Best Snacks to Eat After a Strength Training Session

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | March 21, 2017

Recovery nutrition is crucial following each strength training session. After lifting weights, you’re left with microscopic tears in your muscle cells. This is actually a good thing because in order to build muscle and improve strength, your body breaks down muscle and consequently builds it back up stronger each time. However, you need nutrients to build these cells back up. For recovery, the major nutrients you need are protein, carbohydrate and fat. Protein repairs the muscle cell damage, carbohydrates replenish blood sugar losses during the workout and healthy fats control inflammation that occurred during the workout.

There are three stages of a strength training program: (1) basic strength, (2) strength and power, and (3) peak and maintenance. Hiring an experienced and certified personal trainer is recommended so that you progress through these phases safely and properly based on your personal goals.

During all of these phases, it’s recommended that you consume a recovery snack with a ratio of protein to carbohydrates of 4:1 or lower. Timing is the key to an effective recovery snack. The snack should be consumed within 15 to 20 minutes after the strength session. This is when blood flow is still elevated and, therefore, the nutrients from the recovery snack can be optimally delivered, absorbed and assimilated to muscle cells. We also can’t ignore smaller nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which also assist with recovery and overall strength building. Include ample fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack throughout the day to ensure you’re getting all of your essential nutrients.

The quantity of your snack changes depending on the intensity and the duration of the session. During the basic strength phase and the peak and maintenance phase, the sessions are typically shorter in duration and lower in intensity. Therefore, a snack of 100 to 200 calories would be ideal. Some examples include the following:

  • Homemade granola made with whole oats, dried fruit and nuts
  • Low fat chocolate milk
  • Nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 banana with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • ½ cup edamame

During the strength and power phase, the ratio will remain the same but the quantity will be higher. Aim for a recovery snack of 300 to 500 calories, such as the examples below, to meet a higher cellular need.

  • Protein smoothie made with 1 scoop of high quality whey protein isolate powder, banana, almond milk, frozen berries and spinach
  • Two scrambled eggs and two slices of whole wheat toast with sliced avocado
  • Grilled chicken on high protein wrap with hummus and cucumbers
  • Quinoa with black beans, diced grilled tofu, chopped kale, olive oil, and sea salt
  • Tuna (mixed with nonfat plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo) on whole wheat pita with romaine lettuce and roasted red peppers

Feeding your body the right nutrients in the right amount is key to effective muscle recovery after a strenuous strength training session. Be sure to eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats after your workouts and you’ll be well on your way to a stronger and healthier you!

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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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