Post-Workout Snacks

After an intense workout, it’s tempting to grab whatever food’s in front of you and chow down until you feel human again. But if you’re reading this, you probably don’t work like that. You put serious thought into what passes your lips – even when you’re dripping in sweat and short on time.

You get that the purpose of a post-workout snack is to help your muscles recover and restock your energy stores – not reward your workout, even if it included three rounds of burpees. Still, there’s a dizzying number of snack foods on grocery store shelves, from breakfast cookies to spicy kale chips. How do you pick one that’ll work best for you? Below we’ve identified the four most important things to keep in mind when selecting a post-workout snack, plus tasty on-the-go options you can find almost anywhere.

Refuel with the right amount of protein at the right time

Post workout snacks

To help repair and rebuild muscles, eat a post-workout snack within 30-60 minutes after exercise. Pick one with 20-25 grams of protein, and remember: A snack is not a meal. So, think about your daily caloric needs, weight and performance goals, hunger level, and how much time you have until your next meal when deciding how much eat.

If you typically eat a meal within an hour of exercise, use your breakfast, lunch, or dinner to refuel. If you’ve got a few hours before your next meal, be mindful of the total calories for your snack and your next meal.

Add carbs after long, hard workouts

In addition to 20-25 grams of muscle-repairing protein, work carbs into your snack after intense exercise. Some may need a carbs-to-protein ratio of 1:1 to 2:1.

If your workout lasted longer than 60 minutes – or you’ll work out again within the next 24 hours, pick a snack with a 1.5:1 ratio of carbs to protein, meaning 20-50 grams of carbohydrate depending on your needs.

Up that ratio to 2:1 if you’re feeling super low-energy after a sweat session, meaning you’re at an 8 to 10 on a perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10. You can also increase the size of your snack or up the amount of fat if you’re feeling especially drained. “Your body will tell you what it needs, listen to it,” says Laura Kunces, PhD, RD, Director of Research at EXOS.

String cheese; hummus with veggies or pretzels; veggies and pretzels with nut butter; and rolled-up slices of deli meat and cheese; and Greek yogurt with berries are some easy, on-the-go options that contain a good mix of protein and carbs and let you adjust quantities of protein and carbs. Plus, you can find them in any grocery store.

After light exercise, pick a low-carb snack

Post workout snacks

Following a less strenuous workout – think 45 minutes of jogging or vinyasa yoga – the snack you pick shouldn’t have more than a 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein. If your goal is weight loss, stick to that 1:1 ratio, or even go slightly lower. Beef jerky, mixed nuts or seeds, boiled eggs, whey protein isolate powder and water, a small pre-made chef salad, and broth-based soups (like minestrone) are all easy, lower-carbohydrate options that still provide some protein.

Be smart about satisfying your sweet tooth

You need carbs to replenish energy stores after long bouts of very intense exercise. Still, don’t go for a snack that’s all sugar. Soft drinks and candy are not going to properly refuel your body after a tough workout, warns Kunces. If you’re craving something sweet, grab some trail mix, chocolate milk, or Greek yogurt and berries – these on-the-go eats taste great but will still help you hit your goal of 20-25 grams of post-workout protein.