Hitting the gym can work up not only a sweat but a hearty appetite. With all the calories you’ve torched by lifting weights, jogging a few miles, or trying a new HIIT workout, it’s no wonder if you feel peckish afterward. And even if your stomach isn’t grumbling after a workout, it’s a great time to refuel to promote muscle repair, replenish your body’s glycogen stores, and prevent fatigue later in the day.
But what exactly are the best snacks to choose post-workout? Mixed messaging from social media influencers and food manufacturers can be cause for some confusion. Read our guide for straight talk on what to eat after a workout for best results.
Benefits of Eating After a Workout
If your exercise session was an easy-paced walk around the block or quick lunchtime bike ride, you may not need to consume anything but water afterward. Light activities like these don’t necessarily place enough stress on the body to require refueling. But after more intense or longer exercise, eating comes with multiple benefits.
Helps with Muscle Repair
Exercise — especially weight-bearing activity — creates microscopic tears in your muscles. That’s actually a very good thing! Muscle building occurs when your body tends to these micro-tears by repairing them with protein. Eating a post-workout snack rich in high-quality protein helps grow the muscle you’ve worked so hard for at the gym.
Replenishes Glycogen Stores
During high-intensity workouts, the body prefers to rely on glycogen (a form of glucose) for energy. When you use up significant amounts of glycogen, it can leave you feeling weak and exhausted. Replenish glycogen with a snack of complex carbs and you’ll not only fuel the rest of your daily activities, but you’ll also reduce the likelihood of feeling wiped out from your workout.
Eating (and Drinking) Rehydrates You Post-Workout
You probably know that, when you sweat, you lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium — which then need to be restocked to steady your pH balance, regulate your fluids, and maintain nervous system function.
But neon-colored sports beverages aren’t the only way to replace lost electrolytes. You can also get them from food! Salty snacks like whole grain crackers and nuts can bring your sodium levels back up, while fruits, veggies, and dairy products can stock you up on other electrolytes. (And, of course, drinks like coconut water and chocolate milk perform the double-whammy of rehydrating you and providing electrolytes.)
What to Eat After a Workout
First things first: when choosing what to eat after a workout, opt for something realistic. A filet of salmon or leafy green salad may sound lovely after your sweat session, but might not be feasible when you’re dashing from the gym to the office. Be sure to choose foods that are doable for your circumstances. Fasting bars, for example, make a convenient snack you can toss in a gym bag or purse (or even put in your pocket).
As for the content of your post-workout snack, macronutrients matter! Research  shows that a combination of protein and carbohydrates is the best route to boosting energy and building muscle after exercise. Again, protein is responsible  for creating stronger, bigger muscles, so you don’t want to skimp on this macro. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine  (NASM), 20 grams of protein for women and 25-30 grams for men is a good target after intense exercise.
Pairing your protein with carbohydrates will also replenish those all-important glycogen stores, helping you bounce back faster after a tough workout. The NASM  recommends striving for 1.0-1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. Translation: if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you’d want a meal or snack that provides 68-102 grams of carbs. (A three-to-one ratio of carbs to protein can be a handy rule of thumb.)
While you’re at it, don’t forget about hydrating! Typically, drinking to your level of thirst after a workout is enough to rehydrate. And if plain water seems a little too blah, try infusing your H2O with the flavors of fruits or herbs.
Lastly, never fear: adding calories after a workout doesn’t have to derail your weight loss efforts. Post-workout snacks definitely have a place in a meal plan for weight loss. If you find yourself at a loss, consider discussing options with your Jenny Craig weight loss coach.
Meals and Snacks to Try After a Workout
Need some inspiration for what to eat after a workout? Try these combos of lean protein and healthy carbs:
· A trail mix of nuts and dried fruits
· A smoothie of Greek yogurt, frozen fruit and nut butter
· A protein shake made with milk, coconut water, or soy milk
· Beef jerky with whole grain crackers
· Chocolate milk
· A peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat
· Steamed edamame
· Whole-grain tortilla chips and bean dip
· A Recharge Bar
· Tortilla roll-ups of smoked salmon and spinach
Photo by Irina Starikova on iStock
What Not to Eat After a Workout
Anyone who’s ever regretted a greasy burger after a long run knows that certain foods aren’t ideal post-workout. High-fat items like French fries, ice cream, burgers, and anything deep-fried could cause stomach upset after exercise.
It’s smart to keep high-sugar foods off your plate, too. Though foods such as cookies, candy, cake, and soda contain carbs, they’re not the healthy, slow-digesting carbs best for refueling after exercise. Simple sugars spike your blood sugar, then drop it, leaving you feeling sluggish, rather than energized.
And even though protein is a critical component for building muscle and promoting recovery, it’s best not to eat it in isolation. Pairing protein with carbs is where the magic happens for optimal workout recovery.
When Should You Eat After a Workout?
Over the years, various studies have offered conflicting opinions of when it’s best to nosh after you swim, cycle, dance, or lift, with some saying to eat as soon as possible and others claiming a 30-60 minute grace period. But according to the Mayo Clinic,  eating any time within two hours of finishing a workout will still help with muscle recovery and glycogen replacement. So choose a healthy, tasty option from the list above (or create one of your own) and get snacking!
If you’re trying to lose weight with exercise alone and aren’t seeing results, your diet might be to blame. Jenny Craig can help! Check out our meal plans and find a fit that’s best for you.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
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