Overeating is a major mistake people make after a tough workout, but they aren’t entirely wrong in their impulse. It’s important to replenish our bodies with nutrients after exercise, and the window is short—we just have to make sure to choose the right type of foods.
After a strenuous workout, the body’s glycogen supply is severely depleted. Glycogen, a form of energy that is produced by our muscles, can be regenerated and can repair muscle mass quickly if carbohydrates and protein are consumed within 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, says nutritionist Heather Calcote. The sooner you can eat after a workout, the better.
The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is four to one, or four grams of carbs for every one gram of protein. That said, supplements like protein bars and gels are not ideal post-workout foods, says personal trainer Allyn Blind. For example, she points out that while the drink Muscle Milk contains plenty of protein, it also has three times more calories than those burned during a 20-minute session on the elliptical.
Whether you’re headed to the office or making dinner after your next workout, here are some of the best foods to eat and drink to meet the ideal carb-protein ratio.
1. Chocolate milk
Believe it or not, chocolate milk has proven effective in refueling one’s body after a workout, since it contains the ideal amount of carbs and protein. A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that chocolate milk was more effective in recovery than fluid replacement drinks, such as Gatorade. Nutritionist Danielle Omar is a fan because “it’s natural and it’s not a supplement. When you add the chocolate, it does have that perfect ratio.”
2. Yogurt smoothie
There’s no need for protein powder in your post-workout shake, contrary to popular belief. Calcote recommends using Greek yogurt as a substitute for the powder, since it’s natural and is actually higher in protein. And don’t forget to include some carbs, adds Omar. Throw in a banana with milk or juice. For some micronutrients, pour in a serving of coconut water.
3. Breakfast wrap with eggs
If you have more time after a morning workout, scramble some eggs and toss them into a whole wheat tortilla. Eggs are a great source of protein—one egg contain six grams, which is about 12 percent of the daily recommendation. If you’re worried about fat or cholesterol, get rid of the yolks and use just the whites.
4. Peanut butter sandwich
“It’s simple, it’ll stay fresh during a workout, and it’s cheap,” says Omar. Munch one on your way to work after hitting the gym, and you’ll get your carb and protein fix easily. Not filling enough? We recommend adding banana slices or honey.
5. Lean meats and a carb-friendly side dish
Oftentimes we’re ravenous after a long day at work and subsequent gym session. For a post-workout dinner, stick to protein and carbohydrate sources, Blind says, but “look to lean meats such as chicken or fish, and a nutrient-dense carbohydrate such as sweet potato or brown rice.”