Sure, you work out to burn off calories—but in the process, you're using precious nutrients that are begging to be restored once you've taken off your gym shoes. The trick with post-workout eating is to get the sustenance you need without going overboard. On one hand you need food, but on the other hand your exercise routine isn't doing a lick of good for your waistline if you replace all of the calories you've just sweated out—no matter how tempting it is to tell yourself you "deserve" that ice cream sundae. The best foods to eat after a workout are those that contain protein and carbohydrates. According to WebMD, protein allows you to build lean muscle tissue after hitting the gym, while carbohydrates help you replace glycogen, which is sugar stored in your muscles for workout energy. Try these 6 food ideas to eat after your workout.
1. Almond butter and apple slices - When I was in the third grade, my mom used to send me to school with an apple that had been cored and stuffed with peanut butter. It turns out this childhood treat also makes a powerful post-exercise snack, although these days I know that almond butter, with more fiber, iron, vitamin E and magnesium, is the nutritionally superior pick. The apple provides the carbohydrates in this delicious duo, while the almond butter provides the protein. Just go easy on the nutty stuff; it has plenty of fat, and each 2-tablespoon serving packs in nearly 200 calories.
2. Greek yogurt and blueberries - Greek yogurt contains healthy probiotics and is higher in protein than traditional yogurt. Go for the plain, fat-free variety and spruce it up with some carb-rich blueberries, which also provide plenty of vitamin C.
3. Cheese and whole-grain crackers - Cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium, while crackers made from whole wheat, rye or spelt provide carbohydrates with a healthy dose of fiber. Regular cheeses are high in saturated fat though, so choose a low-fat variety. Low-fat fetas are fantastic because they're naturally lower in calories than most other cheeses but have plenty of flavor.
4. Smoked salmon sandwich - Salmon not only contains protein, but is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol levels and may fight dangerous inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Choose a whole-grain bread for healthy carbs, and add some tomatoes, onions and arugula to get your veggies in.
5. Trail mix - It's the same fruit-and-nut concept as apples and nut butter, but a perfect choice for those who love chewy dried fruits and crunchy nuts. Avoid trail mixes with added sugar or candy peices, opting instead for a mix of healthy nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans along with raisins, dried pineapple, dried cranberries or other non-sugar coated fruits.
6. A balanced meal - If you're really hungry, a snack won't do. Maximize your meal with a healthy balance: Half your plate should be piled with veggies, while the other half should be divided between lean proteins like fish, organic tofu or beans and whole grains like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta.
image: elana's pantry