You’ve put in the time and effort to complete a hard workout and now it’s time to refuel; but with what? Choosing the right meal or snack after a workout is a common concern — there are so many options! How do you know what to pick and how much to eat?
While both carbohydrates and protein are needed to give your body the energy and nutrients to repair and rebuild muscles, protein gets a lot of attention because it’s a key player in promoting muscle growth. Typically, high-protein meals are thought to be important only for those who strength train, but newer research suggests endurance athletes can also benefit from paying attention to their recovery protein intake.
In general, eating around 10 grams of high-quality protein after a workout initiates the processes of muscle recovery and building. However, consuming as much as 20 grams of high-quality protein in a single meal or snack delivers even greater muscle benefits.
While eating something can be better than nothing, here are five ideas for quick, balanced and delicious meals or snacks to help you get the biggest bang for your post-workout buck.
This smoothie is packed with all the benefits you need after a workout. Both the berries and pomegranate juice contain polyphenols, a micronutrient associated with reduced muscle soreness and oxidative stress caused by exercise. The addition of whey protein, a high-quality protein found naturally in milk, is also an excellent post-workout choice because it digests quickly and easily. Whey provides a high amount of the essential amino acid leucine, which research has proven is a critical component for stimulating muscle growth.
Energy bars are a convenient, protein-rich food to nosh on post-exercise, but they can get pricey and sometimes contain unwanted ingredients. These protein bars are simple enough to make at home, cover all your macronutrient needs for recovery (including protein) and give you the option to customize ingredients based on your food and texture preferences. They are a perfect snack following shorter workouts where you might not need to replenish as many calories.
With 16 grams of protein in two tacos, these quick, vegetarian tacos are perfect any time of the day. Eggs and beans provide a complete source of protein, filling fiber and even choline, a nutrient many American diets lack. The avocados contain heart-healthy fats that provide strong calories and may also help reduce inflammation caused by your workout.
Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving! The lean meat is a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids your body requires to rebuild and repair. This quick sandwich uses quick-cooking, turkey cutlets and a simple marinade to deliver a balanced meal in a flash. The turkey is paired with goat cheese to provide some satiating fat, and sandwiched between cranberry sauce and a thick stack of lettuce. A whole-grain bun rounds out the meal to provide the necessary carbohydrate replenishment. One sandwich can provide 20–35 grams of protein, depending on how many turkey cutlets you add.
Fish is a perfect choice for a post-workout meal because it’s high in protein and provides many additional health benefits, like omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation caused by intense workouts. Wild salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, something many people don’t get enough of. If cooking fish at home intimidates you, this easy recipe is your solution. Pair your salmon with a serving of veggies and whole grains, and you’ve got the perfect meal.
Written by Jenna Braddock, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified specialist in sports nutrition. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Jenna is sponsored by an educational stipend from National Dairy Council.