Are you new to working out and finding you’re exhausted for hours afterward?
While it’s normal to be tired after a hard workout, feeling like you want to curl up and take a nap isn’t how exercise should leave you. Running low on energy after a workout might be a sign that you need to focus on refueling. What you eat after working out, and when you eat it, is just as important as working out.
Exercise triggers muscles to pull energy from glycogen stores. Glycogen is the form in which carbohydrates are stored. The longer and more intense the workout, the more those stores need to be replenished. In addition, muscles are also stretched and torn during exercise and need to be repaired and rebuilt. Along with building and strengthening muscles, protein builds cells to repair damaged muscles. As a result, the best post-workout snacks are foods with lean protein and carbohydrates.
Timing is also important, and most experts recommend grabbing a refueling snack within 30 minutes of completing a workout to help recover more quickly.
Here are six easy post-workout snacks for all levels of athletes.
• Greek yogurt smoothie - Toss in a banana and frozen fruit and blend with plain Greek yogurt and ice. The protein from the yogurt combined with carbs and some electrolytes and antioxidants from the bananas and fruit will help refuel your muscles, replace what you lost through sweat and keep you satisfied until your next meal. The fluid will also help you rehydrate.
• Hummus, crackers and carrots - Hummus, full of chickpeas and tahini, gives you protein and healthy fats, while carrots and crackers provide carbs and beta carotene to help refuel and rebuild.
• Tuna wrap with pears - The protein and omega 3s from the tuna help rebuild muscle and decrease post-workout inflammation. Pears provide carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and fiber for a satiating effect.
• Almond butter on apple slices - What pairs better than almonds and apples? Nuts, like almonds, are full of protein and healthy fats that help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Apples provide carbohydrates and fiber for energy.
• Whole grain avocado toast with an egg - Eggs are full of protein as well as the nutrient choline, which is a part of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for signaling muscle contraction and has been shown to help endurance athletes’ performance. Add in a slice of whole-grain bread for fiber and carbohydrates with a few slices of avocado and you have an easy and filling post-workout snack.
• Nuts and dried fruit - Mix up some trail mix with a variety of nuts and dried fruit and store it in small mason jars to have throughout the week. They are easy to grab in the morning and stash in a gym bag for later. The healthy fats and protein from the nuts help with tissue repair and carbohydrates and fiber from the fruit refuel glycogen supplies and are filling.
Whether you are focusing on cardio or strength training, weight loss or improving stamina, keep in mind that exercise is only half the equation. Refueling to rebuild is a key component of any exercise regimen.
A healthy post-workout routine will help you stay on track, build muscle mass and stamina -- and improve your overall health. Try one of these quick snacks after your next run and see how much better you feel later in the day.
This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.