If you ask a trainer what they think is the best post-workout snack, you may not get a straight answer. Instead, you may face an awful lot of questions in return: Who is this for? What kind of workout was it? What are your goals? Is there a Whole Foods nearby?
It can be frustrating not to get a simple answer to a seemingly simple question, but post-workout nutrition is a tricky topic. A marathon runner is not going to eat the same thing as a bodybuilder, and a competitive athlete won’t chow down like a recreational gym-goer. The one thing they all have in common is that everyone should eat something after a workout.
What: Whey Protein Shake
When: Immediately after your workout
Why: A simple protein shake will deliver everything you need after a hardcore session with the iron: amino acids, hydration, and some simple carbs. After you rack your last set, you want to hit your tired muscles with some protein as soon as possible. Whey protein is the king of post-training snacks. For one, whey protein is loaded with the amino acid leucine, the most anabolic amino acid which also acts as a signal to your body to activate muscle protein synthesis. Whey is also considered to be a “fast protein,” meaning it moves rapidly through your gut to quickly deliver those valuable amino acids to your muscles. At this point, you want to stay away from fat and fiber which will only slow down protein’s journey through your system, but some simple carbs can help your body uptake protein by raising your post-training insulin levels. Try some watermelon or a banana as well, which are low in fiber but will contribute some vitamins and electrolytes.
What: Greek Yogurt with berries and granola (or chia seeds)
When: Within an hour after the workout
Why: Greek yogurt with some healthy toppings is a well-balanced package of protein, carbs and fat, that also provide some very specific fitness-related nutrients. Dozens of varieties of Greek yogurt can be found in every store. For the most part, one serving of plain Greek yogurt will provide 15-20 grams of protein without too much added sugar. If you top it with some fresh blueberries and maybe a little granola for crunch (or chia seeds or hemp seeds if you are gluten-free or want a little extra protein and healthy fats) you have a fast, convenient and perfectly balanced mini-meal. Greek yogurt is a good source of calcium, which helps support bone health and has also been associated with reduced body weight and decreased risk of obesity. (Interestingly, calcium combined with Vitamin D3, which is contained in your multivitamin, actually encourages fat loss.)
Endurance Training (running, cycling, swimming)
What: Acai Bowl with fruit
When: Within 30 minutes after the workout
Why: If you are putting in long miles, then carbs are what you need. The dark purple flesh of frozen acai berries is incredibly refreshing after a long ride or run and helps to replenish spent glycogen stores while its potent antioxidants (called anthocyanins) repair muscles and cool off inflammation. Top it with different colored fruit (strawberries, mangoes, blueberries) or some protein powder or nut butter if you won’t be able to have a more well-balanced meal (one that includes protein and fat) within a few hours.