After completing a tough workout (like the ones on Aaptiv) go ahead and bask in those spiked endorphins and the rewarding exhaustion that follows. But, don’t bask for too long because, in addition to hydrating your body, you need to refuel it and replenish what you lost during exercise. That’s where high-protein recipes come in. “Getting adequate protein as soon as you can [post-workout] is ideal to help start the muscle repair process,” says Amy Goodson, a Dallas-based registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. “It’s also important to include carbohydrates to replenish energy stores.”
She advises aiming for 20-30 grams of high-quality protein post-workout, with larger individuals consuming the upper end of that range. And, for carbs: “Simple carbohydrates actually digest the fastest, promoting a faster recovery, while complex carbs will help the meal stick with you a little longer.”
For some post-workout inspiration, we asked a few dietitians for their favorite recovery meals. Each of the high-protein recipes includes plenty of muscle-building protein, carbs to replenish lost glycogen, and also nutrient-dense fruits or vegetables, which are always a smart addition to your diet.
Egg Scramble with Cheese and Veggies
After a morning workout, Goodson likes to scramble two eggs with one ounce of two percent cheese and a handful of vegetables. Pair that with one slice of 100 percent whole grain bread topped with 100 percent fruit jam, plus a serving of actual fruit. One apple or one cup of berries will do the trick. If you need more calories to start your day, she suggests an eight- to 12-ounce glass of low-fat milk.
“Nothing beats eggs post-workout, as they are a great way to replace protein, as well as get in some produce,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, and owner of Active Eating Advice. “Three eggs equals 21 grams of protein, plus veggies can provide another five grams.”
Sauté one cup of mixed vegetables—Bonci likes chopped peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and broccoli—with olive oil, until tender. Add three beaten eggs to the pan with salt and pepper, and let the eggs cook through. Once the eggs are set, remove from heat, and top with two tablespoons of marinara or salsa. For a few extra carbs, she suggests a side of sliced melon or berries.
Tuna Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread
Louise Chen, a Dallas-based registered dietitian, stresses the importance of eating within 30 to 45 minutes of exercise, whenever possible. Weekly meal prep, like chopping vegetables or marinating meats, can make that easier. But, if you’re in a hurry, don’t overlook the tuna sandwich. Chen’s preferred version starts with three ounces of good canned tuna. From there, she’ll mix in one-quarter cup of plain low-fat Greek yogurt, which is a great alternative to mayonnaise. Add some crunch with diced red onion and celery, and season it all with salt, pepper, and cayenne. “Instead of bread, you can also use a whole grain pita, which holds all the goodies better,” she adds. Serve with an apple on the side, and you’ve got an easy, satisfying meal.
Quinoa Bowl with Chicken and Vegetables
Quinoa is a whole grain that’s loaded with fiber and has about eight grams of protein per cup. It’s a good option if you’re craving grains. Chen recommends combining one cup of cooked quinoa with one cup of roasted sweet potato and one cup of roasted vegetables, like broccoli or squash. Top with one-third of an avocado and three ounces of grilled chicken, and you’ve got a nourishing meal that will refuel your muscles and keep you full.
A pro tip from Chen: “I like cooking quinoa in low-sodium chicken broth, rather than just water. And for more flavor, you can season your quinoa with salt, pepper, and cumin (or smoked paprika).”
Grilled Beef with Sweet Potato and Salad
When you’ve got a little more time, Chen suggests this hearty option. Grill four ounces of sirloin or tenderloin, and pair that with one roasted sweet potato. For the latter, she likes tossing the diced potato with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. To kick things up a notch, try a sprinkle of cinnamon and cumin. Serve with a side of spinach or arugula salad, topped with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper.
Chicken or Beef Stir Fry
Another Goodson favorite is the post-workout stir fry. Start with one cup of your favorite vegetables sautéed lightly in olive oil. Mix in one cup of brown rice or cauliflower rice, plus a little low-sodium soy sauce. Add four ounces of chicken or lean beef for some protein. And for dessert, she suggests even more protein: four ounces of Greek yogurt topped with berries.
Bean-Based Pasta with Marinara and Chicken Sausage
Another Bonci-provided favorite is this healthy take on traditional pasta that replaces the usual wheat flour pastas with those made from protein-and-fiber-packed beans. “My preference is lentil pasta, but there are also edamame, chickpea, and black bean pastas,” she says.
Combine one cup of cooked bean pasta with one cup of marinara sauce and three ounces of cooked chicken or turkey sausage. Depending on which pasta and meat you choose, Bonci notes that this meal can provide 30 to 36 grams of muscle-friendly protein and ten grams of fiber.