When you need a post-workout meal, your first thought is probably not a salad. But with the right ingredients, a healthy salad can be a great way to refuel and build muscle. The trick is to top your greens with ingredients high in protein, carbohydrates and the right amount of healthy fats. Built the right way, a salad can both tame your hunger and fuel your next workout.
Here are some healthy building blocks from which to construct your salad.
The base should consist of dark greens like spinach, romaine lettuce or kale.
Spinach. Per cup—Calories: 7 Fat: 0g Carbs: 1g Protein: 3g
- Spinach is rich in vitamins A and K as well as protein to strengthen bones and muscles.
Opt for chopped raw vegetables like carrots, red bell peppers and broccoli. They contain vitamins A, C, B9 and minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. Avoid processed additives such as croutons and tortilla chips.
Sweet Potatoes. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 57 Fat: .03g Carbs: 13.38g Protein: 1.04g
- Sweet potatoes are a low glycemic food, meaning the carbohydrates are digested gradually, fueling you throughout your entire workout.
Broccoli. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 15 Fat: .17g Carbs: 3.02g Protein: 1.28g
- Broccoli is full of good carbohydrates and bone strengthening calcium.
Carrots. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 26 Fat: 0g Carbs: 6.15g Protein: .6g
- Carrots are a good source of carbohydrates and contain beta-carotene, which converts vitamin A to improve eye health.
Include some cooked beans like red kidney beans, soybeans or chickpeas for a blast of plant-based protein.
Kidney Beans. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 109 Fat: .44g Carbs: 19.96g Protein: 6.72g
- Kidney beans (and beans in general) are good plant-based sources of protein.
Chickpeas. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 143 Fat: 1.37g Carbs: 27.14g Protein: 5.94g
- Chickpeas supply generous amounts of carbohydrates and fiber to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Nuts & Seeds
Add crunch to your salad with a handful of heart-healthy nuts like walnuts, almonds or pecans. Other options include sunflower or pumpkin seeds, which are rich in vitamins B and E, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
Almonds. Per 1/4 cup—Calories: 207 Fat: 18.1g Carbs: 7.06g Protein: 7.6g
- Raw almonds are high in protein and fiber, which refuel your muscles and keep you feeling full longer.
Walnuts. Per 1/4 cup—Calories: 196 Fat: 19.56g Carbs: 4.11g Protein: 4.57g
- Walnuts are another great protein source that make a great addition to any salad.
Sunflower Seeds. Per 1 tbsp.—Calories: 47 Fat: 4g Carbs: 2g Protein: 1.5g
- There's a reason baseball players eat these seeds. They're a good source of carbohydrates, and the sodium protects against muscle cramps.
Dried fruits like raisins, dates or apricots, or chopped fresh fruits like apples, bananas or strawberries, offer immune boosting antioxidants and added sweetness.
Raisins. Per 1/4 cup—Calories: 108 Fat: .17g Carbs: 28.7g Protein: 1.11g
- Raisins are a fantastic option after a workout, thanks to their combo of complex carbohydrates, sugars and potassium.
Dates. Per 1/4 Cup—Calories: 125 Fat: .17g Carbs: 33.39g Protein: 1.09g
- Dates provide energy and fuel muscle growth.
Apples. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 29 : .09g Carbs: 7.6g Protein: .14g
- Apples are high in carbohydrates and fiber, helping to fill you up.
Bananas. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 67 Fat: .25g Carbs: 17.13g Protein: .88g
- Bananas are a great pre- or post-workout food because of their healthy carbohydrates and potassium, which helps with muscle contraction.
Strawberries. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 24 Fat: .23g Carbs: 5.84g Protein: .51g
- Strawberries are high in vitamin C and complex sugars for energy.
Avocados. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 120 Fat: 11g Carbs: 6.4g Protein: 1.5g
- Avocados are loaded with healthy fats, offering 82.5 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving.
Fish & Meat
Lean meats like salmon, grilled chicken and turkey are better options than high-fat, low-nutritional value toppings like bacon, bacon bits or high-sodium ham.
Grilled/Baked Chicken Breast. Per 4 ounces—Calories: 184 Fat: 3.97g Carbs: 0g Protein: 34.45 g
- Chicken breast is an excellent lean source of protein with little fat when grilled or baked instead of fried.
Grilled/Baked Salmon. Per 4 ounces—Calories: 161 Fat: 7.19g Carbs: 0g Protein: 34.45g
- Salmon is one of the healthiest sources of protein from fish, and it has lower levels of mercury than other fish. If you're not interested in cooking, canned salmon is a quick and easy addition.
Grilled/Baked Tuna. Per 4 ounces—Calories: 180 Fat: 2g Carbs: 0g Protein: 24g
- Tuna is another great source of protein and it's a go-to choice for many athletes. Like salmon, you can opt for canned tuna for a quick fix.
Grilled/Baked Turkey Breast. Per 4 ounces—Calories: 118 Fat: 1.88g Carbs: 4.77g Protein: 19.36g
- Make sure to choose white, non-deli meat, which is lower in sodium and nitrates.
Top your salad with hard boiled eggs instead of deviled eggs, which are loaded with extra fat and calories from the mayonnaise. For more flavor, add grated or shredded cheese such as feta, low-fat mozzarella or Parmesan.
Hard Boiled Eggs. Per 2 eggs—Calories: 155 : 10.61g Carbs: 1.12g Protein: 12.58g
- Hard boiled eggs supply protein and are loaded with choline, which helps carry messages between nerves and muscles.
Grated/Shredded 2% Cheese. Per 2 tbsp.—Calories: 42 Fat: 2.73g Carbs: .34g Protein: 3.79g
- Cheese is high in protein and builds strong bones—just opt for 2%!
2% Cottage Cheese. Per 1/2 cup—Calories: 203 Fat: 4.63g Carbs: 8.2g Protein: 31.05g)
- Cottage cheese has the highest amount of protein of any cheese.
Top your salad with a light vinaigrette dressing like balsamic, Italian or herbal. Avoid dressings such as Caesar and blue cheese, which can be high in fat, sodium and even sugar.
Light Vinaigrette Dressing. Per 2 tbsp.—Calories: 30 Fat: 1g Carbs: 4g Protein: 0g
- Light vinaigrette is an olive oil based dressing high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock