Want to perform better? Train better- in the gym and with a nutrition plan! Nutrition is essential, especially during the teen years. Fuel your body the best way possible with exactly what it needs to help you become stronger, faster, and tougher. Being thoughtful and carefully planning what you eat before and after a workout will help you maximize the benefits of training. It’s simple! You need a post-workout snack within 2 hours after an exercise.
The best post-workout snacks include carbohydrates, protein, and fluid in order to refuel, rehydrate, and reenergize your body. Some of the best post-workout snacks for teenage athletes include chocolate milk, protein smoothie shakes, nut butter toast, Greek yogurt, bean burritos, PB&J sandwiches, pasta salad, and hummus and vegetables.
But how much protein do you need? How big of a snack should you eat? Here are my tips from a registered dietitian nutritionist for intentional nutrition after a workout. Enjoy these post-workout snacks below!
Also check out my post on the best Pre-Workout snacks for teens
What is the Best Post-Workout Snack?
After an invigorating workout or training session, you definitely want to refuel and rehydrate to replenish your body’s energy stores, build and heal muscle tissue, and help you adapt to training.
The best post-workout snack or meal contains a moderate amount of carbohydrates (about 60-90 grams), protein (15-30 grams), and fluid. Here are some of my favorites that meet this criteria.
See also: Meal Plan for Teenage Athletes
Dietitian-Recommended Post Workout Meal/Snack Ideas:
- 2 cups protein shake or fruit/veggie smoothie
- 16 oz chocolate milk
- Protein bar with 1 fruit
- 12 oz Greek yogurt with 1 cup fruit and ½ cup granola
- Nut butter toast with 1 glass milk and 1 banana
- ½ cup hummus with 12 crackers or veggies plus string cheese
- 2 string cheese and 100% juice
- PB&J sandwich
- 1.5 cups whole wheat cereal and 1 cup milk
- 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese and fruit
- Rice cakes with 1-2 tablespoons nut butter and a banana
- clean protein shake made with: 1-2 cups milk, handful of spinach, 1 frozen banana, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 Tablespoon chia/flax seeds, and 1 Tablespoon nut butter.
Don’t forget the water!
Why Should You Eat After a Workout?
During a workout you are using up energy stores in your body, sweating, breathing hard, breaking down muscle tissue, and putting stress on many parts of your body. Once your workout is finished you need to take care of your body so you can benefit from your training session, build your energy stores, adapt to training, and grow stronger for your next workout.
Just remember the words “refuel and rehydrate” post workout. You need to eat something that does both. Don’t fuel your body with crappy snack foods, focus on something that sounds good, makes you feel good, and tastes good. Some great options have been listed above. Everyone is different, and based on your tastes, preferences, culture, and background, you may like totally different foods. What are some of your favorite choices that I missed on the list?
When Should You Eat After a Workout?
Most people don’t want to eat much right after they finish working out. Rehydrate with a lot of fluid in the first minutes concluding a workout. Once you have had time to stretch, cool down, shower, and rest, you’ll probably start to feel hungry. This is a great time to refuel your body to refill your energy stores and eat for post-workout recovery.
About 30 minutes to 1 hour after exercise is the perfect window for a post-workout snack, or if it’s time for lunch or dinner, a post-workout meal.
What to Look For in a Post-Workout Snack:
Components of a Post-Workout Meal or Snack:
You’ll want your post-workout snack to be about 30 minutes to 1 hour after exercising. If it’s a snack it should be about 100-300 calories. If your post-workout snack coincides with a meal, then it should be about 600-800 calories. Either way, your post-workout food should include carbohydrates, protein, and fluid. Here’s why:
Carbs are your friend, and your body’s preferred fuel source during exercise. You have a limited amount of carbohydrate storage in your muscles, so you must regularly replenish carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise, as well as throughout the day. Carbohydrates also adapt the muscle to training so you can perform better next time.
What foods have carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are natural sugars, fiber, and starches. You can find carbohydrates mainly in fruits, dairy foods, breads and grains, and sugary foods. Avoid processed carbohydrates and stick with healthy and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and lowfat dairy. You’ll also want to decrease added sugars, it’s not a good idea to eat a lot of sugary foods right after a workout because your blood sugar will spike and later “crash”.
Post-workout carbohydrate examples include: Greek yogurt, granola bars, fruit, oatmeal, dried fruit, crackers, toast, juice.
Many athletes think protein is most important to consume after a workout, however, protein is important throughout the whole day. The goal is around 15-30 grams of protein after exercise, as well as 3-4 more times during the day. Regularly spaced protein throughout your day, at each meal and snack is a beneficial habit. Your body can’t store extra protein for later use, so you need to replenish regularly. If you eat extra protein that your body doesn’t need, it is dismantled, or broken down, and used for energy or other body processes, with the remnants being excreted.
When you exercise, your muscles are working hard and getting a lot of stress. Afterward, your body needs to repair your muscles and build them stronger and bigger. You need to eat protein for this to happen! You’ll want to refuel with protein after exercise plus regularly throughout the day to encourage the most muscle growth.
What foods have protein? The nutrient protein is found in foods from the protein food group: meat, beans, eggs, and nuts, and also dairy foods.
Post-workout protein examples include: a slice of turkey with cheese, hummus, a hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt, a handful of almonds, string cheese, chocolate milk.
What about protein powders and bars? Food first! Food is the best way to get the nutrition you need, but the right kind of protein powders can occasionally be appropriate, especially if you need some quick and easy nutrition right after a workout. Be aware of dosage and amount. Remember, you don’t need 3 scoops before, during, and after a workout like some of the guys you will see at the gym, your body can’t use that much protein at once.
