Best Foods to Eat After a Workout, According to Dietitians
With an ideal combo of protein and carbs, these post-workout snacks will help you build muscle and restore your energy.
Getting enough sleep, busting stress, and motivating yourself to exercise will bring you one step closer to your fitness goals. But here is one important thing you may be neglecting: what you eat after your workout. We hate to break it to you, but “rewarding” your gym time with a brownie, fancy coffee drink, or plate of fries may actually derail your post-workout recovery.
In fact, “the body craves high-quality protein and carbohydrates after a good workout,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. (Not sure what to eat before you hit the gym? Check out the best pre-workout snacks for every routine.)
Protein helps repair tired muscles, while carbohydrates replenish all the energy you used up in the gym. “For optimal results, take in protein and carbohydrates in a 1:3 ratio, so that’s 1 gram of protein for every 3 grams of carbohydrates,” explains Amidor.
It’s a good formula to keep in mind, but the ideal post-workout nutrient breakdown varies depending on the activity, duration, and fitness level, adds Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN. After all, a 20-minute elliptical session probably doesn’t warrant the same post-workout snack as a 10k run or 90-minute hot yoga session.
If you don’t feel like breaking out your calculator, opt for one these post-workout snacks that has the ideal proportion of nutrients to help you recover and refuel, so you can go into tomorrow’s sweat session stronger than ever.
Chickpeas fit almost perfectly into the mold of the 1:3 protein-to-carb ratio. With 6 grams of protein for every 20 grams of carbs, they make an ideal food to eat after a workout. But eating chickpeas straight out of the can isn’t all that appealing, so opt for the roasted, crunchy kind to satisfy your snack craving.
Although nuts don’t fit the classic post-workout snack profile, they do offer another important nutrient: healthy fats. The body utilizes fat as a main fuel-source during low-intensity workouts, like yoga and pilates.
Shaw is a fan of pistachios, which naturally contain antioxidants and electrolytes. “A 1-ounce serving of roasted and salted pistachios provides 6 grams of protein, 310 milligrams of potassium, and 160 milligrams of sodium, making them a great way to refuel before you can get to your main meal,” says Shaw.
Try it: Choose whatever nut suits your fancy as a grab-and-go snack. If you want to take it up a notch, make these nut-filled Oatmeal no bake bars or Spiced Nuts ahead of time for a post-workout snack.
A cold winter workout calls for a steaming hot bowl of recovery oats. If you haven’t had good old-fashioned oatmeal in a while, you’re missing out on the whole grain goodness that includes protein to repair worn down muscles and fiber to fill up your empty stomach.
A ½ cup serving of oats has about 27 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber. As an added bonus, oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan, which helps to lower cholesterol, according to research.
Try it: To amp up the protein even more, make oats with milk and top with your favorite seasonal fruit, like pears, apples, berries, or citrus for an antioxidant boost.
Eggs are nutritious on their own, but pairing them with veggies creates a powerhouse recovery snack. The combination of 6 grams of protein in each egg and carbs from the veggies is ideal. Eggs contain fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins D, E, and A, choline for your brain, and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin for your eye health.
Try it: This simple frittata recipe includes Swiss chard, onion, and lots of savory mushrooms. Stick to your favorite veggies to keep it meat-free or add in some ham steak for a boost in protein.
Meeting your friends for brunch after a spin class isn’t only fun, it’s a good way to refuel. Topping carb-rich bread with protein and healthy fats is a simple and delicious post-workout snack. Just make sure you opt for whole grain bread and keep your portions under control. In other words, topping a piece of brioche with a fried egg and bacon is not what we had in mind.
Try it: If you really want to take your toast up a notch, try our butternut squash and spinach toast, which packs 13 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs per serving.
“I keep small containers of roasted edamame and dried fruit in my car and gym bag and tell my clients to as well,” says Philadelphia-based dietitian, Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD. “The edamame provides 13 grams of shelf-stable, quality protein, and the fruit has carbs to replenish what you used during exercise,” she adds. Plus, the chewiness of the dried fruit pairs well with the crunch of the edamame.
Try it: Look for single-serve packs of dried or roasted edamame at your local convenience store. You can also make a batch yourself with some lime juice, olive oil, salt, and paprika.
Smoothies may sound basic, but they’re popular for a reason. Throwing fruit and yogurt in a blender is about as simple as it gets, and it tastes pretty darn good. Arguably the best part about a smoothie is that you can customize it to your tastes.
Regardless of the recipe you use, stick with 2 parts fruit (carbs) to 1 part milk or yogurt (protein) and keep the sweeteners to a minimum. Don’t be afraid to throw in some protein powder, nuts, seeds, or greens for added protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Try it: From orange creamsicle to green ginger to banana blueberry, check out all of our favorite smoothie recipes here.
Tuna and crackers
Fish is a high-quality protein, but it’s not always easy to whip up a fillet of salmon after a workout. You can still reap the benefits with canned tuna on whole grain crackers. A 4.5-ounce can has about 18 grams of protein, and a serving of crackers typically packs 20 to 30 grams of carbs. Pair them together for a midday post-workout snack that will keep you full and satisfied.
Greek yogurt parfait
Plain Greek yogurt has almost three times the amount of protein as carbs, which makes it a good choice for tired muscles. To replace carbs used during exercise, pair your yogurt with some fruit.
“A Greek yogurt parfait provides you with not only protein and carbs for rebuilding and refueling, but also plenty of antioxidants to aid in muscle recovery,” says Los Angeles-based dietitian, Lindsey Pine, MS, RD.
Try it: If you like chocolate and peanut butter (who doesn’t?), then you’ve got to try Pine’s chocolate peanut butter yogurt with berries. “It’s super satisfying after a tough workout,” she says.