Why Ashley Graham’s Post-Workout Snack Is a Great Way to Refuel
Ashley Graham is known for her impressive workout hustle, so it’s no wonder she’s a pro at refueling too. She posted an Instagram story of her go-to post-workout snack, and it’s an oldie but a goodie: apple slices and almond butter.
Apples and nut butter aren’t just a delicious combo—they’re also a great example of what good post-workout nutrition looks like. And fueling your workouts (like Graham’s undoubtedly tough session at celeb fitness hot spot Dogpound in NYC) really is important. Getting a balance of protein and carbohydrates will help you see strength results from your fitness routine and keep your energy up during future workouts.
First, a note on timing: You don’t necessarily need a post-workout snack.
For most people, what you eat throughout the day is more important than eating within a certain window of time before or after a workout. Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to personal preference. Some experts recommend a pre-workout snack to make sure that you have enough energy during your workout. But many people don’t like eating before a workout because of stomach discomfort.
It’s true that a post-workout snack can be a good way to replenish your body and help with muscle repair. It’s just not an absolute necessity. If you do eat a snack after your workout, there are a few principles to follow to help you get the nutrients that help you recover from a workout. (Note: A lot of these principles apply to pre-workout snacks too.)
Carbs are the first key element of a good post-workout snack formula.
When you work out, your body turns to glycogen for fuel, which is a form of glucose that’s stored in the muscles (as well as the liver). Our bodies can only store so much glycogen, and after these stores are depleted through exercise, they’re replenished by—you guessed it—carbohydrates. “If you do a hard workout that depletes your muscles of glycogen, you want to replace that glycogen so you’ll have energy for your next workout,” Nancy Clark, R.D., a Boston-area sports nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, tells SELF.
This is especially pertinent if you’re an endurance athlete or you’re doing long aerobic workouts like running or cycling, explains registered dietitian and personal trainer Nora Minno, R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T. Your glycogen stores are gradually tapped for fuel as an exercise session goes on, so the longer your workout, the more your glycogen stores will be depleted.
Your glycogen stores aren’t going to be fully depleted within, say, a 30-minute workout—you might start “hitting a wall” around four to five hours at a lower intensity, or three to four hours at a higher intensity, says board-certified sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci, M.S., R.D.N., director of Nutrition Energy in NYC. (So, if you’re not an endurance athlete, you probably won’t hit this point within one workout.)
It’s still important to replenish these stores, though. Here’s how it works: When you eat carbohydrates, “the body breaks them down into glucose molecules, which flow through the bloodstream,” Antonucci tells SELF. “Then, unused glucose molecules floating around in the blood are converted into glycogen.” From there, it’s stored in your muscles (or liver), which will be there to help you crush it later on. And so the cycle continues.
Plus, replenishing with carbohydrates after a workout can also help keep your blood sugar (or blood glucose) from dipping, explains Antonucci. (If you’ve ever felt a little light-headed, dizzy, or generally ugh after a tough workout, you’re probably familiar with this.) Ideally, your blood sugar stays pretty stable during a workout, she says. But sometimes, your body does turn to your blood glucose for energy. “There’s a small amount of glucose in the blood available [for fuel], and if you’re working out really intensely, it’s possible to use that faster than you can replenish it, and then you can start to feel the effects,” says Antonucci.
Protein is also crucial when you’re doing strength training.
When you work your muscles with strength or resistance training, you’re actually creating tiny microtears in your muscle fibers. It’s during the repair process that your muscles build back stronger and larger, not during the workout itself. And protein plays a critical role in this process.
Similar to the way carbohydrates are broken down, enzymes in your digestive system break proteins down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles. (While some amino acids can be made in your body, others, called essential amino acids, need to be supplied through the protein you eat.)
These amino acids are supplied to the muscles that need them, and from there, they’re built up “brick by brick, or amino acid by amino acid,” says Antonucci.
This is why adequate protein intake is such an important part of a healthy diet overall. “If we don’t give our body what it needs to refuel and build lean muscle, then we probably won’t see the [strength] results we’re looking for,” says Minno.
Apple slices and almond butter are just one good post-workout snack option.
Graham’s go-to snack ticks these boxes: The apple delivers carbs, while almond butter supplies protein.
Ultimately, how much of each you need depends on the type, intensity, and length of your workout (not to mention, your own body), but there are some guidelines you can go by. “In general, most people need 40 to 120 grams of carbohydrates post-workout—[toward] the lower end if you had a shorter workout, higher end if you had a longer, more intense workout [an hour or more],” Alissa Rumsey M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the 5 Minute Mindful Eating Exercise e-guide, tells SELF. As for protein, after a strength-focused workout, you should go for about 10 to 30 grams of protein, says Rumsey.
In the protein department, Graham’s snack might fall just a little bit short, notes Minno. A packet of Justin’s almond butter delivers 7 grams of protein. From the looks of it, Graham’s workout included strength training, which usually calls for more protein. However, we don’t know if she had a separate protein source on hand, what her overall protein intake is like in a day, or when her next meal was. According to Rumsey, if you’re sitting down to a meal within a few hours, the main goal is to make sure you’re just getting in some protein and carbs—not to focus so much on the exact grams.
Here are some other balanced post-workout snack or small meal ideas from Rumsey:
- A large banana with two tablespoons of peanut butter
- Greek yogurt with berries and granola
- A whole-wheat English muffin topped with scrambled eggs and sliced tomato with an apple on the side
- Cottage cheese with pineapple chunks
- A whole-wheat pita with 1/2 cup of edamame hummus
- 12 ounces of chocolate milk blended with a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter
- One slice of whole-wheat bread topped with 2 tablespoons of hummus and 3 ounces of turkey with 1 cup of grapes
Even if you’re not big on post-workout snacks, it’s always a good idea to keep some healthy staples on hand. Check out these ideas for post-workout snacks you can stash in your gym bag.