You put in the time, you put in the sweat, and you carved time out of your day to fit in that workout. You want to make it count! And that’s why skipping a meal or a snack after a tough workout is a huge mistake.
“You always want to eat after a rigorous workout,” registered dietitian Jennifer Friedman told The Daily Meal. “It’s not so crucial after a 45-minute gentle yoga flow. But if you’re really burning calories and working up a sweat for a while, eating after working out — and eating the right things! — is extremely important.”
Why? Because believe it or not, the strength you build and the amount of soreness you experience are both affected by what you eat.
During your workout, your body uses glycogen (energy stored in the muscles) and puts a lot of strain on your muscle fibers. You want to refuel with proper nutrition so that you can 1) replenish the energy stores you used during your workout and 2) prime your muscles for growth and repair.
According to Friedman, there is one key combination you want to make sure you get in order to accomplish these goals: protein and carbohydrates.
“Carbohydrates and protein are the winning combination,” she said in an email. Carbs replenish your glycogen stores, while protein helps with muscle repair and recovery. And yes, you do really need both.
“Without carbs, you’ll experience fatigue that will be hard to shake,” explained Friedman, “and your body won’t be able to reap the benefits of all the work you just put in.”
And protein is used to build new cells for your muscle fibers, fixing tiny tears — making you stronger as a result.
You could be basic and reach for a protein bar; but there are dozens of snack options that can give you the nutrients you need.
Registered dietitian Mitzi Dulan has a couple of go-to snack options for after a tough workout. The first is a smoothie: a simple blend of milk, a banana, honey, some peanut butter, and protein powder. Dulan also loves snacking on a peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich, all mashed between two slices of whole wheat bread.
Both of these options, she says, provide both carbs and protein for optimal recovery. She used these same concepts to make her healthy snacks, simplyFUEL.
Friedman recommends simple options such as eggs and toast, a turkey and cheese sandwich, or even a handful of raisins with a cheese stick. If you have a bit more time for preparation, you could opt for edamame and rice or a bowl of pasta with chicken.
If you do opt for a snack bar for convenience’s sake, keep in mind that some snack bars are healthier than others. The Daily Meal looked at the nutrition labels of a few of the top brands to decipher which ones are healthy — and which ones really aren’t.