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Did you know that eating a snack after you work out is just as important—if not more important—than grabbing a bite beforehand? You want to make sure you feed your body to help repair muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores, which are depleted after a strenuous workout. Wait—glyco what?
Glycogen is the source of energy most often used for exercise. When you eat carbohydrates, they break down into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose not needed right away gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen.
The best time to have a snack and refuel your body is within 45 to 60 minutes after a game, competition or workout. For the best muscle recovery, make sure you have some protein combined with a carbohydrate. Your muscles have a better recovery response when the two are combined.
Here are some quick snacks to fuel your body after a workout:
Portable Protein: A great on-the-go snack consists of boiled eggs and a piece of fruit. Grab two or three hard-boiled eggs with a fruit of your choice for the perfect combination of protein-to-carbohydrate to replenish your muscles. The cool thing is you can throw this snack in your gym bag and it will be ready to eat when you're done working out. Portable protein does require a bit of prep work, though. I suggest boiling a dozen eggs at once and keeping them in the fridge for convenience.
Greek Yogurt: Six ounces of non-fat Greek yogurt can pack up to 18 grams of protein, which helps repair muscle tissue. The yogurt is low in sugar and fat, which makes it an ideal snack any time of day. Add some berries and a handful of granola to quickly rebuild your energy stores.
Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Protein Shakes: These are good for a quick boost of protein after a workout. No mixing needed—just shake and drink. Several different brands cater to your performance needs and taste preferences. You can find RTD shakes at almost all grocery stores and some of the larger convenience stores.
Popeye's Power Protein Shake: If you don't like the common chocolate or vanilla RTD, get your mad scientist on and mix up a shake that meets your personal preference and taste. One of my favorites is Popeye's Power Protein Shake. Mix two scoops of whey protein, two handfuls of fresh spinach, half a banana, one tablespoon of flaxseed and eight to 10 ounces of almond milk (or use regular milk). Blend and enjoy! It packs a punch.
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk: Low-fat chocolate milk is a tasty post-workout drink that's ideal for muscle recovery. An eight- to 10-ounce glass provides the perfect mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat, giving you just the right amount of nutrients. Keep in mind that although something is good for you, more isn't always better—moderation is key.
The simple fact is that our bodies work better with a balance of carbohydrates and protein. Not only is protein essential for building healthy muscle and maintaining a strong immune system, it stabilizes insulin levels, which leads to steady energy throughout the day. So, remember to grab that snack after your workout.
Greg French is a registered licensed dietitian and certified personal trainer. He has worked with athletes of all ages across various sporting disciplines. Throughout his career, he has served on several advisory committees, and he is an active member of the Sports Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. French graduated from Georgia Southern University with honors and completed his dietetic internship at Emory University. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/actionfitnessmobile or on Twitter at twitter.com/actionfitness.