6 of the Best Foods to Eat When You’re Exercising More, According to Dietitians

As you ramp up your workouts—either in intensity, length or frequency—it’s important to remember to adjust your eats accordingly. Just like we need to refill our car’s gas tank as the engine uses fuel, we must replenish our energy stores after exercise.

“Your body uses calories from food to fuel your workouts. It’s a common misconception that the body only uses stored fat for energy when we do not consume enough from food. We actually use both muscle and fat as a fuel source, especially during higher-intensity exercise,” explains Ashley Reaver, M.S., RD, an Oakland, California-based registered dietitian and the creator of the Lower Cholesterol Longer Life Method. “Consuming adequate energy, in particular through carbohydrates, will spare muscle from being used as a fuel source. Muscle can be broken down to glucose, our muscle’s main fuel source, during high-intensity exercise; stored fat cannot.”

1. Oatmeal

“Oatmeal is one of my go-to recovery meals because it has carbs and protein and is a great vehicle for add-ons, like fruits and nuts,” Rizzo says. “Plus, it’s hearty and filling, which will prevent you from feeling hungry later in the day.”Fuel up with ½ cup dry oats, cooked in water, for 148 calories, 27 grams carbs and 5 grams protein, then dress it up with your desired toppings and mix-ins. (Psst … we’re dishing about the right way to prepare oatmeal, plus 5 tips for making It better.)

2. Berries

Any kind of berries—blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries—are rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants. “Some inflammation after exercise is normal; it’s the body’s system of healing. But we still want to mitigate that inflammation to decrease pain and swelling, so eating high-antioxidant foods, like berries, is a good way to do so,” Rizzo says.Since antioxidant-strong fruits and vegetables can aid in the recovery process and decrease muscle soreness, shoot for five servings of any fruits and vegetables each day, Reaver recommends, including at least one serving of berries.

3. Beans

“If your stomach can handle it, eating any sort of bean after a workout provides that combination of carbs and protein that the body needs,” Rizzo says. If it’s mealtime within an hour or two of her workout, one of Rizzo’s favorite meals is rice and beans. (Here are 17 ways to follow her lead!)A 1-cup serving of pinto beans, for example, offers 245 calories, 45 grams carbs and 15 grams protein.

4. Almonds

Along with being one of the healthiest nuts to nosh on, “almonds are a great recovery food because 1 ounce has 6 grams of protein. Plus, one healthy handful of almonds, about 23 almonds or 1 ounce, provides 20% of your daily magnesium, a mineral which aids in the production of energy in the body and supports muscle function,” Rizzo explains.Plus any source of healthy fat—almonds offer 14 grams per serving—is helpful to manage hunger levels. So if you find your workouts make you hungry enough to raid the vending machine, pack a portion (in something like Simply Green Snack Bags; buy it: $6.99 for two, Target) to fuel up in a balanced and recovery-supportive way.

5. Greek yogurt

While many sources of protein are solid for muscle growth, milk protein ranks among the best. As few as 9 grams of milk protein can begin to spur on protein synthesis in muscles and, as a result, benefit recovery, suggests research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.Versatile Greek yogurt is a quick, affordable and probiotic-packed option. Kefir, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese are also solid options.A 7-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt supplies 150 calories, 20 grams protein and 8 grams carbs.

6. Chocolate milk

If food doesn’t appeal post-workout, sip smartly to help rebuild and recover. As we mentioned, fueling with plenty of carbs (aim for triple the carb grams for each protein gram) has been proven to be the best way to regenerate glycogen stores. Compared to water and electrolyte recovery drinks, research proves that chocolate milk is helpful for speeding up recovery, per a research review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (Soy milk is a good alternative for those who don’t do dairy.)An easy-to-tote 1-cup serving of chocolate milk offers a nearly perfect combo: 210 calories, 27 grams carbs and 8 grams protein.

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