Whether you've been exercising consistently or are just starting, what you refuel with can play a substantial role in how well you recover. Consuming a good post-workout snack within one hour of exercise will help muscles recover quicker which in turn will help improve your fitness goals. After working out, muscles crave carbohydrate (to replenish energy), protein (to build up what was just broken down), and fluids (to replace sweat losses). When thinking of what to refuel with after your workout, consider this equation:
Carbohydrates + Protein + Fluids = Happy Muscles!
Many of us know protein provides the building blocks to help restore muscle tissue. Thus, it is essential that a post-workout snack contains protein. How much? This depends on the type of exercise. Generally, if you are not a competitive athlete, you need at least 10-15 grams of protein in your recovery snack.
Carbohydrate intake is often forgotten in our post-workout snacks. It's important to incorporate this component because our body relies on carbohydrates for energy. When energy has been depleted (i.e. after a workout) our muscles still need energy to help kick-start the recovery process. Thus, carbohydrates are essential for restoring energy and helping the muscles start rebuilding themselves. How much is necessary? Aim for about 15 grams of carbohydrate (equivalent to one serving of grain or fruit). When possible, try to consume whole grains or fruit to add the beneficial nutrient fiber.
Fluid is often forgotten as well. Replacing fluids can be difficult because it depends on how much you sweat. How much you sweat can depend on your gender, salt intake, and type of workout. Reference the chart below adopted from the Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group (SCAN DPG) fluid needs handout for sweat losses and hydration. In general most people if they are not competitive athletes need about 16 ounces of fluid after a workout. Fluid isn't limited to just water intake. Smoothies, 100% fruit juice, and low-fat milk or milk alternatives can count as rejuvenating fluid intake.
Try to consume a post-workout snack within one hour after your workout.
Here are some ideas for some yummy, easy post-workout snacks. Note that some of these ideas need an addition of fluid, so make sure to add it on the side:
1. Apple with peanut butter yogurt dip.
The apple provides necessary carbohydrates and fiber, and the peanut butter yogurt dip provides protein. To make this snack, mix one tablespoon of peanut butter into one cup of Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt). Garnish with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and serve with apple slices.
2. Oatmeal with almond butter, chia seeds, and banana slices.
Oatmeal and banana provide healthful carbohydrates (bonus: bananas have potassium, which is a much needed electrolyte after a hard workout) and almond butter and chia seeds add protein. Make ½ cup of oatmeal and add 1 tablespoon each of chia seeds and almond butter. Add one sliced banana and a drizzle of honey on top. Add more protein to this by making the oatmeal in low-fat milk instead of water.
3. Homemade trail mix.
This is a simple, portable recovery snack. Make a large batch of it and add it to small baggies to grab and go. One serving is 1/4 cup. Add 1 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, and/or peanuts), 1/2 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax, and/or chia), and 1 cup dried fruit (no sugar added!). Optional add-ins include 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, and/or 1 cup whole grain cereal. In the basic recipe without the add-ins, dried fruit provides carbohydrates and the protein would come from nuts and seeds.
4. Yummy Date Smoothie.
Dates? Yes, dates! Not only are they somewhat sweet, but they add a good texture to the smoothie and (bonus!) a good source of potassium. They are also the source of carbohydrate needed to give your muscles some energy to start recovering. Add 2 dates, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (protein source), 1/2 cup milk or milk alternative (fluid AND protein source), 1 banana, and a handful of spinach together to a blender. Blend well for a delicious and well-rounded post-workout snack.
5. Basic yogurt parfait.
Yogurt parfaits are always a good choice for after a workout. As mentioned before, Greek yogurt has the necessary protein needed to rebuild muscles. Add "fixings" such as 1/2 cup berries, apple slices, sliced banana, or 1/4 cup dried fruit (no sugar added) for the carbohydrate and 1/4 cup chopped nuts or seeds for additional protein source. Add a sprinkle of granola for a touch of crunch.
6. Hummus, whole grain crackers, and veggies.
Pack up 2 tablespoons of hummus (protein) with a handful of whole grain crackers (carbohydrate) and an assortment of chopped vegetables and you have yourself a powerful post-workout snack.
7. Peanut butter recovery balls.
Looking for a new and easy recipe to try? Mix together 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter, ½ cup chocolate chips, 1 cup oatmeal, ½ cup ground flax or chia seeds, and 2 tablespoons of honey into a bowl. Place in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes so they are easier to roll. After refrigeration, roll into about 10-12 balls and store in the refrigerator. Each ball contains about 7 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrate (perfect for your recovery!). Drink 1 cup of low-fat milk for additional protein on the side and you have yourself a powerful recovery snack.
These recommendations are based on the needs of the general population who participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity. Athletes and those who train vigorously may need more specific recommendations to improve performance. If you are interested in meeting with a Registered Dietitian to individualize your needs and improve your performance, please reach out to us at Idaho Nutrition Associates and make your appointment today!
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group (SCAN DPG). Exercise Hydration. 2016. scandpg.org.
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group (SCAN DPG). Eating For Recovery. 2016. scandpg.org.