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The Best Post-Workout Snack Ideas

These energizing snacks pack the right nutrients to help you recover from your workout without undoing your calorie burn.

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close up of woman holding plate with avocado toast as fresh snack, day light.Andrej Rutar/Shutterstock

Here’s a common exercise dilemma:

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 contains 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 Carroll, RD  a triathlon coach from Snacking in Sneakers. Surprisingly, there are many ways to satisfy the munchies—sans guilt. Here are the best post-workout snack ideas, that won’t reverse the effects of your exercise.

Close up of tasty rural breakfast toast with fried eggs and sprouts on wooden board over black grunge background, top view. Healthy, clean eating, dieting food concept

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, RD, a Philadelphia-based sports dietitian, “it’s important post-workout to eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein.” Cue 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 Candice Seti, PsyD, 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.

cherry smoothie in Mason jar on a gray concrete background

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 Carroll 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,” Carroll instructs. If you’re vegan or dairy-free, try protein-rich pea milk. 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, RD 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!

Organic Green Matcha Tea in a Bowl

Green tea

While it’s essential to hydrate with eight 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.

The best part about green tea? You can drink it all the time—unlike these healthy foods you should eat only in moderation. 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!” Just try to cut off caffeine at least six hours before bedtime.

An overhead photo of slices of sweet potatoes with branches of fresh rosemary, shot from above on dark wooden textures with a place for text

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another amazing post-workout snack that will help your body recover from exercise. 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. Even better: Combine them with a lean protein, like three ounces of grilled fish, chicken, lentils, or a plant-based protein patty.

Dried fruits and nut mix in a pink bowl on a white wooden table, top view. Overhead, from above, flat lay. Close-up.

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 cranberries, and coconut, instructs Jamie Hickey, a certified 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.

Pancakes hotcakes with fresh berries and fruit served with maple syrup

Protein-rich hotcakes

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. It’s the perfect trade-off, just like these other healthy food swaps you never considered! According to 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.” If you’re vegan, you can opt for plant-protein powder in place of the dairy. If you’re gluten-free, use flour made from brown rice, chickpeas, or cassava. And 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.

Peanut, sesame and sunflower seed brittle on a black wooden table, top view, flat lay.

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 Hickey, “most of the store-bought processed bars aren’t really that healthy for you (and contain plenty of hidden calories, sugar, and fats),” just like these 17 other “healthy” foods you actually need to avoid. 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, a touch of honey, dried fruit and nuts, and 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!

rye bread sandwich with tuna and vegetables on wood background

Tuna on Ezekiel bread or melba rounds

If you’re looking for a small, post-workout snack to hold you over until the next meal, tuna on Ezekiel bread or 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 Carolyn Dean, MD, ND. To prepare this snack, 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. While the choice between Ezekiel bread and melba rounds is yours, be sure to use one of these healthy sources of carbohydrates.

Hummus artichoke platter with assorted snacks, vegetables on stone background. Plate Middle Eastern/Mediterranean dip. Party/finger food. Top view, toning.

Rice crackers, veggies, and hummus

Rice crackers, veggies, and hummus is a staple post-workout snack to slip into your rotation. Before you exercise, 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—unlike these foods nutritionists suggest that you should never eat.

Bowl of homemade granola with yogurt and fresh berries on wooden background from top viewbaibaz/Shutterstock

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. Carroll explains that Greek yogurt is a great 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, 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!

Stir fry chicken, sweet peppers and green beans. Top view

Stir fry

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 Carroll. Black-eyed peas are a good source of vegan protein. 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 flavor 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.

Fresh milk, chocolate, blueberry and banana drinks on table, assorted protein cocktails.Aleksey Korchemkin/Shutterstock

Protein shake

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, a registered holistic nutritionist, 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. You could also opt for a plant protein and add in a handful of greens. 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.

A package of Traditional Icelandic Skyr Icelandic provisions yogurt on an isolated background

Icelandic Provisions Skyr

At first glance, you may think Icelandic Provisions Skyr (pronounced skeer) is simply an alternate post-workout snack for people who don’t like Greek yogurt. Surprisingly, however, Skyr is not actually a yogurt—it just looks like one. Yogurt, which is often tart and sour, usually contains one cup of milk per serving size. Conversely, each serving of Skyr contains four cups of condensed farm-fresh milk, giving the snack a rich and creamy taste and a thick texture. The Icelandic snack also provides 15-17 grams of protein, about 11 grams of sugar, and is flavored with natural flavors or traditional Icelandic berries, including bilberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, and black currants.

Although the health benefits are obvious, you may be wondering why Skyr is a pertinent post-workout snack. Most saliently, the high protein concentration of Icelandic Provisions Skyr is essential for refurbishing your muscles after a grueling workout. Furthermore, the Icelandic berries teem with energy-inducing carbohydrates, which are needed to replenish your glycogen stores following physical activity. Even better news? Since Icelandic Provisions Skyr is not a normal yogurt, you don’t have to choose between Skyr and your favorite Greek yogurt when looking for a post-workout snack. Instead, add them both to your quickly growing menu of healthy and delicious post-workout options, and use the variety to protect your palate from boredom.

Quinoa porridge with strawberries and pumpkin seeds in bowl. Light dairy and gluten free breakfast

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. 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.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RDN, CSSD, on September 02, 2019
Originally Published in Reader's Digest