate to this exercise dilemma, the internal conflict between having a snack and negating the effects of your workout. While it may seem as though eating after you exercise erases all of your hard work, experts suggest that your body actually needs food after physical activity.
“After a tough workout, it’s best to eat a snack within 30-60 minutes that contain both carbohydrate and protein. Protein starts the muscle repair and recovery process, while carbohydrate helps restock those energy stores that were used during your sweat sesh,” explains Chrissy Carol, RD and triathlon coach from Snacking in Sneakers. Here are the best post-workout snack ideas, that won’t reverse the effects of your exercise. (Also, be sure to check out what to eat before a workout.)
Eggs and toast
Although eggs and toast are often confined within the “breakfast” category of our minds, this combo is a great post-workout snack for any hour of the day. According to Kelly Jones, a Philadelphia based sports dietitian, “it’s important post-workout to eat a combination of carbohydrate and protein.” Que the spotlight on a plate of fluffy, yellow eggs and crispy toast.
While you may be hesitant to chase your calorie-burning cardio with bread, Jones stresses that “carbohydrates stored in the muscles (glycogen) are the main energy source for moderate to intense exercise and must be replenished so they are available for your next workout, and for muscle recovery.” As for the protein, “eggs are a simple and wonderful complete protein source, providing all the necessary post-workout amino acids,” certified nutrition coach Dr. Candice Seti explains. “If you want the best bang for your buck, make sure that you don’t discard the yolk. The golden center harbors half the protein and the Vitamin D and important Omega 3 fatty acids,” says Dr. Seti. Although it may feel like you’re eating breakfast at absurd hours of the day, eggs and toast make for the perfect post-workout snack.
Chocolate cherry recovery smoothie
This smoothie is the chocolate cherry on top of a strenuous workout. According to Dr. Seti, “a glass of cherry juice can arm your body with an arsenal of antioxidants that fend off muscle damage. If you make a habit of having cherry juice every day, you will feel less muscle soreness and minimal strength loss following an endurance exercise routine.” We know what you’re thinking: cherry juice may be healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to drink it straight from a cup. Fair point.
That’s why registered dietician Chrissy Carol recommends making a chocolate cherry recovery smoothie. “Combine Greek yogurt, chocolate milk, tart cherry juice, and a frozen cherry blend to make this delicious smoothie,” Carol instructs. In addition to protecting your muscles with cherries, “you’ll get high-quality protein and adequate carbohydrates.” Skeptical about consuming chocolate when you’re trying to be healthy? Don’t stress! Rebecca McConville, sports dietitian and author of Finding Your Sweet Spot- How to Avoid RED-S, deems chocolate milk the “gold standard for recovery,” as “milk has quick absorbing carbs, a blend of proteins such as whey and casein, fluid, and electrolytes.” Bottom line? This chocolate cherry smoothie is the perfect way to satisfy your post-workout snack craving and your sweet tooth!
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While it’s essential to hydrate with 8 ounces of water after exercising, green tea is also a great compliment to any post-workout snack. “Green tea is not only your miracle elixir for burning fat and fighting free radical compounds, but it is also a great energy booster,” Dr. Seti explains. The tea is “also of value in your post-workout meals as it may be your best line of defense against free radicals that are induced by exercising” and are linked to many harmful diseases.
During the winter months, there’s nothing like fighting the frigid air outside the gym with a steaming mug of tea. Alternatively, if you’re sweaty from a summer workout, you can always take your green tea cold—or follow Dr. Seti’s advice and “try mixing some with your protein powder for double post-workout benefit!”
Sweet potatoes are another amazing post-workout snack that will help your body recover from exercising. While it may be easy to reward yourself with candy after a hard workout, the carbohydrates in candy are not good suppliers of energy. Nutritionist and health expert Lisa Richards warns that you should “avoid the temptation of eating simple sugars after your cardio workout. Instead, look to incorporate complex carbohydrates,” such as sweet potatoes into your post-workout snack.
The benefit of sweet potatoes? Dr. Seti explains that “wholesome carbs, like sweet potatoes, help refuel your body after an exhausting workout. If you don’t refuel, you might feel fatigued when your next workout session is due. This may also be the reason why you are unable to keep up with a daily exercise routine.” For a natural energy boost and healthy post-workout snack, sweet potatoes are often an excellent choice.
Try one of our top sweet potato recipes that are super healthy.
Healthy trail mix
If you’re not hungry enough for a full meal after exercising, fill up with a few scoops of healthy trail mix. This post-workout snack is extremely easy to make—just mix “unsalted nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts; dried fruits like banana chips, cranberries, and coconut; and whole grain cereal,” instructs Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and nutritionist. Containing healthy fat, carbohydrates, and protein, “this snack has all three macronutrients that your body will crave after an intense workout,” Hickey says. The best part? Healthy trail mix is a quick, mess-free, and portable option—the perfect post-workout snack for anyone on the go.
Calling all morning people, breakfast just got even better. We all know that healthy breakfast foods can get repetitive (how many different ways can you eat eggs, yogurt, and fruit?) and it can be extremely hard to resist whipping up a fluffy stack of pancakes every once in a while. However, with protein-rich hotcakes, you can enjoy the texture and sweetness of pancakes—without sparing the calories.
According to Jamie Hickey, these hotcakes are best prepared using “egg whites and cottage cheese, whole grain flour or rolled oats, and a touch of vanilla extract or raw honey for sweetness.” Instead of drizzling decadent syrup onto your hotcakes, top off your masterpiece with fresh fruit and yogurt, and voila—you’ve made a delicious post-workout breakfast that will energize your body and shake up your morning routine.
