Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but did you know that your post-workout snack comes in a close second?
Topping off the tank after vigorous exercise is vital to helping your body repair muscle tissue and replenish glycogen levels.
The size of the meal depends on your calorie needs and the duration and intensity of your workout, but it should contain a mix of both protein and carbohydrates.
Studies have shown that this combo not only helps rebuild muscle, but it also reduces cortisol, a stress hormone that wears on your body during strenuous activity.
Here are six of my favorite snacks to help refuel after a particularly tough workout:
1. Protein shakes.
Experiment with protein powders, fruits and veggies, ice and milk or juice in a blender for one of the most refreshing and satisfying recovery drinks. Or when I don’t have the time (or energy) to be creative, my go-to is Shakeology. Sure, it’s a little pricey at around $4 a pop, but it contains a proprietary blend of digestive enzymes, prebiotics, antioxidants, phytonutrients, adaptogens and all sorts of other rare ingredients from around the world.
2. Yogurt with berries.
Skip the super-sugary fruit-on-the-bottom varieties, and indulge instead in plain or vanilla flavors (try Greek varieties, such as Oikos or Chobani) with fresh fruit. Not only is this a portable and palatable snack, but low-fat yogurt also has nearly 15 grams of protein. A handy tip? Use frozen berries, which are less expensive and will help keep your yogurt perfectly chilled in your gym bag.
3. Peanut butter.
However you spoon it or spread it, one tablespoon of this nutty goodness contains only about 100 calories and seven grams of healthy unsaturated fat. ‘Nuff said.
4. Breadless sandwich.
If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, eat a plate full of fillings! Make easy roll-ups by spreading flavored cream cheese (my favorites are the savory ones from Philly) on lean deli meat before rolling it up for a high-protein, grab-and-go snack. Serve with a side of sliced fruit for extra energy-boosting carbs.
Yes, they’re an incredible, amazingly-versatile and highly-edible post-workout snack that’s low in cost and high in nutritional value. At a mere 68 calories a pop (with 6.3 grams of protein), eggs also contain zinc and vitamin B12 to boost metabolism, immunity and cell production. EatingWell offers a list of 12 healthy, easy egg recipes here.
6. Low-fat chocolate milk.
Got milk? Try it after your next workout for more effective recovery. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition named it as an ideal post-workout beverage for building muscle. Compared to plain milk, water and sports drinks, it has twice the protein and carbohydrates, an added bonus of calcium. So wear that milk mustache proudly!
For best results, aim to eat within 30 to 60 minutes of your workout, when muscles are most receptive. During this window, there’s an uptick in enzyme activity that makes the body more efficient at storing glucose for energy and rejuvenating fatigued muscles.