When it comes to crushing a tough workout, many of us know how to fuel our bodies like the pros in order to crush our upcoming workouts. As it turns out, what you eat after a sweat session is just as important as what you eat beforehand.
"Choosing nutrient-dense foods after a workout is important for replenishing energy stores and helping repair and build muscle," Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Owner of Crystal Karges Nutrition, explains to Lively. "A balance of healthy fats, carbohydrates and protein can optimize nutrition and recovery post workout."
Though there is no hard and fast rule about when you should eat post-workout, many experts recommend eating within 45 minutes to two hours (depending on the type of workout you did) to help replace glycogen and improve recovery.** And, you always want to stay hydrated. Here are the best foods to eat after a workout, according to dietitians.
The Best Foods to Eat After a Workout
Consuming lots of protein isn't exclusive to the buff guys at the gym. It's for everyone and also happens to be essential for strong muscles. You need to eat protein after a workout to help build muscle.
"Protein provides amino acids that are the building blocks for our muscles," says Amanda Kozimor-Perrin, MS and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
You have several options for this, which, of course, includes eggs — both the whites and yolks. According to Karges, they provide several vitamins and minerals. This is in addition to them being effective for muscle building and repair after a workout.**
Another great option is protein balls (or bliss balls). They are super delicious, easy to make, and can be made in big batches ahead of time. "Protein balls make a great post-workout dish because they are full of well-balanced nutrients that help to build muscle and energy," says Melissa Eboli, nutritional chef and wellness counselor.
She makes hers with chocolate protein powder, peanut butter, oats, honey, coconut oil and bananas. "You get your BCAA (branched chain amino acids) from the protein, peanut butter and oats while getting MCTs from coconut oil. The BCAAs aid in energy production and muscle building while MCT helps with fat burning," Eboli says.
You can also get protein other ways — such as through protein bars and shakes or smoothies. Heading out the door after a workout, or going straight from the gym to the office? Pack a Vital Performance™ Protein Bar, with 20 grams of complete protein, into you gym bag for on-the-go fuel. Or, whip up a post-workout shake using Vital Performance™ Protein Powder.
2. Whole Grains
Fueling and refueling with good carbs, aka whole grains, is important. You can find whole grains in foods such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, quinoa and whole-grain cereal.
"They offer the body quick forms of energy to help replenish glycogen stores that may have been depleted during a workout," explains Karges. They are also full of fiber, which keeps our blood sugars stable and regulated.
As for what to add on top of the whole grain toast or cereal, Karges suggests slathering on some nut butter.
"Nut butter, such as peanut or almond butter, offers a boost of healthy fats and protein to promote muscle growth after a workout, as well as replenish energy stores and help regulate blood sugar," explains Karges.
It's not just great with grains either. Pair it with your favorite fresh fruits, such as banana or apple slices for a complete post-workout snack.
Meal prep tip: Joanna Foley, RDN, says to keep frozen bags of cooked things like quinoa and brown rice (oatmeal, too) in the freezer so you can do a "quick heat and serve."
3. Chocolate Milk
Nope, it's not a myth: Chocolate milk is actually good for your body after a workout, according to dietitians.
"Studies have found that the combination of carbs and protein in chocolate milk can help refuel muscles after exercising," says Karges. "Chocolate milk is also a naturally rich source of electrolytes, which can help replenish the body with important nutrients that may have been lost through sweat."
If you don't do dairy, don't sweat it. You can still drink up the benefits by using a milk alternative and even adding an additional source of protein, says Kozimor-Perrin.
4. Greek Yogurt
When it comes to nutritional benefits, Greek yogurt is on par with chocolate milk.
"It offers the same kind of macronutrients that will help replenish muscles after intense exercise, including carbohydrates and protein," explains Karges. "The protein and carbs in Greek yogurt can also help restore glycogen stores in the body post-workout."
A quick and delicious way to enjoy it is with some fresh fruit. For the ultimate antioxidant boost (which your body is definitely craving post-workout, FYI), choose low-sugar fruits, such as strawberries or blueberries, since they're rich in antioxidants, according to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and Creator of The Candida Diet.
If you're looking for the ultimate post-workout snack that combines almost all the items on this list, smoothies are the way to go. Foley recommends one made with leafy greens, frozen berries, almond milk, nut butter and protein powder.
"This combo contains all three of the essential macronutrients to promote refueling and recovery after a workout, as well as promoting balanced blood sugar and an optimal metabolic rate," she explains to Lively, adding: "Liquid nutrition is also much more rapidly absorbed into the body and blood stream compared to solid food, making smoothies an ideal post-workout recovery food to quickly refuel worked muscles."
Next comes protein, since it's not a one-size-sips-all approach.
For instance, "if you are trying to gain muscle mass, then whey or casein is appropriate. But if you are working out to be healthy, maintain or lose weight then choosing a plant-based or collagen option works great," says Kozimor-Perrin.
[Read more about the difference between collagen and whey protein here.]
"Collagen is great for a post-workout supplement, as it is high in amino acids making it a good choice for muscle repair and recovery," adds Eboli. "There are so many options in today's market for how you can consume it, too! You can add powder to a smoothie, coffee, protein ball recipe or just enjoy a Collagen Water™ to easily up your collagen intake."