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10 Best Restaurant Meals to Eat After a Workout

You're crazy busy–we know. The fact that you make it to the gym regularly truly is a triumph, and to make it happen, you're often squeezing workouts in before client dinners and brunch plans with friends.

It's great that you manage to balance fitness, work, friends and family, but since your schedule doesn't typically allow for post-pump home cooking, you have to get your restaurant order right—especially if you want to lose weight and make your workouts count. Luckily, if you know what to look for doing so isn't a terribly difficult feat. From delis and casual salad shops to five-star seafood and steak restaurants, there are healthy options no matter where you dine.

In general, you want to look for a meal with 10 to 20 grams of high-quality protein and a bit of carbohydrates. "This nutritional duo jumpstarts the recovery process and prevents muscle loss after a workout," explains Gina Consalvo, RD, LDN, Owner of Eating Well with Gina. And the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism burns off calories. Looking for more specific recommendations? No problem! We checked in with top diet and fitness experts to find out exactly which meals fit the nutritional bill.



"If I find myself at a sushi restaurant after a tough workout, I typically refuel with a bowl of edamame and two tuna rolls," says celebrity trainer and nutritionist, Jay Cardiello. "Steamed soybeans are low in calories and rich in essential amino acids and fiber, which can help tame that insatiable hunger that always seems to kick in after a tough workout. The rice in sushi helps replenish lost glycogen stores—the primary fuel that powers your muscles—and the tuna's omega-three acids fight off post workout inflammation and rebuild muscle that's been broken down during the workout."


If you're heading to a salad shop for a casual bite after your sweat session, there are plenty of options that can fuel the rest of your day and aid your weight loss efforts. "When making your salad, choose nutrient-rich greens like romaine, spinach or mixed greens, a fruit like mandarin oranges or raisins to provide a source of quick-absorbing carbs, a lean protein such as tuna or grilled chicken, beans or quinoa to add some additional carbohydrates and protein and balsamic vinaigrette or olive oil and vinegar to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in your nutrient-packed salad, " says Consalvo. Feel free to add-in any additional water-based veggies you crave, too. Broccoli, onion, carrots, peppers and cucumber are all delicious picks and are low-cal.


turkey deli sandwich

Grabbing a sandwich before heading back to the office? Make sure it's packed with ingredients that will do your body right. Start with wheat or white bread (both restore lost carbohydrate stores) and load it up with muscle-building turkey or grilled chicken. Add spinach, cucumber, tomato, onion and Dijon mustard or a drizzle of balsamic for some added nutrients and a hit of flavor, suggests Consalvo. Ask for a pickle on the side to replenish the salt and electrolytes lost through your sweat during your workout—this is especially important if you're exercising in hot or humid conditions or training for a marathon, explains Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN of Leah Kaufman Nutrition. If you're not a fan of the tangy veggie, grab a banana. The fruit is rich in potassium, which can ward off post-workout cramping, adds Kaufman.


"Pizza wouldn't be the best option post-exercise since it's high in saturated fat," warns Consalvo. "However, most pizza shops serve many healthy alternatives. I recommend a turkey sandwich on whole wheat or white with low-fat cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. The meat and dairy provide lean protein for muscle growth and the bread provides healthy, quick-absorbing carbohydrates. To round out the meal, add a side salad or a cup of minestrone soup."

Kaufman has a different stance. She says indulging in a post-workout slice is okay once and while as long as you don't make a habit of it. "Stick with a single veggie slice. The vegetables provide a hit of vitamins, the cheese provides some protein and the glucose from the crust replenishes glycogen (fuel) stores that become depleted during a tough workout." For an extra hit of protein, ask for a side of grilled chicken and throw it on top of your slice.


steak fajitas

Whether you're heading to a local cantina or a national chain like Chipotle, there are plenty of meal options that can help you reach your weight loss goals. Consalvo suggests ordering a grilled chicken burrito or burrito bowl. "Both meals provide lean protein to aid muscle growth and recovery, veggies to replenish nutrients and supply antioxidants, carbohydrates to refill fuel stores and a healthy source of fat to help muscles heal and optimize circulation." If you're in the mood for something a bit fancier, order the steak or chicken fajitas—with a few healthy alterations. Ask your server to hold the cheese, sour cream and tortillas, and ask for a side of guac and black beans instead. The platter-style combination serves up protein, fiber, complex carbs, healthy fats and vitamins—just what your muscle crave after a workout.


If you're not privy to all the lingo and menu picks, dining at a vegan restaurant can is a bit intimidating. To keep flavor and nutrition in check, remember two things: Avoid fake meat if you can (no matter how much you manipulate wheat gluten or tofu, it will never taste like meat) and consume a combination of protein and carbs to aid your post-workout recovery. Consalvo suggests getting a black bean burger with a side of veggies and hummus. A salad with beans, quinoa, avocado and veggies is another solid bet post-pump. Stick with oil and vinegar to keep calories in check; creamy dressings tend to pack extra calories and fat your body doesn't need.


broccoli omelet

A broccoli omelet is a solid re-fuel choice no matter what time of day you hit the gym, says Cardiello. "Eggs carry six grams of protein a pop and are high in branched-chain amino acids that aid muscle growth by warding off muscle breakdown and soreness," he explains. "Broccoli makes a good meal addition because the vegetable contains phytochemicals that help lower estrogen levels, increase testosterone and fight off body fat storage. Pair the omelet with a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread and organic peanut butter to add some carbs and healthy fats to your plate."


"Fishing for some muscle at your local grill? Then get hooked on wild salmon," suggests Cardiello. "When it comes to getting lean and packing on the muscle, salmon swims ahead of the pack. (And it's one of the 6 Best Fish for Weight Loss). A single restaurant serving is filled with 30 grams of muscle-building protein and omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that wards off metabolism-slowing inflammation." To round out your meal, order your fish with a side of broccoli and a sweet potato. The orange spud is "a good source of carbs, fiber and iron, making it ideal for muscle recovery replenishment," notes Cardiello.

"Choice" or "select" steak filets are other solid, protein-packed meal picks, notes Cardiello. Opt for a side of quinoa and a roasted veggie like asparagus or mushrooms to add carbs, protein, fiber and vitamins to your plate.


pasta primavera
Sure, the fettuccini alfredo looks amazing, but ordering that will more than undo your workout—it will undo any progress you've made during your past two or three workouts. To stay on track towards weight loss success and refuel your muscles, Consalvo suggests ordering wild salmon with a side of mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach, or a half portion of pasta primavera with grilled chicken. "Both of these meals provide all the nutrients (protein, carbs and a bit of fat) needed for recovery."

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Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh