A post-workout snack isn’t just any snack. You want to make sure you're getting enough nutrients to protect those muscles you've put so much work into, and yet you don't want to down a protein shake that's twice the calories of what you just burned on the treadmill. It's a tricky balance and for most of us, and often trial and error to figure out what works best.
Trainers and coaches have spent their whole careers testing out what helps them refuel and recover after crushing it in the gym. Sadly, most of us aren't rich or famous enough to get a private session with the fitness elite to get their snacking intel. (And, no, we don’t recommend following a pro around the gym and taking a quick slurp of her shake when no one’s looking.) To spare you from having to go Special Ops for snacks, we've asked eleven of the country's foremost experts to tell you what they eat, when they eat it, and why—and you may be surprised by some of their answers!
1. Alfonso Moretti, personal trainer, champion bodybuilder and creator of The Angry Trainer fitness program
Keep it light for early morning workouts.
By sunrise, Alfonso Moretti is usually already in the gym, hitting the weights. Early morning workouts are his favorite, both for himself and his clients, but a tough interval session first thing in the morning can also be hard on your stomach. "If you’re going to be up for less than an hour prior to the workout, I’d suggest either exercising in a fasted state or eating a small piece of fruit to boost blood sugar levels. A big meal prior to exercise may make you nauseous and slow you down." He adds that if you're new to early morning workouts then your body will need to learn to make and provide energy for the session in the absence of calories.
If nausea is slowing you down, he suggests bringing a watered-down sports drink and to start sipping it after 20 minutes into the session to provide a slow stream of energy and keep your blood-sugar levels stable.
2. Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, CrossFit trainer and nutritionist
CrossFit is known for being a super-intense workout that relies on both strength and aerobic fitness (and knee socks). So post-sweat fest Erica Giovinazzo makes sure she replenishes her energy and maintains her hard-earned muscles. "I have a protein shake mixed with fruit. Because our bodies have used up all our glycogen stores after a hard workout and basically all the energy it had, it is important to refuel it with both carbs, which will be absorbed by muscles first, and protein to help prevent the breakdown of muscles for protein. Plus the liquid [form] helps you absorb those nutrients fast."
And steer clear of fatty snacks as they'll slow down digestion and absorption, she cautions. Plus, who wants belly bloat after all that core work? Erica swears by Stronger, Faster, Healthier (SFH) Pure Vanilla Protein, “This stuff is the best! Grass-fed whey protein sweetened with stevia.” She adds a scoop to a cup of unsweetened almond milk with a half a cup of frozen blueberries and pureed pumpkin and tops it with a half a teaspoon of cinnamon.
3. Matt Frazier, author of No Meat Athlete and founder of nomeatathlete.com
Your muscles burn through glycogen (a form of sugar) when you exercise, so it's important to replace that source of energy or you'll be dragging the rest of the day. Matt says this is the perfect opportunity to indulge your sweet tooth. (Did we really just get told by a health professional to go eat a treat? Best. Day. Ever.) "I like to replace sugars immediately after a long workout, ideally within the first few minutes of finishing, so usually that means fruit juice or a half a watermelon or a few bananas," he explains. "Or sometimes I eat simple carbohydrates, like white bread or rice. It's about the only time I think refined grains are beneficial."
4. Nia Shanks, coach, health and fitness writer, and author of 33 Ways to Break Free from Binge Eating
Nia Shanks likes to follow the seasons when it comes to her workout re-fueling, especially if she's getting her sweat on outdoors. This time of year she's all about her homemade chili. "It's perfect after a workout because it's warming, filling, spicy, and loaded with plenty of yummy carbs and protein," she explains.
Chili may not be the first thing most of us think of after a tough workout, but now that we see it from Shanks’s perspective, it's kind of perfect! Plus, her recipe has a secret ingredient—Bison—a great source of lean protein.
5. Dolvett Quince, trainer on The Biggest Loser and author of The Biggest Loser Bootcamp (available January 6th)
Fruits and veggies for the win.
You've seen him in action helping people achieve their health goals on one of the most popular shows in the country, but what does Dolvett Quince swear by when it comes to his own workouts? Protein powder mixed with lots of fresh fruits and veggies. It's an easy way to get your “five-a-day” in and, well, just one look at the man will show you he knows his way around a blender (and a gym). "A huge protein shake made with Progenex powder and handfuls of fruit and kale or spinach is my go-to," he says.
