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Post-workout snacks that fuel afterburn

Elaina is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, blogger and co-founder of the Kidlee baby book app. Check out her blog, Fun Finds For Mom, for product reviews, recipes and fun activities for moms and kids.

Burn, baby — burn!

Did you know you can keep the calorie-burning effects of your workout going strong even after you're done exercising? Unlock your body's metabolic power with an intense workout followed by a healthy post-workout snack.

Woman holding out protein shake

Pump up the intensity

So what is this "afterburn" anyway? Research shows that intense exercise can result in the body continuing to burn calories at a higher rate even after the exercise is over. A 2011 study conducted by researchers at Appalachian State University took 10 men and had them spend two days in a metabolic chamber. One day they cycled vigorously for 47 minutes, and the other they did not. Results showed that the cycling led to an increased metabolic rate that lasted for hours after the men stopped exercising. According to Dr. Amy Knab and her colleagues, who conducted the research, the men burned 420 calories during exercise — and an additional 190 calories over the next 14 hours.

So will all exercise lead to a higher metabolic burn rate? Unfortunately, the answer is no. A similar study, also using a metabolic chamber, found no afterburn when subjects exercised at a more moderate level, suggesting that the higher intensity may account for the sustained caloric burn.

Post-workout snacks

Registered dietitian, Brittany Utke, says, “Post workout is important!” She recommends getting in at least 30 grams of protein and 15 grams of a complex carbohydrate within 30 minutes of a workout to continue caloric burn.

“You use calories much more readily after a workout,” says Utke. “So it is great to eat soon after to take advantage of this higher calorie burn rate.”

Utke recommends the following post workout snacks:

  • 1 scoop of 20-gram protein powder and almond or regular nonfat milk
  • 1/2 whole wheat sandwich with 4 ounces of lean meat
  • 1 cup of chocolate milk
  • Almond butter sandwich

Sarah Waybright, a registered dietitian and owner/founder of WhyFoodWorks, LLC, says many women may feel that they increase fat burning if they don't eat after exercise, but the truth is that the best time to re-fuel is within 30 minutes after activity, when muscles will be most receptive to nutrients.

"A snack will help keep metabolism burning, and keep you from feeling lightheaded or shaky! Fat can slow absorption of other nutrients," says Waybright. "So try to minimize its intake directly after a workout to allow maximum absorption of carbs and protein, which will reduce soreness and improve strength."

Waybright recommends noshing on a handful of grapes and low-fat string cheese or powdered peanut butter blended with a banana and some ice. If you opt for a bar, she recommends checking to make sure it has around 10 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates for each hour you exercised. "Remember to drink plenty of water, and have a meal within two hours of your recovery snack!"

Martina M. Cartwright, registered dietitian and adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, says a small snack eaten 45 minutes to one hour after a workout will promote muscle repair and replenish glycogen, the storage form of glucose. Cartwright says a post-workout snack should include carbohydrates and protein. Here are some of her favorites:

  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Whole wheat crackers with hummus
  • A handful of almonds and juice
  • A hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit
  • A piece of low-fat cheese and a few whole wheat crackers
  • Greek yogurt and fruit or cottage cheese with fruit or veggies
  • A glass of milk with an English muffin

Expert Tip

No time to prepare a post-workout snack? Stash some packaged goodies in your gym bag. Rania Batayneh, MPH of Essential Nutrition for You, suggests Somersault Snacks (a sunflower seed based snack with protein and fiber),  KIND Nuts and Spices (under 5 grams of sugar and a good source of fat and protein) and the FIT line of popcorn by Popcorn, Indiana.

More exercise and nutrition tips

Pre-workout foods that burn more fat
Stand up straight: Stretches that improve posture
The anti-inflammatory diet: Eating foods to heal your body

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