10 of the Best Post-Workout Snacks Recommended by Dietitians
You may have heard that it's important to eat something after you exercise — but what you may not know is that how soon you eat and what you eat both have an important impact on your body's ability to refuel and recover.
Dietitians May Zhu, RDN, and Marisa Moore, RDN, both recommend eating within 30 minutes of finishing your workout; however, Zhu says studies have shown that the window for refueling post-workout may extend up to several hours, especially if you have a larger pre-workout meal.
As for what to eat, and how much? "What you eat and whether you actually need a snack depends on the duration, intensity, and timing of your workout, but also what you ate before," Moore says. After more intense workouts, it's important to eat a good post-workout snack or meal that "contains a combination of carbs and protein to help replenish energy stores and promote muscle synthesis," she says. After a lower-intensity workout or shorter routine, however, you may not need to eat a post-workout snack — especially if you ate not long before your workout or you're eating another meal soon.
On that note, your post-workout refuel can be either a meal or a snack, depending on the time of day, how hungry you are, and what fits into your schedule, says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. Moore and Zhu agree. For example, if you're a morning exerciser, you might be better off eating a full breakfast after your workout rather than just a snack. If there's a break between your workout and your next meal, then maybe a snack is best.
Moore puts it simply: "If it's time for a meal, have a meal. If you are a couple of hours away from mealtime, have a snack."
Whatever you eat, make sure it has a mix of carbohydrates and protein. "Protein helps repair, build, and maintain muscle post-workout, but carbs will also help replenish glycogen stores and aid with recovery," Zhu says. Studies show that consuming carbs and protein together after exercise can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis (i.e. the process by which your muscles repair themselves and store up energy for future use).
How much protein should you shoot for, exactly? "The amount of protein [needed] depends on the individual, type of workout, intensity, and duration of the exercise," Feller caveats, but Zhu has a recommendation to give you a general idea: she says to aim for around 15-25 grams of protein, with two-three grams of carbs for every one gram of protein.
As for fats? "A little bit of healthy fats included will most likely not affect your post-workout meal or snack either way," Zhu says. As a nutrient, fat takes less precedence both during and after a workout, since it doesn't do an important job like carbs or protein, Feller explains, but there also isn't any evidence showing that post-workout fat intake is a bad thing.
We asked the dietitians what their favorite post-workout snacks are, and the good news for all of us is that fruit with nut butter made the list — along with lots of other easy options. Read on for their post-workout snack recommendations.
Greek Yogurt With Berries
This parfait combines protein-packed Greek yogurt with carbs from fruit, plus a healthy dose of probiotics, vitamins, and minerals. It's a great choice after a morning workout, and you can make it a meal by increasing the portion size and adding granola, nuts, seeds, or other toppings. Vegan yogurt works too, as long as it has a good amount of protein (think: 10 grams or more).
Homemade Trail Mix
While store-bought trail mix is delicious and convenient, it can contain a lot of unnecessary sugars. Make your own by combining dried fruit with nuts and seeds, and you have a post-workout snack that's full of protein and carbs and is easy to stash in your gym bag.
Cheese and Whole-Grain Crackers
As if we needed another excuse to eat cheese and crackers. Zhu recommends using whole-grain crackers, and Moore likes string cheese for this combo. You can also choose another high-protein cheese like parmesan, Swiss, gouda, or mozzarella.
Peanut Butter Sandwich
This childhood classic is a great way to get carbs and protein after a workout. Bonus points: it's portable for refueling on the go. If you're not quite ready for a meal, opt for just one slice of toast with peanut butter on top.
Eggs and Toast
We love this post-workout snack because it can be your standby while adjusting the portion size to your needs. Each egg has about six grams of protein, so opt for two as a snack, or add a third egg and extra toast if you want a full meal. And there are plenty of variations: scrambled, fried, sunny side up, or eggs-in-a-hole are all delicious and full of the protein and carb combo you need.
Apple With Peanut Butter
This snack is good any time of day, but after a workout, it's the perfect way to refuel, with carbs from the apple and protein from the peanut butter.
A Protein Bar
While protein bars are incredibly convenient, Moore cautions to remember that they're not all created equal. Zhu recommends looking for a bar with whole-food ingredients and limited added sugars and artificial sweeteners, or consider making your own protein bars at home.
Grilled Chicken With Sweet Potatoes
If your stomach is growling when you finish your workout or it's time for lunch or dinner, this is a great post-workout meal to fill you up. Grilled chicken provides protein, while sweet potatoes offer complex (and delicious) carbs.