Post-Workout Recipes for Optimal Recovery

Chef and nutrition coach Maria Hines shares valuable tips for refueling after a workout and provides four post-sweat recipes.

Published December 28, 2022

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Protein bar ingredients laid out on a board.

Want to maximize the benefits of your workouts? Experiment with what you're eating to help drive results.

A post-workout snack with the right nutrients can make a major difference in the efficacy of your sweat sessions. Among other things, eating the right foods can help promote quicker recovery, more energy, increased muscle growth and injury reduction. Plus, you get to enjoy a tasty treat for your efforts.

In this story, I explain why including protein, carbs and electrolytes in your post-sweat meal matters. I then share four of my favorite recipes—from fudgy protein bars to homemade electrolyte water—to support your strength and recovery. Because whether you're hiking, cycling, running or hitting the gym, your body and mind will thank you for a post-workout snack.

Nutrients to Include in Your Post-Workout Snack

Protein for muscle growth

Regardless of what you eat before you exercise, consuming protein is often beneficial for refueling post-workout. Proteins are made up of long-chain molecules called amino acids, which are what form the building blocks for muscle growth.

You can enjoy protein-rich foods like smoked salmon, chocolate milk and beans. Or you can enrich your favorite meals with protein powders, which make great additions to oatmeal, shakes and energy bites. Shoot for a palm-size amount of protein for each meal.

Carbohydrates for energy, brain boost and muscle refuel

Carbohydrates are another wonderful macronutrient to replenish after a workout. Your body uses glycogen in the muscles when exercising, so enjoying simple carbs can provide for a quick refuel on glycogen stores. Simple carbs can be found in foods like apples, berries, honey, potatoes, dark chocolate, milk or yogurt. Having one to two golf ball-size portions of simple carbs after a workout is plenty. If your workout is more than two hours, you may want to incorporate another golf ball-size serving.

Electrolytes to prevent dehydration and aid recovery

Hydration is an important part of a post-workout routine. We lose electrolytes to sweat, so refilling with them is key—they can help prevent dehydration, improve focus and aid recovery. There are many electrolyte mixes you can buy to add to your water, but you can also make your own. Read till the end for a homemade electrolyte water recipe.

Consider skipping the fats

While fats are a great source of fuel before a workout, you may want to avoid them post sweat sesh. That's because fat tends to slow down digestion and absorption of protein and carbs. A faster rate of protein and carb absorption will increase the efficacy of recovery.

Feeling inspired yet? Here are some post-workout recipes to get you psyched for your next workout.

Fudgy Nutty Protein Bars

This bar is a satisfying and filling post-workout protein source and will help round out your protein intake. It also makes for a low-sugar, sweet treat any day of the week. These bars will keep at room temperature for a couple of weeks, or they can be individually wrapped and stored in the freezer for up to two months.

Yield: 12 bars

Photo of four fudgy nutty protein bars.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup tapioca syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup almond milk, preferably homemade
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons whey protein powder (or a vegan protein powder)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts and seeds (choose your own variety)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Step 1

In a food processor, add the dates, cocoa powder, tapioca syrup, almond milk, cinnamon, vanilla, orange oil and salt. Pulse until blended thoroughly.

Step 2

Add the whey powder to the bowl and pulse a few times until just incorporated. Turn the machine off and remove the blade.

Step 3

Add the nut-and-seed blend and the chocolate chips and fold in until well combined. The dough will be stiff, so use some muscle and fold, fold, fold!

Step 4

Scrape the paste onto a large piece of parchment paper. Form into a loose rectangle shape. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and press down to spread out the paste a bit.

Step 5

Using a rolling pin, roll the paste into a rectangle about one-inch thick. Cut into 12 evenly sized pieces.


Curry Chicken Salad

When I'm at home, big salads are an afternoon staple of my diet. I love a hearty salad that increases my brain function and productivity. This curried chicken salad has a substantial amount of protein, healthy carbs and phytonutrients.

Yield: 4 servings

Photo of the curry chicken salad in a bowl.

Ingredients

  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, about 12 ounces total
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 cups spinach, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Directions

Step 1

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.

Step 2

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the chicken, skin side down. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Flip the chicken using a spatula. Cook for another 6 to 8 minutes.

Step 3

Remove the pan from the heat and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and cut into 1/4-inch chunks. Place in a bowl and let cool in the fridge.

Step 4

When the chicken is cool, remove it from the fridge and add all the other ingredients to the bowl. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Mix thoroughly and serve.


Banana Coconut Virgin Daiquiri

This drink can be a meal. If you're on a long bike ride or day hike, or are bouldering and need something that's easily digestible, give this recipe a try. Plus, bananas are loaded with potassium, which is an important electrolyte. The smoothie will keep in the refrigerator for four days.

Bonus: It's OK to leave this smoothie in your cooler if you're on the road, making it a highly accessible refueling option.

Yield: 1 serving

Photo of the banana coconut virgin daiquiri in a short glass.

Ingredients

  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons whey protein powder (or a vegan protein powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds

Directions

Step 1

Place everything except the chia seeds in a blender and blend until smooth.

Step 2

Stir in the chia seeds by hand and let sit for 15 minutes, until the chia seeds are softened.


Ginger Lemon Cayenne Water

This beverage is a tasty way to replenish electrolytes and help reduce inflammation after exercise. It's easy to make and cheaper than buying store-bought electrolytes. It will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 8 servings

Photo of electrolyte water in a pitcher.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons peeled sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • Himalayan pink salt, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey

Directions

Step 1

Add the water, salt and ginger to a large pot and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Step 2

Add the lemons, honey and cayenne to the cooled liquid and pour into a pitcher or gallon-size canning jar. Move to the fridge, where the flavors will continue to develop.