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7 Smart Post-Workout Snacks and How to Know When You Really Need One

Selecting YogurtIf immediately after any workout, you reach for the next best snack, gulp down a big sugary drink or treat yourself to fatty foods, you may get instant gratification, but your body won't thank you for long.

According to exercise scientists, if you work out at a moderate– to high–intensity level for 90 minutes or longer, you should consume a healthy snack within 30 minutes post–exercise. The recommendation by the American Dietetic Association is to consume 1–1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight to allow for maximum replenishment of glycogen stores, the primary fuel or energy used during moderate– to high–intensity exercise; and 10–20 grams of lean protein to help repair muscle tissue.

Registered dietician, Michelle Murphy Zive, who oversees two large health projects at the University of California, San Diego, said good recovery foods after a hard, long workout session are carbohydrates that are easily digested and quickly synthesized by the body. These include potatoes, white rice and white bread. Note: These high-glycemic carbs are the types of foods you should consume only after working out. Your daily diet should consist mostly of such high-complex carbs as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread, which digest more slowly and leave you satisfied longer.

Here are 7 great post-workout snacks that fuel your body and should be consumed with 8-12 ounces of water:

1. Non–Fat Greek Yogurt with Fruit

Non–fat Greek yogurt is loaded with protein, which helps repair muscle tissue, and low in sugar and fat, which also makes it an ideal snack at any time of the day. Top some with fruit (1/2 cup of berries or banana) and you'll quickly rebuild your energy needs.

2. Banana with 1 Tablespoon of Almond or Nut Butter

Banana is high in fructose (fruit sugar) and a high–glycemic carbohydrate that the body can quickly convert to energy. When you enjoy it with with a small amount (1 tablespoon) of almond butter, you add protein and just a small amount of healthy fat. Almond butter is a great nut in terms of nutritional value, but is also high in calories, so you want to enjoy this treat in small servings.

3. Low–Fat Chocolate Milk

Did you know that low–fat chocolate milk is one of the best–kept secrets for recovery? It has just the right protein to carbohydrate ratio to restore lost glycogen and repair muscle tissue. Exercise scientists say this recovery drink is most useful for competing endurance athletes who need to sustain a level of performance—such as long–distance runners, cyclists, swimmers and triathletes. Another plus is that this drink can be easily transported.

4. Tuna on Whole Wheat

If you're a sandwich lover, this one is for you! Adding four ounces of water-packed tuna on one slice of whole wheat bread gives you an ideal protein/carb mini-meal at a mere 220 calories. It's an ideal low-calorie snack for people watching their body weight or trying to shed extra pounds.

5. Frozen Whole Grain Waffles Topped with Greek Yogurt and Almond Butter

If you're a waffle lover and want to enjoy this treat guilt-free, there is no better time to eat this heavenly food than after a solid workout. Top the waffle with low-fat Greek yogurt and one tablespoon of almond butter, and you'll get the ideal ratio of carbs, protein and healthy fat needed for recovery.

6. Whole Wheat English Muffin with Sliced Turkey Breast and Hummus

Like hummus? Eat up! Combined with a whole wheat English muffin or a whole wheat pita, this combo makes for a great protein/carb recovery food. Note: If you're watching your weight, whole wheat will release energy slower into your body than white bread. Wheat bread will also satisfy your hunger longer than the high-caloric fluffy white stuff. Once again, if you're watching calories, ¼ cup of hummus on one whole wheat pita adds up to about 300 calories.

7. Protein Shake with Banana

A protein shake made with 2 scoops of whey protein powder and ½ banana is ideal for recovery. Zive packs her pre-made protein shake into her gym bag so she can have it on the way to work after her morning workout. This is ideal for busy people on the go. Remember that refueling within the 30–minute window after a hard workout is critical to reaping the full benefits of proper recovery.

Tricks to Avoid Overeating Post-Workout

Now that we've talked about some great recovery foods, it's time for a heart-to-heart.

Ask yourself if your workout really warrants a recovery snack or meal?

A 15–minute leisurely walk, a 30–minute light strength-training session or 30 minutes of stretching are not the moderate– to high–intensity workouts that burn up your muscles and deplete your blood sugar levels to a level where you need a snack to recover. That doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy a portioned healthy post work-out snack at all.

It's best to be mindful of calories burned during a workout vs. calories consumed during the day, and to find a healthy balance of calories in vs. calories out to maintain a healthy body weight, Zive said.

Here are 3 clues to help you prevent overeating after a workout:

  1. Did you break a sweat during your workout? If you had a short and light workout session and your skin remains fairly dry, it's good to rehydrate with water, but not necessary to recover with food or a sugary beverage.
  2. Was your heart rate elevated? Exercising at a low–intensity rate for a short period of time certainly is better than no exercise at all, but you won't deplete your glycogen stores or tear up muscle tissue during a low–intensity workout.
  3. Was your breathing labored? A 60–minute moderate–intensity spin class, dance class or power yoga class can elevate your heart rate and leave you breathing hard at times, which means you're burning calories and earning the health benefits. Enjoy your post–workout healthy snack, but count it toward your total daily caloric intake, not as a way to justify a recovery meal.

If you're truthful with yourself and pay close attention to how hard you work during exercise, you'll get to know your body and learn how to refuel for energy vs. eat out of habit, convenience or due to stress, boredom or other reasons.

Your workout can never make up for a bad diet, Zive said.

Eating a healthy diet, paying attention to portion sizes and engaging in regular exercise are all critical elements to maintaining a healthy body weight, achieving long–lasting well–being and preventing serious diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

If you're exercising hard for 90 minutes or longer, it makes sense to prepare your recovery snack in advance. Try Zive's trick: She keeps a protein shake in a cool storage place, so she can enjoy it right after her workout. 

So the only question remaining is, what's your favorite post–workout snack? We want to know!


Marion Webb is the writer and editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE–certified Personal Trainer and an ACE–certified Group Fitness Instructor. To leave comments, please share them below. For specific fitness-related story ideas, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.

 


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