Learn how to best refuel and replenish after a hard sweat session plus get my go-to a recipe for the ultimate post-workout smoothie bowl. It only has six-ingredients—two of which are chocolate and banana. Hashtag this is why I workout.
One thing that I talk to a lot of my nutrition coaching clients about is post-workout nutrition. There’s a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there on the interweb, which can make it hard to know how to best support your body after a major sweat session.
Considering working out and nutrition are basically my two favorite topics EVER, I’m pretty excited to share my all-time favorite, post-workout smoothie recipe with you today. I’m also super pumped to simplify the science so you know how to best refuel, replenish glycogen stores, and repair those growing muscles.
Let’s dive right in!
POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION 101
First, I thought it would be helpful to identify what the body needs following a workout—carbohydrates, protein, water, and electrolytes.
But before I go any further, let me emphasize that there really isn’t one right approach when it comes to sports nutrition. It’s why the information can seem so conflicting because the science varies quite a bit due to the endless variables that can be hard to control for in even the most well designed studies.
There are SO many factors that play into optimizing nutrition for sports performance, which is why athletes and even serious gym enthusiasts work very closely with highly trained sports dietitians and nutritionists to tailor their diets to their training regime.
In this post, I simply want to give you a general guideline to follow when it comes to making a truly nourishing post-workout smoothie bowl or smoothie and hopefully dispel some of the myths surrounding this controversial topic.
And while protein may get all the attention when it comes to post-workout nutrition, carbs are equally if not more so especially for replenishing muscle glycogen.
So first, let’s talk carbs…
CARBS ARE YOUR MUSCLE’S FRIEND
You likely know what carbs are and you probably know what glucose is, but you might be thinking, what the heck is glycogen?
Glycogen is simply the name for the stored form of glucose, which is the simplest form of sugar. The body converts all carbohydrates you eat (whether from broccoli and carrots or a candy bar) into glucose so it can be utilized for energy and it stores the majority of it in your muscle tissues as glycogen.
The body stores glucose in two other places but in much smaller amounts—your blood and your liver. Both of these reserves are depleted after about 18-20 minutes of exercise at which point the body starts to pull glycogen from the muscles.
While everyone’s glycogen storage capacity varies depending on muscle mass and carbohydrate intake, eventually those stores will run out. If you’ve heard of someone talk about “bonking” or “hitting a wall,” that’s what they’re talking about—running out of glycogen.
This is why towards the end of your workout, long run or bike ride, swim, etc., you often start to feel fatigued, worn out, and likely very hungry (or hangry if you’re anything like me and I’d be willing to bet that you are, ha!).
Thus, carbs are your friend following any solid workout.
Beyond the fact that consuming a small snack with carbohydrates will help you feel more energized the rest of the day, post-workout is also the perfect time to eat them. After depleting your muscle’s glycogen stores, your body is especially sensitive and receptive to utilizing carbs to refill its glycogen tanks and is less likely to store the glucose as fat tissue.
Again, I want to reiterate that there are always exceptions. For example, not everyone “needs” carbs following a workout. If you follow a very low-carbohydrate diet and have done so consistently for a while, your body is likely “fat adapted,” which simply means your body has become very efficient at utilizing fat for fuel over glucose…
However, that’s a whole other topic in itself and not one I’m going to delve into today, but just understand that for most people, eating a snack or small meal containing carbs and some protein following a workout will help the body recover better.
Now that you understand why you need carbs, let’s talk protein!
Whether you’re professional athlete or recreational, consuming protein after a workout is also really important because it helps flood the body with amino acids, which can help the body shift from a catabolic (muscle breakdown) to anabolic (muscle building) state.
However, the amount you need depends on a lot of factors including your training goals (are you trying to build muscle or simply preserve existing tissue?), age, and the duration and intensity of your workouts. Briefly, the average adult needs 0.8 grams protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which is about 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. So if you weigh 130 pounds, you’d need at least 47 grams per day.
According to the research, athletes can benefit from a bit more protein—around 1.2-1.7 grams protein per kilogram of bodyweight—and the average adult who exercises regularly with a decent amount of intensity may benefit from increasing their intake to around 1.1-1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
The added bonus to increasing your protein intake is that it helps with satiety. If you aim for around 15-20 grams of protein post-workout and make sure to also include healthy, real food sources of protein at each of your other meals and snacks throughout the day, you should more than meet your daily needs.
If you think you need more individualized recommendations or want help coming up with the best plan to suit your workouts, you can always work with me through 1:1 nutrition coaching. 😉
KEEP IT SIMPLE
So now you probably want to know what kind of carbs and protein to add to your smoothies and smoothie bowls, right?
After exercise, simple versus complex carbohydrates can be really beneficial. The goal is to deliver nutrients to the body as soon as possible to promote and preserve muscle tissue.
The research on nutrient timing and a specific window for consuming a post-workout meal varies widely and isn’t as conclusive as some might lead you believe. However, consuming simpler carbohydrate following a workout is ideal since your body is naturally more sensitive to the insulin that will be released.
And insulin is a good thing when it comes to muscle synthesis because it’s an anabolic hormone meaning it promotes growth. This is why including carbohydrates in your post-workout meal not only helps you feel re-energized, but it also helps your body build, repair, and maintain its muscle mass.
Things like bananas and other fruit, oats, Greek yogurt if you tolerate dairy, pumpkin/squash, leafy greens, beets, carrots, etc. are all great sources of simpler carbs for smoothies/smoothie bowls.
