You've just finished a great workout, and now you're ready for a little fuel. Because you just busted your booty, it's tempting to reward yourself with whatever foods you want. But according to personal trainers, selecting the wrong post-gym meal can undo all the hard work you put in.
As celebrity trainer and fitness model Ashley Guarrasi of Rumble Boxing explains, the goal after a workout is to rehydrate, keep your metabolism up, and "replenish the body's glycogen" (the form of glucose that our body stores in the liver and muscles). But there are certain foods that can actually dehydrate you, even more, slow down your metabolism, and inhibit other important functions.
So which specific foods should we avoid post-workout? As it turns out, they're not that intuitive. (In fact, many of these foods seem downright healthy.) So we consulted a host of badass female trainers to help us out. Keep scrolling to learn the best and worst foods to eat after exercising.
Post Workout Foods
Not so good:
High-fat foods, whether they're healthy fat sources like coconut oil or junky ones like French fries, are not what you want after a workout. "Eating fats post-workout slows down the rapid digestion your body experiences," says Courtney Bentley, certified personal trainer, sports nutrition expert, and creator of the Fit and Fabulous Club. "It takes nine calories of energy for your body to digest one gram of fat."
Consuming protein after your workout is great, but not if it comes with high levels of fat. Raw nuts and nut butter, like almond and cashew butter, are great snack options, but because of the same digestive slowdown described above, you want to avoid them after the gym.
A workout followed by brunch is one of our favorite activities, and though you might think you've earned a plate of bacon or breakfast sausage, certified personal trainer and weight-lifting coach Kyra Williams encourages you to avoid any "fatty meats." The saturated fat they contain not only slows metabolic function, but it also impairs learning and memory within 10 minutes of eating, says board-certified family medicine practitioner Christopher Calapai, DO. This is especially unfortunate considering the fact that your workout just did so much to improve brain function. A study from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia showed that even 20 minutes of exercise expedites information processing and memory, the very operations a plate of bacon can undo.
Many people reach for coffee after a morning workout, but NYC certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor Diana Mitrea advises against it. "You're super dehydrated at this point, and adding something like coffee in the mix can dehydrate you more," she says. "Stick to water!" (PS: Consuming alcohol after working out will have the same negative effect.)
A workout and a smoothie—sounds healthy, right? Not according to trainers. "Sure, some smoothies are great for you after a workout: A protein-packed, fiber-filled machine can really boost your energy and help replenish some of the vitamins you need," clarifies Mitrea. "However, the majority of people are having the wrong kinds of smoothies. If you just burned about 300 calories in a spin class, having a 600-calorie berry smoothie is a problem."
Erika Hammond, a personal trainer at Rumble Boxing, agrees: "After a workout, you need H20 (and electrolytes!) to rehydrate, not fructose and sugary drinks which are counterproductive to your workout," she says.
High-sugar smoothies aren't recommended post-workout, but if you're a fruit lover, you're in luck: Both Mitrea and Hammond say bananas are one of the best things you can eat after hitting the gym. Bananas are rich in "potassium and carbs … both of which need to be replenished" says, Hammond.
All trainers agree that lean, fast-digesting protein is the number one best thing you can eat after working out. "Protein needs to be replenished after a workout and helps to build lean muscle," Hammond explains.
According to Williams, "Whey protein powder is the best form of protein you can have post-workout. This gets into your bloodstream quickly and into your muscle tissue quickly to help the recovery process." (Try Raw Organic Whey's 100% Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder, $20.)
If you don't eat animal products, try a pea protein supplement. It's rich in iron and helps with muscle growth, weight loss, and heart health.
Williams says it's a good idea to accompany your protein source with "a starchy carb." She recommends choosing one like rice, corn, or potatoes, which contain maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate that is absorbed directly through the gut and "helps the body digest the protein faster" without the "potential for fat gain."
Here's a great post-workout meal: a piece of wild-caught salmon with rice, followed by a banana-based green smoothie.
Next up, check out the 15-minute workout that will tone your body in just three weeks.
Opening Image: Higor Bastos for Elle South Africa
Tomporowski, Phillip D. Effects of Acute Bouts of Exercise on Cognition. Acta Psychologica, vol. 112, no. 3, 2003, pp. 297–324., doi:10.1016/s0001-6918(02)00134-8. doi:10.1016/S0001-6918(02)00134-8
Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):5. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-5