No-bake energy bars
Have you ever wondered why grocery stores often line their check-out lanes with protein bars? It can be extremely tempting to dump the premade, prewrapped, and energizing bars into your gym bag and solve your post-workout snack dilemmas in one fell swoop. However, according to nutritionist and personal trainer Jamie Hickey, “most of the store-bought processed bars aren’t really that healthy for you (and contain plenty of hidden calories, sugar, and fats).” Even though store-bought bars are simple and accessible options, it can be just as easy to make your own no-bake bars at home.
According to Hickey, all you need is “whole grain oats, agave syrup or a touch of honey, dried fruit and nuts, and a low fat, low-carb protein powder of your choice.” Be sure to make enough no-bake bars to last the week, and “wrap them individually in cellophane so you can grab and go,” Hickey suggests. For the full grocery store experience, you can even store your post-workout snacks near the door to your home—and skip the payment!
You can also try our banana chocolate quinoa bars.
Tuna on melba rounds
If you’re looking for a small, post-workout snack to hold you over until the next meal, tuna on melba rounds will definitely do the trick. Tuna is extremely high in protein, which increases “muscle protein synthesis, stimulates muscle protein growth, and helps muscles adapt to longer workouts,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean MD, ND, bestselling author, health and wellness thought leader, and Founder of RNA Reset. To prepare this snack, nutritionist and personal trainer Jamie Hickey suggests mixing a pre-made batch of canned tuna (in water) with Dijon mustard, and leaving it in the fridge for easy access after working out.
Rice crackers, veggies, and hummus
Rice crackers, veggies, and hummus is a staple post-workout snack to slip into your rotation. Before you exercise, Jamie Hickey suggests whipping up some homemade hummus “by blending up canned chickpeas with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh garlic.” Store the hummus alongside a batch of vegetable sticks in the fridge for quick and easy access to the snack the moment your stomach growls post-workout. Since chickpeas are a rich source of protein, this snack is a wonderful way to rebuild muscles after a strenuous workout. Try our Sumac-Spiced Homemade Hummus, which is topped with pomegranate seeds for a refreshing touch.
Greek yogurt topped with berries
While Greek yogurt with berries may seem like a plain choice for your post-workout snack, the vibrant health benefits whipped into every bite will have you springing for a spoon. And this snack can be spun in many different ways. Registered dietitian Chrissy Carroll explains that “Greek yogurt is a great whole-food source of protein,” a snack that will slip smoothly down your throat and begin the muscle rehabilitation process. According to Carroll, berries are an important addition to this post-workout snack, as “fruit packs in a variety of phytochemicals” which can bolster your immune system, regulate hormones, and fight cancer cells—among other essential health benefits. Berries are also rich sources of carbohydrates, which “optimize post-exercise glycogen replenishment” and provide a surge in energy, says Rachel Fine, RD and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition. While it’s easy to become enamored by fancy post-workout energy bars, a simple bowl of Greek yogurt and berries is an easy way to satiate your hunger and compliment your calorie burn!
The common exercise dilemma of what to eat following a workout extends to more than just snacks—many people also struggle to find a healthy dinner to eat after an evening gym sesh. If this is the case for you, a steaming stir fry is a simple yet spectacular choice. Easy to prepare, all you have to do is “combine veggies, rice, and a protein of your choice (like beef, chicken, or shrimp) for a delicious post-workout meal,” says Chrissy Carroll, RD. The protein in stir fry will help repair your muscles and the rice and veggies serve as energy-boosting carbohydrates. Not to mention the explosion of flavour infused in every bite! If you’re looking for a meal that will enhance, rather than erase, the progress you made in the gym, grab a pan and get stirring.
When you hear the phrase “post-workout snack,” you likely think of a tasteless shake that you drink entirely out of duty, rather than desire. However, protein shakes can actually satisfy your body and your taste buds—as long as know how to make it correctly. According to Mallory Aldred, RD, an ideal protein shake consists of “one scoop of chocolate protein, half of a banana, one tablespoon natural nut butter, and one cup of unsweetened almond or cashew milk.” This concoction amounts to about 30 grams of protein, which is the maximum amount that your body can absorb per meal, explains Aldred. After an intense workout, this amount of protein is ideal for restoring your muscles.
If you don’t like the chocolate-banana combo, Dr. Dean suggests blending blueberries, almond milk, and whey protein powder “that is casein-free and low-lactose” to create a delicious post-workout drink. The combination contains 660 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential fats that the body must get from food. Since blueberries are an abounding source of sweetness, no other sugar is necessary, says Dr. Dean. This gives the drink a “low Glycemic index,” explains the doctor. The best part about this post-workout snack? In addition to being extremely healthy, the shake is truly scrumptious.
Quinoa bowl with berries and pumpkin seeds
While this may seem like an unusual combination, a quinoa bowl with berries and pumpkin seeds is a great post-workout snack to stock in your kitchen. As we know, any good post-workout snack incorporates carbohydrates to help restore energy and proteins to aid muscle recovery. In this bowl, the berries supply crucial carbs and quinoa confers protein into our bodies. However, what differentiates this post-workout snack from many others is that the combination of pumpkin seeds and quinoa make it extremely high in magnesium. According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, magnesium is used by our cells to fuel energy production, and also “helps you burn fat and build lean muscle.” Whether you are trying to achieve a body goal or simply looking to replenish your energy after a difficult gym session, a bowl of quinoa, berries, and pumpkin seeds will provide all the nutrients that you need.
Next, check out the energy foods dieticians approve of and can pump you up for your workout.