Whole food sources are best, but please don’t try adding chicken to a smoothies and smoothie bowls!
That may seem ridiculous, because who would ever do that, right? But, believe it or not, I actually had a patient in the hospital once tell me they were adding baked chicken to their smoothies (!) because they didn’t know how else to get protein in them. Needless to say, I was really glad I got to talk to them and guide them in a better direction.
If you’re making a smoothie, choose a high quality protein supplement. And if you don’t like using protein powders, opt for making a small meal instead of a smoothie.
There’s endless options on the market and I know it can be pretty overwhelming to figure out which one to buy.Before investing in a giant container of protein powder, I always recommend trying a single-serve packet of a brand first to see if you like it.
It’s totally subjective since everyone has different taste preferences and follows a different diet; there have been protein powders that I LOVE and a friend can’t stand!
Here’s a post outlining how to choose a protein powder plus my top 6 brand recommendations, price per serving, benefits of each, etc.
Whether you’re looking for plant-based, whey, dairy-free, etc. I’ve got you covered!
THE ULTIMATE RECOVERY SMOOTHIE BOWL
I seriously workout solely so I can come home and drink this smoothie. OK that’s not true, but on some days it definitely helps motivate me a little more. Occasionally I add greens or other fruits, but usually I keep it pretty basic.
When it comes to post-workout smoothies and smoothie bowls, simple truly is best!
So what makes this one so special and worthy of being called The Ultimate Recovery Smoothie Bowl?
Read below to learn about each of the ingredients and what makes them worthwhile and then get to blending, yo!
High in antioxidants and proanthocyanidin flavonoids to help prevent and repair cellular damage caused during exercise. Also a good source of magnesium, which most of us are deficient in and it is known to help relieve sore, achy muscles, as well as promote immune function.
An excellent source of potassium and inulin, which is a resistant starch that helps feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. By promoting the good bacteria, the micro flora in our digestive tract remains in better balance as does the effectiveness of our digestion and immune function. Banana is also an easily digested source of carbohydrates.
A healthy fat to help promote the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and easily metabolized due to its abundance of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs are a type of fatty acid that is processed by our liver can quickly be converted to energy by the body instead of being stored as fat.
A potent anti-inflammatory spice that is widely known to help alleviate muscle soreness and pain post exercise. *The dash of black pepper in this smoothie may seem strange, but it helps the body absorb turmeric so don’t skip it!
A little salt after any workout will help replenish sodium lost naturally through sweat. It also enhances the chocolate flavor from the cacao—a huge plus!
A.K.A. branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), which are precursory to building protein tissues and cells. I like using the Vega Sport Performance Protein for the extra boost of branched chain amino acids along with the protein content, but if I use another protein powder, I’ll add powdered BCAAs or take a capsule. This one by Pure Encapsulations is one of my favorites because I trust their ingredients and processing standards.
A complete protein (i.e. contains all 22 amino acids) and packed with enzymes and coenzymes to help the body digest and process all the goodness in this smoothie and other meals you consume. (Note: If you’re allergic to bees, stay away from bee pollen as you might have a similar poor reaction!)
Rich in magnesium, vitamin E, and healthy fats to keep to you full, your skin glowing (even post-sweat!), and ease muscle tension and fatigue.
The Ultimate Post-Workout Recovery Smoothie Bowl
Yield: 20 ounces | Serves: 2 | Total time: 5 minutes
gluten free + vegan + vegetarian + paleo + refined sugar free
2 frozen green bananas
3 tbs raw cacao powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 scoop protein powder of your choice*
1-2 tbs natural, unsalted almond butter*
2-3 stevia packets*
1 cup almond milk
8-10 ice cubes
Combine all ingredients above in high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour into two small bowls and top with desired toppings. If you want to make it a regular smoothie instead of a bowl, which I often do, simply add less ice and more almond milk to make it a thinner consistency.
1/2 tsp bee pollen*
Finely chopped rose petals (totally optional, obviously!)
Vegan chocolate shell (see below)
For the vegan chocolate shell:
Combine 1 tbs melted coconut oil, 1 tbs raw cacao powder, and 1 tsp maple syrup and stir to combine. Evenly drizzle over frozen smoothie bowls. The chocolate will immediately harden into a candy-like, crunchy shell consistency.
* If you don’t like or have stevia, simply substitute 1-2 pitted dates or 1 tbs honey or other sweetener of choice. That said, give Wholesome Organic Stevia a try…I hated the bitter taste of stevia until trying this brand and now I’m hooked.
* If you make a smoothie instead of a smoothie bowl, simply add 1 tbs of coconut oil + 1/2 tsp bee pollen directly to the blender.
* Almond butter is optional; you could omit entirely, add as a drizzle instead of the chocolate shell or just add a spoonful to each bowl! 😉
* I love and recommend using any of the protein powders outlined in this post: How to Choose a Protein Powder + My Favorite Brands.
I hope you love this simple, nourishing smoothie bowl or smoothie! Honestly, I typically blend mine up and drink it from glass, but smoothie bowls are just too pretty so I couldn’t resist styling and shooting this recipe as one! Can you blame me?
YOUR THOUGHTS >>>
What’s your favorite post-workout smoothie recipe? What questions do you have about post-workout nutrition? I’d love to answer them below!
Wishing you all a lovely rest of the week! And if you need help figuring how to best fuel your workouts or wonder if what you’re eating is enough, consider working with me 1:1 through nutrition coaching! I’d love to help you reach your goals and be your health-food loving cheerleader in the wings! 😉