Most athletes know of the importance of eating before exercise, however, what and when you eat after exercise can be just as important. While the pre-exercise meal can ensure that adequate glycogen stores are available for optimal performance (glycogen is the the source of energy most often used for exercise), the post-exercise meal is critical to recovery and improves your ability to train consistently. Here are the 15 best workout snacks to keep you fueled and energized.
1. Dates and Peanut Butter
Slice open pitted Medjool dates (a large, sweet variety of dates) and slide a half-tablespoon of peanut butter inside. The fiber in dates helps keep your blood sugar from spiking and stabilizes your energy levels. Stick a couple in a zip-top bag and stash them in your gym bag for your afternoon workout, or leave them on your nightstand for a quick snack before you head out for a morning run.
2. Deviled Eggs with Hummus
Crave something more savory than sweet? Spread 2 tablespoons of hummus on a hard-boiled egg for a snack that’s packed with 9 grams of protein. And yes, include the yolk—it contains crucial amino acids that aid in muscle repair, Kenney says. Sprinkle the whole thing with chives for extra flavor.
3. Pistachio and Raisins
About a quarter-cup of any dry-roasted nut provides just the right amount of protein and good-for-you fats. Pistachios rank high on every trainer’s list because they’re richer in potassium – an electrolyte that you lose through sweat, than most other nuts. Pair them with the quick-burning fuel of raisins—according to a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the naturally occurring carbohydrates in raisins make them a good alternative to pricier sugary sports candies and gels.
4. Rice Bars With Peanut Butter and Maple Syrup
Follow this famous chef’s gluten-free recipe, which you can make in 2 minutes flat: Combine a quarter-cup peanut butter (zap it in the microwave for 45 seconds to soften it up) with 1 cup leftover cooked rice and 2 tablespoons 100% maple syrup. Spread the mixture in an 8×8-inch glass container and store in the fridge. Cut into thirds to fuel three 30- to 45-minute workouts.
5. Juice With Protein Powder
Another key feature of a workout snack: It should be easy on your stomach. If solid food upsets yours, try a liquid option. One cup of fruit juice can provide 30 grams of carbohydrates, enough to get some energy going before that morning workout. Stir a scoop of your favorite vanilla protein powder into OJ or cranberry juice for a no-blender-needed smoothie.
6. Chocolate of Soy Milk?
Both beverages contain a good carbs-to-protein ratio to refuel and rebuild your muscles, especially after a challenging workout. They’re also both rich in bone-boosting calcium; according to recent research presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, getting a dose of this important nutrient before you exercise prevents you from losing too much calcium through sweat.
7. Banana with Peanut Butter
This option tops the experts’ lists for good reason: A banana offers a perfectly portable source of complex carbohydrates and contains potassium to ward off muscle cramps. And whether you prefer peanut, cashew, or almond butter, you’re adding muscle-building protein and healthy fats to provide your body with longer-burning fuel.
Just crack open a can, rinse to remove extra sodium, season with a squirt of lemon juice, and pop them in your mouth. A quarter-cup of these legumes gives you 10 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs, including almost 9 grams of fiber—which extends the heart-healthy benefits of your workout by helping reduce your cholesterol levels.
9. Ezekiel Bread and Cheese
Aim for a cut above your average slice: Ezekiel bread contains whole sprouted grains, which tend to be more easily digested. Sprouting also releases more antioxidants from the grain. Combine with cheese—which provides protein and fat for longer-lasting energy—and you’ll end up with a quick and nourishing pre- or post-exercise sandwich.
10. Pear and Sunflower Butter
Pears are easily portable and provide carbs along with water for hydration. If you have a peanut allergy, sub in sunflower butter; like peanut butter, it contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help reduce muscle damage from exercise.
11. Apple and String Cheese
Like all fruits, apples contain hunger-fighting fiber and pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Just make sure you eat the peels too: A recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found more free-radical fighting polyphenols concentrated there than in the flesh (choose organic apples to avoid pesticides). String cheese provides protein and a pleasing salty accompaniment to the sweet fruit.
12. Overnight Oatmeal
Another quick and easy recipe: Combine a cup of Greek yogurt with ½ cup old-fashioned oats, 1½ tablespoons maple syrup, and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. Refrigerate overnight, and the oats plump up from the liquids in the yogurt. In the morning, just sprinkle your favorite nuts and dried fruit on top and you’re set—no stove or microwave needed.
13. Banana Split Smoothie
Sure, it sounds like a treat, but this recipe actually whips up a protein-rich power source. Blend a ½ cup each of pineapple, strawberries, and fat-free milk with a ripe banana, a cup of plain Greek yogurt, a tablespoon of chocolate sauce, and one cup of ice.
14. Sliced Avocado With Lemon
Think beyond guacamole: Slices of smooth, creamy avocado sprinkled with lemon juice serve as a high-quality workout snack on their own. Not only do the healthy fats they contain provide long-burning fuel during your workout, they also keep your eyes, skin, and heart healthy over the long haul.
15. Sweet Potato and Toppings
Pop a medium-sized sweet potato in the microwave for about 4 to 5 minutes. When it’s cooked, top it with Greek yogurt, black beans, or lean ground turkey with salsa. This mini-meal provides dense protein and a rich store of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which protect your cells from the wear and tear of exercise. Just one sweet potato boasts more than 21,000 IU of the antioxidant vitamin A and more potassium than a banana.