What to Eat after Working out with 14 Snack Options
Exercisers always want to know what to eat after working out and how much should they have. Well, the answer is, it honestly it depends on your workout and what your goals are.
If we are going for a light walk you probably won’t need a post workout shake. However, if you are working out extremely hard you should probably have something.
If you want to try a quick workout that will make you work hard, take a look at the article Travel Workout: Stay Fit Anywhere With an Advanced Program. It will also give you a few ideas on how to increase your intensity.
Your decision to consume a post workout shake can also be affected by what you have consumed throughout your day. For example, if you are undernourished because you have been under eating, then I would definitely have a post workout shake.
However, if you are constantly gorging yourself with junk food and steaks, a protein shake probably won’t help you much in terms of physique goals. The extra protein consumed is usually beneficial but it depends on your specific lifestyle and goals.
As a general rule, I will have most people start by trying one. A lot of beginners are generally quite low on their protein intake.
There are three main objectives for nutrition regarding post-exercise needs: rehydration, refueling, and repairing. After completing exercise, your body needs water, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein to maintain peak performance. So how much of each does your body need and why are they important?
Eating carbs replenishes glycogen to your muscles after any workout, whether it’s weight training or cardiovascular-based. This fuels your muscles so they don’t get fatigued and are able to perform at their best.
Carbohydrates provide the “energy” for you and your body and help to fuel your brain, muscles, and other vital organs, so including these in your post-workout snack or meal is essential.
After a workout, protein helps to repair and build muscle. An adequate amount of protein will promote muscle building and synthesis while refueling your body properly as well.
A good goal is to aim for 20-35 grams of protein post workout. And you want to eat protein not only after a workout, but at each meal throughout the day. Your protein can come from whole foods (like greek yogurt, milk, meat, fish, eggs, and nuts/nut butters), or you can opt for a protein shake.
If you are going to use a shake as your post-workout fuel, make sure the protein source is whey, casein, or soy protein. Check the first ingredient on the label and make sure it is an “isolate.” That word ensures the protein is “bioavailable,” meaning your body can process it easily.
Carbs and Protein
The right combination of carbohydrates and protein is key after your workout, as it fuels yours body, provides energy, and promotes anabolism and muscle building.
Your carbohydrate to protein ratio should be at least 2:1 for any meal/snack you have following a workout. For example, if you’re reading a granola bar label and there are 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein, this could be a great post-workout snack!
Note* This 2:1 recommendation is for those who are working HARD. If you do not burn a large amount of your glycogen stores (essentially carbohydrate stores) you have not earned those carbohydrates.
Timing is also essential when it comes to refueling your muscles; consume a snack or meal within 30 minutes to an hour after finishing your workout is a good rule to follow. That’s because your body is in a sort of “stress” state post-workout, so obtaining proper nutrition in a timely manner is important for healthy muscles and overall nutrition.
Rehydration is another key component for refueling after a workout. Typically, drinking just water (about 20-24 ounces or 565-680 mL, for every pound lost during a workout) is adequate. However, if your workout lasts longer than one hour, or you’re in a very hot environment where you’re sweating a lot, more maybe necessary.
Sodium is naturally found in many foods, so your carbohydrate/protein snack often adequately replenishes any lost sodium.
One way to monitor your hydration level is by checking your urine color. You want your urine to be a pale yellow color. If it is any darker than that, you need to increase your fluid intake after workouts and throughout the day.
The times you rehydrate can make a big difference in your workouts and energy performance as well. Aim to drink about 20 ounces (565 mL) of water around an hour before your workout; drink about six ounces (170 mL) every 15 minutes during a workout; and then drink 20 ounces (565 mL) per pound lost after a workout.
As soon as you start feeling thirsty, that’s a sign that you are already dehydrated! So it’s best to drink fluids all throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
Another point to keep in mind is the type of fluid you’re drinking. As mentioned, the best fluid source is water, and sometimes an electrolyte-filled sports drink. Caffeine can dehydrate you, so if you have coffee or tea, you may need extra water to maintain adequate hydration.
And remember: monitor your urine for personalized information about your hydration level!
To give you some ideas, here are some examples of healthy, nutrient-dense, snacks for after each workout:
- Chocolate milk (also contains vitamins and minerals that help you post-workout)
- Cereal and nonfat milk
- Greek yogurt with fruit/cereal
- Protein powder with milk (soy/almond/dairy) or 100% natural fruit juice
- Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Peanut butter toast or sandwich
- 1 cup whole grain pasta and 3 oz meat/fish
- Energy bar/granola bar (read the label to make sure the carb to protein ratio is adequate)
- Graham crackers with peanut butter or yogurt
- Trail mix (peanuts, dried fruit, almonds, and granola)
- Smoothie—blend up the following ingredients:
- 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt
- 1 cup light soy milk (I use vanilla)
- 1 cup frozen fruit mix (berries, bananas, etc)
Each of these snacks have the proper carbohydrate to protein ratio, and they have been scientifically proven to benefit your body after exercise.
With all of the above information, it is important to remember that nutrition requirements can differ based on gender, age, body size, exercise intensity and duration, and environmental factors. It’s also important to always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime.