You've just worked out. You're sweaty, tired and hungry. At this point, anything will do, right? Wrong. It turns out, the food you eat after exercising may be the most important food you consume all day. Because if you don't refuel properly, you'll be left sore, exhausted and won't see the benefits you could be getting from the time you're putting into your fitness. Experts agree, within a 45-minute window from your workout, your body is the most responsive with absorbing needed carbohydrates and protein. Here are the best foods to rebuild those depleted muscles, without having to hit the health food store.
Ingrid Nelson, a Washington, DC-based personal trainer, has long recommended low-fat chocolate milk as an optimal recovery drink to her clients. It’s way better than your standard sports drink. In fact, researchers have found that chocolate milk restores muscle glycogen and rehydrates the body just as well as Gatorade. Plus, it packs a gold mine of calcium, healthy fats and up to 11 grams of natural whey protein.
Crunched for time? If you're not headed home after working out, stash some trail mix in your gym bag or car. A handful or two of the nuts and dried fruit delivers a quick shot of protein and healthy carbs. Tailor the mix to your taste by making a big batch at home. Combine banana chips, dried pineapple, almonds, walnuts, raisins and for an added protein boost, mix in some soy nuts (a half cup contains a whopping 34 grams).
In terms of nutritional powerhouses, an egg is the gold standard. At just 70 calories, one egg contains over six grams of protein, all nine essential amino acids and important branched-chain amino acids, which have been proven to reduce muscle damage after a workout. And don't let that Rocky scene fool you, raw eggs have no advantages over cooked ones. In fact, cooking eggs allows your body to absorb almost twice the amount of protein.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
It's not just about protein. During an intense workout, your body breaks down muscle glycogen, which is essentially your energy reserves. Good carbs, like sweet potatoes, are great for replenishing your glycogen stores, says nutritionist Dallas Hartwig, M.S., P.T, founder of Whole9 . They're also packed with vitamins, nutrients and a healthy dose of fiber to keep you full. Plus, a medium sweet potato is only about 100 calories. Pair with some grilled chicken, chop it up into a hash with eggs or blend some into a smoothie.
With double the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt, Greek yogurt is a nutrient-dense and protein-rich snack that will restore and repair your muscles after a workout. Keep in mind that not all yogurt contains healthful nutrients that suit post-workout meals. Choose a yogurt that's low in fat and sugar, that contains active cultures and that has less than 250 calories per serving, recommends nutritionists from the Mayo Clinic. They also suggest topping it with fresh berries which, thanks to their micronutrients, have been proven to help fight muscle soreness.
* FYI: Muscle soreness is related to muscle damage, which can promote, but is not required for, muscle growth. In a nutshell, unless your goal is to feel sore, then you don't need to be sore after every workout.