Help your muscles recover faster with these nutritious meals that complement your hard work.
There are some non-negotiables of life: Shay Mitchell is #bae, black leggings are a closet staple, and getting mansplained at the gym is the absolute worst. One more? You need to eat after you work out.
First, a little sweat-sesh science: Your body stores excess energy in the form of glycogen, protein, ketones—each produced from your macronutrient intake—and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule responsible for providing energy in both anaerobic and aerobic capacities. When you exercise, your body takes that energy out of storage to burn as fuel. Typically, it grabs from the glycogen bucket first (unless you're on the keto diet which is meant to put your body into ketosis so it instead burns ketone bodies from fat). The type of workout you do will also affect the type of energy you use most. But regardless, at the end of any session, you'll need to replenish those stores—period. You're going to want to focus on eating complex carbs to replenish lost glycogen and protein to speed up muscle recovery—a must after weight training, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., certified yoga instructor and owner of Keri Gans Nutrition.
And while there's no shortage of high-protein recipes or tasty post-workout snacks with a solid amount of carbs, there is a shortage of time and effort, especially after a tough workout. Not to mention that, ideally, you want to refuel within about 30 minutes of working out, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This is where these simple, four-ingredient recipes come in. We tapped nutritionists for some easy post-workout meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so you can have the food you need no matter what time of the day you like to work out.
Post-Workout Breakfast Recipes
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This easy-to-make smoothie will have you feeling nostalgic for your favorite drink as a kid. "The juice made with Concord grapes contains polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) which are good for heart health and helps with refueling the body for recovery," says registered dietitian Jim White, R.D.N., ACSM exercise physiologist and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.
How to make it: Add 1 scoop protein powder, 1/4 cup grape juice, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, and 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk to the blender. To make it thicker, add ice. To make it sweeter, add some frozen berries or use sweetened almond milk.
Athletes have sworn by the performance benefits of beet juice, such as faster runs, improved endurance, and increase blood and oxygen flow to working muscles. This last bit is reportedly thanks to the high levels of dietary nitrate found in beets. This turns into nitric oxide, which may increase blood flow. You can easily add more bright beets into your diet with this post-workout smoothie from registered dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, who drinks this one after every workout. (Next up: How to Make a Beet-Juice Shot and Why You Should)
How to make it: Add 1 cup of Greek yogurt, a few handfuls of kale, 1/2 an apple, and 1/4 of a beet to a blender. To make it thicker, add ice.
Sunny Banana Oatmeal
This is a creamy, protein-packed hot breakfast that's great for winter mornings. "When picking out oats, opt for regular or quick-cooking over instant oatmeal that might be pre-sweetened and hide a lot of sugar," says Gans. Nutrition bonus: Sunflower seed butter typically has more protein than your go-to almond butter.
How to make it: Cook quick oats on the stove with 1/2 to 1 cup milk. Then top with 1 sliced banana and 1 heaping tablespoon sunflower butter. You can add vanilla extract, cinnamon, fresh berries, or toasted nuts for added crunch and flavor.
Post-Workout Lunch Recipes
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Salmon Stacked Toast
Lox actually makes a great post-workout ingredient because it's a high-quality protein, says Michalczyk. Plus, you'll get a boost of healthy fat with avocado.
How to make it: Add 3 pieces of smoked salmon to a slice of whole-grain toast. Top with 1/2 an avocado and a poached egg.
This is a perfect meal to replenish protein while also increasing your fiber and antioxidant intake, says registered dietitian nutritionist Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition. Plus, it's great for when you're on-the-go and don't have access to a stove or a microwave.
How to make it: Smear 3 tablespoons chunky almond or peanut butter on two slices of whole-wheat bread. Top one side with sliced bananas and apple. You can drizzle some honey or sprinkle with cinnamon if you need a touch of sweetness. Put the other slice of bread on top.
Salad is a great way to eat a variety of colorful, antioxidant-packed veggies, says Gans. Put this quick salad together with a miso dressing. Made from aged, fermented soybeans, miso paste is packed with probiotics, plus protein, fiber, and vitamin K, says Valdez. Buy a premade miso dressing, or try making your own with just miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.
How to make it: Fill your bowl with mixed greens. Top with 1 cup cooked edamame, 1 serving whole-wheat croutons, and miso dressing.
Post-Workout Dinner Recipes
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This provides protein from lean beef, carbs from pasta, and fiber from tomato sauce, and you get a ton of flavor from Parmesan, says Gans. Plus, the lean beef has zinc, which helps with protein synthesis, according to a study published in the The Journal of Nutrition.
How to make it: Cook pasta to package directions. In a separate pan, cook lean ground beef until browned, then add a can of premade tomato sauce to the mixture and heat until warm. Serve sauce over pasta and sprinkle with some Parm for taste.
Broiled Italian Salmon
Salmon is a great source of calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.
How to make it: Salmon is fatty enough that you can cook it without olive oil. Simply add a bit of Italian spices and lemon juice to a 4-ounce fillet before broiling, says Valdez. Pair it with baked potato wedges (skin-on) for carbs and satiety, and whatever veggie you have in the fridge for fiber.
It doesn't get much easier or tastier than this 4-ingredient recipe courtesy of Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., creator of our 30-Day Shape Up Your Plate Challenge. "It's a great workout meal thanks to the smart carbs (brown rice), protein (chicken), healthy fats (avocado), and antioxidant-packed produce," says Jackson Blatner.
How to make it: Layer a bowl with 1 cup cooked brown rice, topped with 4 to 6 ounces grilled chicken, 1/4 avocado, and whatever vegetables you want. Other suggested additions Jackson Blatner suggests: low-sugar salsa, lettuce, onions, or peppers.