November 21, 2021

Which Healthy Snack Can Provide Protein After Physical Activity?

You just crushed a workout. You’re doing all the things, trying to keep that bod active and optimize your physical health. Plus, that stress release and endorphin rush from exercise?! Love it. Do yourself another favor and refuel after your workouts! A healthy snack post-workout is a great way to show your body some self-love. 

Need for Carbohydrates

When we exercise, our body uses stores of carbohydrates called glycogen in our muscles. Glycogen is the main way we store glucose, which comes from breaking down carbohydrates in our food. This means replacing that glycogen after physical activity is essential.

 

Need for Protein

Additionally, our body needs protein to replace some amino acids that may have been used from our muscle tissue. During exercise, some of the proteins in our muscles can be broken down a bit. To replenish this and help our muscles stay strong, protein is key. 

 

Carbohydrates + Protein = Healthy Post-Physical Activity Snack

Because of the way our body uses fuel during physical activity as mentioned above, combining carbohydrate and protein in a post-workout snack is what we want to strive for. 

There are plenty of recommendations around specific ratios to target. Depending on the type of exercise, a typical ratio suggested is between 2-4:1 of carbohydrates to protein. This means you would consume, for example, 30 grams of carbohydrate and 15 grams of protein for a ratio of 2:1. 

We are not going to go in depth with ratios or grams in this article. That is best done on an individual basis with a sports dietitian who takes into account your individual needs and type, intensity and duration of exercise. 

For many of us though, it doesn’t have to be about calculating ratios. Whether you’re enjoying a nice yoga flow, a jog, a hike, a circuit training class, you can do your body a big favor by consuming a healthy snack or meal within 30 minutes or so after your workout. Let’s walk through some examples of healthy snacks that provide both carbohydrates and protein. 

 

Healthy Snacks that Can Provide Protein After Physical Activity

  • A smoothie made with Greek yogurt or a protein powder. Check out our Beet Smoothie or our Island Green Smoothie! Fruit provides the carbs, yogurt or protein powder provides the protein.
  • Toast (carb) with peanut butter or another nut butter (protein)
  • Toast (carb) with eggs (protein) and avocado
  • Fruit (carb) and eggs (protein)
  • Crackers (carb) with cheese (protein). Think of it like a mini charcuterie board! Add some olives, nuts or dried fruit if you have any on hand. 
  • Granola and fruit (carb) over yogurt (protein)
  • Energy bites (I’m a big fan of these 5 ingredient energy bites from Chef Savvy). Oats and honey provide the carbs, nut butter and flaxseed provide the protein.
  • Oatmeal (carb, protein) with banana slices (carb) and chopped almonds or walnuts (protein) 
  • Any leftovers you have that combine carbohydrate and protein. Have rice on hand? Toss it with beans or leftover chicken or fish, throw some herbs and a sauce on there and you’re good to go!
  • Tacos!! Tortilla (carb) plus some kind of meat (protein) and all the fixings
  • Chickpea pasta (carb and protein) with marinara sauce and nutritional yeast
  • Pasta (carb) with a sauce and some kind of meat, sliced chicken or crumbled sausage perhaps (protein)
  • Fruit (carb) and cottage cheese (protein)
  • Sandwich (bread = carb) with chicken or turkey meat (protein), cheese, load it up with mustard, hummus and whatever veggies you have on hand 
  • Pita (carb) filled with tuna salad (protein)

 

 

Now, let’s be clear about a few things. The point of this post is to share ideas. It is certainly NOT an exhaustive list, nor is it a commentary on morality of any foods mentioned or not mentioned here. We are not about labeling foods as good or bad over here at Nutriving. 

We simply want to provide some ideas for healthy snacks that are great to include after physical activity because they contain both carbohydrates and protein, which is key for refueling our bodies! 

 

I’ve alluded to it a bit throughout this article — but if you aren’t familiar with our philosophy here at Nutriving, you may be interested in these posts: 

infographic reviewing combining carbohydrate and proteins for healthy snack after physical activity

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About the Author: Kelly Wagner, MS, RD, LDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian (RD) based in Chicago, IL. I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings, including dialysis, ICU, as well as one-on-one nutrition counseling and groups.