9 Best Post-Workout Snacks to Build Muscle, According to a Sports Dietitian
Whew! Good workout. Once you finish your cool-down routine, you probably assume you're done exercising for the day. I hate to break it to you, but no—you're not done quite yet. Until you've refueled your body with a post-workout snack, your muscle-building work isn't finished. It's time to eat to recover from exercise and help your muscles grow.
"Your goal should be to eat your post-workout snack as soon as you can after exercise—within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. But if you can do it faster, great," advises Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a sports dietitian, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, and member of our medical expert board.
Just like the terrycloth towel or sponge you may use to mop up your sweat after exercising, your muscles are like a sponge ready to absorb the carbohydrate fuel that powered your workout and the protein that will be used for muscle growth. So as you wipe things down, the towel or sponge's absorption can serve as a reminder to prioritize eating a post-workout snack to help build muscle.
Another way to think about building muscle relative to what and when you should eat a snack is to remember the three Rs: replenish, rehydrate, and rebuild. As the basic tenets for healthy eating habits that help fortify and fuel muscle growth, the three Rs are a great foundation for determining which types of snacks can further optimize your strength training and muscle-building efforts. At the same time, knowing specifically which snacks or snack combos are best to have after working out can be more than a notion.
To help you pick quality post-workout snacks that can support muscle growth without undermining all the hard work you put in at the gym, Goodson gave a few snack suggestions with all of this in mind. Read on to learn more about which post-workout snacks can help build and sustain muscle growth, and for more expert tips on what to consume to aid in muscle development, check out the Most Crucial Eating Habits for Stronger Muscles, According to a Dietitian.
Replenish your glycogen stores and rehydrate
First, replenish the glycogen that your muscles have burned to power your workout.
"Immediately after exercise, eat simple carbohydrates because they promote recovery at a faster rate," Goodson says, also noting that simple carbohydrates "break down quickly."
You'll also want to rehydrate to replace the fluids you lost through sweat and respiration during your workout. Though water is great, H2O is not the only drink able to serve as a solution to proper hydration. After an intense workout, your body also needs electrolytes as well as minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which your cells use to conduct the electrical charges your muscles use to contract.
For snacks that will replenish your body's glycogen stores while also rehydrating, Goodson suggests:
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Low-fat milk with a granola bar or fruit
- A smoothie made with milk yogurt and fruit
- A sports drink with a protein bar
Rebuild muscle with high-protein snacks
Because muscle fibers tear during exercise, rebuilding or repairing them is essential. To help repair your muscles post-workout, make sure you get some good protein that's also rich with amino acids. Think speed when packing in protein, too.
"While all proteins can fit in the post-workout snack, whey protein is the quickest digesting protein and naturally contains the highest content of leucine—a branch chain amino acid that has been shown to stimulate muscle resynthesis after a workout," Goodson explains.
For snacks that will rebuild and repair muscle, Goodson suggests:
- A smoothie made with whey protein powder and water paired with a banana
- A smoothie made with whey protein powder, honey, fruit, and water
- Beef jerky, milk, and fruit
- A high-protein bar also containing a carbohydrate
- Ready-to-drink protein shake with carbohydrates
Following up your post-workout snack
Wait! Your muscle building post-workout routine isn't quite over yet! For optimum muscle building, Goodson recommends that you follow your post-workout snack with another large snack or meal within two hours of the end of your exercise session.
"This meal should contain complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fat, veggies, fruit if possible, and fluids," Goodson says.
For a post-workout follow-up bite, consider eating any of these larger meal options:
- Oatmeal with peanut butter, a banana, and low-fat milk
- Scrambled eggs, bagel with 100% fruit jam, sausage, and fruit
- Whole wheat tortilla with lean protein, cheese, and vegetables, whole grain pretzels, hummus, and cold pasta salad
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread with string cheese and pita chips
- Beef and veggie kabobs, roasted potatoes, salad, and fruit
- Fish, sweet potatoes, salad with vinaigrette dressing, and fruit
- Chicken, pasta with marinara sauce, vegetables, and a whole grain roll
- Ground beef tacos on whole grain tortillas with veggies, cheese, and avocado, paired with rice and salad