Protein powder can be beneficial if you don’t want to eat a big snack but want to make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day, or when you need a quick on-the-go snack with high protein. I only use a few tablespoons by adding it to my smoothies/shakes, oatmeal, or plain milk.
Check out my post: Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? for additional tips with protein powders and recommendations of the best and safest brands for teenagers.
Make sure you are always well hydrated- before, during, and after working out. Rehydrate after your workout, especially after exercise that causes you to sweat heavily. Dehydration can negatively affect your recovery and make you feel even more fatigued.
Examples: water is best, but you can also drink milk, milk alternatives, 100% juice, or Gatorade when appropriate. Avoid sugary beverages, caffeine, and soda.
What Happens if You Don’t Eat After Working Out?
Not refueling your body (aka eating and drinking) after a workout can cause some of these symptoms:
- feeling extra tired and fatigued
- poor mood and focus
- poor muscle recovery and more injuries
- low blood sugar
In more severe cases, muscle breakdown can happen and health consequences can be serious. Usually it’s okay to skip eating every once in a while after a workout, but don’t make a habit of it. Your recovery and training will be so much better if you refuel your body properly.
Should I Eat After a Workout Even if I’m Not Hungry?
Sometimes it takes a while for your body to recognize it needs food after a workout. You won’t always feel hungry after a workout, even if you need the fuel. That’s because your body is still cooling down and resting.
Not hungry immediately after your exercise? That’s okay! You really should get in the habit of eating at least a small snack within 2 hours after. That’s enough time to get home, shower, relax, and make a healthy snack or meal. And if you really aren’t hungry, at least choose a small amount of carbs and protein within the 2-hour window. A protein shake with some fruit is a great choice if you aren’t hungry for a big or heavy meal. Even if you ate right before your workout, do your best to eat something within the 2 hour window to refill your energy stores. At the very least, never forget water! Rehydrating is so important.
Start good nutrition habits to prevent injuries, improve your training, and fuel your body properly.
Is Chocolate Milk Good After a Workout?
Chocolate milk is a classic post-workout snack because it fits all the criteria. It contains carbohydrates (lactose and sugar), protein (milk protein), and fluid. Plus it tastes great and it’s super easy to pack along!
My weight training coach always had a fridge full of chocolate milk after our workout. It was the best post-workout snack! If you choose to drink it, you’ll probably want about 2 cups of chocolate milk after exercising. A lowfat chocolate milk can also be a great choice!
Here’s the nutrition breakdown of 2 cups of reduced fat chocolate milk versus 2 cups of regular chocolate milk:
|Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk||Regular Chocolate Milk|
|Calories:||382 calories||418 calories|
|Protein:||14 grams||16 grams|
|Carbohydrates:||60 grams||52 grams|
You may not want to have chocolate milk everyday or after every workout. Mix it up a little bit. Chocolate milk can be high in calories, sugar, and fat. Sometimes your body needs those nutrients, and sometimes it doesn’t. You may want to only choose chocolate milk if your workout was intense, longer than 1 hour, and you were sweating heavily.
What is a Good Protein Snack After Working Out?
Some high-quality protein sources that help with post-workout recovery are meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and also beans, nuts, etc. However, many individuals don’t feel like eating a heavy meal with these foods soon after finishing a workout, that’s when protein supplements come in handy. A high-quality protein powder may be useful for refueling after a workout. Just blend it up with your choice of milk and some fruit for an easy and tasty recovery snack.
If you do feel like eating a bigger snack or meal, some great choices for protein are cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, chocolate milk or milk, hummus, eggs, a turkey sandwich, salmon, a tuna sandwich, chicken breast, etc.
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- Why do you need a post-workout snack? To refuel your body after a vigorous workout to have fuel for the rest of your day and to replenish energy stores. Also to heal, prevent injury, and boost training effectiveness.
- When do you need a post-workout snack? You should eat within 2 hours after a workout. That gives you enough time to cool down and get ready for your next activity in the day.
- What do you need for a post-workout snack? You should include carbohydrates, protein (15-30 grams), and fluid as part of a post-workout snack.
What is the Best Fruit After a Workout? Some fruits that can really help after a workout include berries, watermelon, oranges, bananas, and dried fruit. These are beneficial for their carbohydrates, water content, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Check out my post here for the best fruits for teenage athletes.
Is it OK To Workout on an Empty Stomach? If you like to workout first thing in the morning, it can be okay to workout on an empty stomach, but it’s better to eat at least something. You need a little fuel in the tank! If your workout is less than 45 minutes or not vigorous enough to build up a sweat, then you are likely fine to skip a pre-workout snack. Try to at least eat something with carbs such as a slice of toast, a handful of dried fruit, or a few sips of 100% juice, before a workout. Do what you can and your training, fitness, and recovery will improve! Check out my post here for pre-workout nutrition tips.
Can You Workout During Fasting? You can exercise during fasting (see my post on Intermittent Fasting for teens here), but just remember you should still eat within 2 hours after finishing a workout, and definitely stay hydrated during your workout! You won’t want to exercise if you are eating a very low amount of calories in a day.
Is It Better to Workout in the Morning or Night? There are slight differences in exercising in the morning versus the night, but the best time to workout is the time that you can fit into your schedule and the time that you can commit to regularly! Just make sure you are doing it! Many people find they like exercising in the morning because it is shown to keep them awake, alert, and energized, and it also may help decrease cravings for unhealthy food throughout the day.
- The BEST Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for a Teenage Athlete
- Best Supplements for Teenage Athletes
- What Should a Teenage Girl Eat in a Day?
- Best Meal Plan for Teenage Athletes
Written by Katherine Harmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
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