You showed up to the gym, put in the work, and now that you’re done, you’re starting to feel like you need a little refuel. So that can only mean one thing: it’s snack time!
When you’re working out hard and gunning for results, you can’t forget how big of a role your diet plays in it. The old saying goes “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” and it’s especially true when it comes to deciding what to eat for your post-workout snack.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that working out hard gives you the license to eat whatever you want. There really is a science behind eating the right foods after your workout, and it’s important to make the right choices if you want to make progress.
Don’t let your training go to waste – here’s everything you need to know about your post-workout snack.
What To Eat After A Workout
It might not seem like it when you’re in the moment and riding that workout high, but intense exercise is pretty stressful on your body, and so it requires the right recovery strategy.
Here’s what happens to your body during your workout:
- Your glycogen stores are depleted. You store carbohydrates in your body as glycogen, and since carbs are an easily-accessible source of energy, you’re probably going to use them up to fuel a big workout. Because of this, you’re going to need to replace those glycogen stores with carbs soon after your workout is over.
- Your muscles take damage. If you were doing any resistance training or weightlifting to make gains, you’re going to want to pay special attention to this part. All that strength training puts strain on your muscles, and you’re going to need to get enough protein afterwards to maximize your muscle protein synthesis – in other words, you’ll need protein if you want to actually grow from that workout.
- You lose water and electrolytes. When you work hard and start sweating, you’re losing a mixture of both water and electrolytes, which can leave you dehydrated if they aren’t replaced.
So if you want to eat to complement that hard workout, you’re going to need a combination of high-quality carbohydrates and protein, plus you need to re-hydrate.
Timing matters here too. Studies show that your rate of glycogen synthesis drops by about 50% after a two-hour period, and “anabolic window,” or the time in which you can maximize your muscle growth, also falls in that same time period. [*] So the best thing to do would be to get a snack or a meal in as soon as possible after you leave the gym.
Post-Workout Snack Ideas
Since your body is craving both protein and carbohydrates, your post-workout snack should be a healthy combination of the two.
Remember, you don’t want to be eating just anything if you want to make sure that that progress from your gym session doesn’t get lost, so it’s best to focus on high-quality whole foods as you refuel.
Some good post-workout snack options include:
- Egg and veggie scramble: Whole eggs are a classic protein source and pairing them with a heaping serving of non-starchy vegetables like bell peppers and onions are a great way to get your nutritious carbs in at the same time.
- Protein smoothie with berries: Berries are a great source of fiber, carbs, and antioxidants. Add a clean protein powder and a non-dairy milk and you’re set for your post-workout recovery snack.
- Grilled chicken breast and sweet potatoes: Chicken breast is a clean and lean source of protein for muscle growth and sweet potatoes provide the complex carbohydrates your body needs to replace your glycogen stores.
- Bananas and almond butter: One of the electrolytes you lose when you start sweating is potassium, and bananas are a clean and delicious way to re-up while also bringing the healthy carbohydrates. Add a little bit of almond butter for protein, healthy fat, and satisfaction.
- Steak salad: A classic, clean salad with greens and assorted vegetables will make sure that you’re getting your healthy carbs in while also loading up on the vitamins and minerals. Add a serving of steak for your protein and you’re well on your way to recovery.
You’re also going to want to make sure you’re drinking a lot of water to replace what you lost during your workout. Keep a water bottle close to you and remind yourself to drink frequently – just going off of how thirsty you are probably isn’t enough, since studies show that you should be drinking at least 150% of what you lost during the workout. [*] So if you were sweating, definitely make re-hydration a major priority post-workout.
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What Not To Eat After A Workout
It’s a common mistake: you hit the gym hard, got your sweat on, and so you think that any food after your workout is fair game. After all, you put in the work.
But eating the wrong stuff can quickly mask the results of that hard work you put in. If you really want to see results, you’re going to want to avoid these:
- Salty junk food: Those burgers, fries, and chips might sound pretty tempting as you’re leaving the gym. After all, you lost a lot of electrolytes while you were sweating, including sodium, so it’s no surprise that you’re craving the salt. But those high-fat options are going to slow down your digestion and quickly replace the calories you burned and then some.
- Caffeine or alcohol: You might want to celebrate finishing your workout with something a little stronger, but neither caffeine or alcohol are going to help you here – both of these drinks are only going to dehydrate you more. Stick with water instead.
- Overly-processed protein bars: They might be a convenient option, but a lot of protein bars that are marketed for your post-workout end up being full of sugar and additives that aren’t exactly geared towards your progress. Studies are also indicating that whole foods are simply a better choice in general for getting your protein. [*] If you do use protein bars, make sure to read the nutrition labels, look for clean ingredients, and avoid options with added sugar.
The Bottom Line
Working out and proper nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to fitness. If you want to make serious progress, you can’t do one and neglect the other. Make sure to get that post-workout snack as soon as possible after you exercise and focus on high-quality carbohydrates and protein from whole sources to maximize your results.