You know what happens when you try to drive your car when it runs out of gas. That’s right—nothing. You get nowhere. That’s why after a workout—at the gym, a jog or even a brisk walk—you need to replenish your body.
First, you need to replace the fluids you lost through sweat. Second, you need some instant fuel to keep you energized. For up to an hour or so after your workout, your body will store SmartCarbs and protein as energy. And third, you need protein after a workout to help repair tiny muscle fibers that are damaged when you exercise. (Don’t worry! According to experts at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, this is a good thing. Your body, properly fueled, repairs and replaces those fibers.)
While an ice cream sundae technically supplies all of your post workout needs, there are better, less calorific, not to mention Nutrisystem-approved ways to fill up your tank. Bonus: There are some foods that help you recover faster and may even help prevent soreness and boost your immune system. A few you can even keep tucked in your gym bag!
Here are 10 foods that should be on your menu after a workout:
1. Mineral Water
You can lose copious amounts of fluid when you’re physically active. And according to Medline Plus, if you don’t replace it, you risk dehydration which can lead to headache, dizziness and fatigue. You also come up short on electrolytes, electrically charged minerals (such as calcium, potassium and magnesium) in your body that, among other things, make sure your heart, brain, muscles and nerves work the way they’re supposed to. Sports drinks are infused with these vital minerals. You don’t need to guzzle a sports drink though, stick to mineral water to replenish your lost minerals and nutrients.
Microwave half a cup of oatmeal mixed with water and layer it with your favorite fruit or chopped nuts for a super recovery parfait. Or whip up a pack of Nutrisystem’s own instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal or Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal. Oatmeal is chockfull of soluble fiber that will keep you feeling fuller longer. You may also be less likely to catch a cold. A May 2017 study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that having a good carb post-workout can reverse the drop in the immune system that occurs after intense exercise.
A 2017 University of Illinois study discovered that eating eggs, yolks included, after working out increases your body’s muscle-building activity. Think hard-boiled egg—handy to prepare in advance and stash in your office or home fridge. On the Nutrisystem plan, eggs are considered PowerFuels—foods that contain essential amino acids and protein–and now you can see why. Because it takes your body longer to digest PowerFuels such as eggs, you also stay fuller longer.
4. Tuna or Salmon
It’s pretty handy to carry or stash a pouch of protein-rich tuna or salmon in your gym bag or desk drawer for a quick, healthy recovery snack. A half cup of tuna equals one PowerFuel. But tuna, like salmon, has another thing going for it: Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have found that these essential fats help widen the blood vessels so more oxygenated blood gets to your muscles. They also reduce inflammation which cuts down on muscle soreness, according to research conducted by the University of Western States. And according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, fats like those in tuna and salmon also help you move fat soluble vitamins and other healthy substances through your body and they help your body burn fat instead of storing it—so fill up after a workout!
In your Nutrisystem Grocery Guide, you’ll find a variety of nuts listed under “PowerFuels.” They pack a one-two punch after a workout: They’re a great source of muscle-repairing protein, plus they contain monounsaturated fat which helps deliver vital nutrients to your body. Walnuts even contain omega-3 fatty acids which some studies suggest can reduce muscle soreness. They’re also high in calories so stick to your limit: 2 Tablespoons per serving. Nut butters spread on a high-fiber cracker or celery sticks fall into this post-workout category. Alternatively, save one of your snacks, like the mouth-watering Dark Chocolaty Sea Salt Nut Square, which provides the right amount of nut-based protein and fat with those delicious dark chocolate carbs. Think of it as workout motivation, too.
6. Protein Smoothie
You can certainly make your own, but why not save yourself some time and effort: Keep a batch of Nutrisystem shakes around for a pick-me-up after a grueling workout with your trainer or after Zumba. They have 15 grams of protein and six grams of fiber. Add your own SmartCarb fruit, as we did in these recipes > and you have a complete recovery shake.
7. Low-Fat or Nonfat Milk
Yes, there’s science for this. A 2012 study, published in the journal Medicine and Sport Science, found that this childhood favorite contains an ideal four-to-one carb-protein balance, along with fluids and sodium, to help reduce muscle damage and replace lost fluid and electrolytes in endurance athletes. One cup of nonfat milk equals one PowerFuel. If you’re having low-fat milk, make sure you consume no more than 120 calories per serving.
Avocados have it all going for them. Officially, they’re fruit, which makes them a SmartCarb. But they’re also rich in monounsaturated fat, the healthy kind, including omega-3 fatty acids that can curb muscle soreness. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), they also contain protein, water, and fiber in significant amounts, along with the minerals you can lose in sweat after your tenth burpee. Spread on a slice of whole wheat toast, this Nutrisystem “extra”—one serving of pureed avocado is one tablespoon and you can have three extras a day—is a healthy, on-target recovery meal option.
9. Greek Yogurt and Berries
One cup of nonfat yogurt constitutes one PowerFuel and supplies about nine grams of protein. Pair it with your favorite fruity carb—blueberries, raspberries, slices strawberries, banana—and you have the right combination of protein and carbs to replenish your fuel stores and repair your muscles.
10. Peanut Butter and Apple
PowerFuel and SmartCarb—are you seeing the post workout pattern here? Simply slice an apple and spread with one tablespoon of nut butter—your choice. Or go for that old childhood favorite, “ants on a log.” That a schmear of nut butter on a celery stick, dotted with raisins. You can have a minimum of four servings of veggies a day and up to a quarter cup of raisins, so go “wild” with your tablespoon of nut butter after a workout!