6. Brian Gallagher, co-founder of Throwback Fitness
Protein shakes are as ubiquitous in gyms as dumbbells, and with good reason: we've all been taught we need protein to build and maintain muscle. And while that's true, Brian Gallagher says you don't need to get fanatical about it. He too used to be a protein shake groupie, but his conviction was tested one day after he ran out of protein powder. "I finished my workout, and didn't end up eating a meal until about 90 minutes after and still felt great, without noticing slower recovery, decreased performance, or lower endurance," he explains. "So I decided to stop buying protein powder, and now I just eat something clean, like a salad or eggs, after my workouts. I no longer worry about how soon after, and I actually feel better about not ingesting processed protein powders. I prefer whole foods whenever possible."
He's also a fan of chocolate milk after a hard workout (really who wouldn’t be?), and his simple method has the added bonus of being frugal. With Gallagher’s approach, you can skip the protein powder and save up for those new Nikes you were eyeing.
7. Lori-Ann Marchese of Bravo's Game of Crowns, former Miss Connecticut, and CEO of Body Construct Fit
Take advantage of chemistry.
As an actress on Game of Crowns, a former beauty pageant winner, a bikini competitor, and gym owner, Lori-Ann Marchese has done a lot of things when it comes to sculpting her body. For her, it's all about feeding that muscle she works so hard to get in the gym, and one big thing she uses are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). She adds a couple of scoops of BCAA supplement powder to her protein shake. It may sound technical but these little guys help keep muscle even if you're dieting. "It's very important to fuel your body within 30 minutes after your workout with protein and branch amino acids for muscle recovery and repair," she says. "This will help with muscle growth to get that lean-looking body. And the more muscle you have the more fat you burn!"
8. Adam Gilbert, coach and CEO of My Body Tutor
Fear not the carbs! While cutting out carbs is very popular in some fitness circles, Adam says that not only should you eat carbohydrates, but they can also enhance your workout and help you recover better afterward. And, no, they won't make your stomach balloon out Michelin-man style. His go-to pre-workout snack is a rice cake topped with nut butter and cinnamon. "The rice cake is a great source of complex carbs which gives me energy throughout my workout. The nut butter is a good source of protein and fat which keeps me satiated. And cinnamon not only makes it tastier, but it's also been proven to help stabilize our blood sugar."
9. Jessie Pavelka, trainer on Season 16 of The Biggest Loser and television host of Obese: A Year to Save My Life
Don't be afraid to try 'weird' foods.
"Post-workout meals are extremely important. You break down the muscle ... and the body is screaming for something to replenish and rejuvenate itself," Jessie Pavelka says. And when it comes to his own health, he likes to get creative with the basic protein smoothie, adding exotic ingredients known for being nutritional powerhouses. Take his favorite smoothie: adding cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar, the raw honey is a tasty source of macronutrients and a natural antibiotic, and the maca powder is a traditional South American root said to give you energy. (Maca is also said to be a natural Viagra. Do with that information what you will.) So, how do you make Jessie’s "weird" smoothie? Throw a cup of mixed berries together with a handful of kale and one scoop of your favorite protein powder. Add a tablespoon of maca and raw honey each and top with cinnamon. Sounds weirdly delish to us!
10. Adam Bornstein, Founder of Born Fitness, New York Times best selling author
You know that coworker that comes back to the office with a burger and fries, perfuming the whole floor with the scent of takeout, totally oblivious to the feeding frenzy he’s just unleashed on his fellow coworkers? Well Adam Bornstein is that guy, but in the gym. Like other trainers he's a big fan of protein, and while he doesn't mind the occasional protein shake, his real post-workout love is a chicken rice bowl. "I have grilled chicken, white rice, grilled veggies like onions, peppers, and bok choy, and [top with] Sriracha. Sometimes I even drizzle a little honey on top," he says. (Mmmm, you had us at Sriracha.) Bornstein’s take: Why go for powders or pre-fab shakes when you can go full-on dinner?
11. Kira Stokes, celebrity trainer, creator of the Stoked Method and Stoked Series classes
Use plant-based protein.
Just because you go beast mode in the gym doesn't mean your protein shake needs to be animal too. Like many trainers, Kira is a big fan of the post-workout protein shake but she uses protein powder made from hemp and sprouted brown rice—a perfect option for vegans or people who have a hard time digesting whey and soy protein powders. And despite how it sounds, Kira says it's just as tasty as regular protein powders.
But don't stop at just a shake! Kira says the protein shake should be just a snack, not a meal. "About an hour after my workout, I will fuel up with another snack size portion of lean protein and veggies," she says. "I graze all day long rather than indulging in large meals. You must feed the machine to keep it running!"