As much as you hear about pre-workout supplements and drinks, what you eat to refuel after a workout may be even more critical.
The body requires protein and complex carbs to help repair your muscles and replenish energy stores. For those on the low-carb, high-fat keto diet, the question then becomes: will too much fat stop your progress?
The thing is, we should not demonize fats. That’s because good fats can help lose weight. What’s more important is your getting an adequate amount of protein after a workout.
Molly Devine, RD, LDN, suggests eating about 20 to 30 grams of protein to help supply the amino acids that build muscle.
It may take longer for your body to break down the fat in your diet since it’s more calorie-dense. But the protein will reach the muscles — as long as you’re eating enough.
Still, Molly explained that you should focus on eating balanced meals, rather than filling up on protein after a workout. Here’s her three-step plan for building the excellent post-workout meal on the keto diet:
- Begin with three to four ounces of your preferred protein, like steak, salmon, or chicken.
- Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fat on your meal, from sources like coconut oil or grass-fed butter.
- Pack your plate with non starchy vegetables for a maximum of 10 grams of carbs. You can opt for leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, or zucchini.
Most post-workout foods aren’t keto-friendly. That’s because they are sugar-laden, protein-deficient, and too many additives.
See the label of any popular pre-workout or post-workout bar or shake. Many of them have grains, sugar, and additives.
Plenty of these bars contain your entire day’s carb portion in one serving. This can raise your blood sugar and kick you out of ketosis.
What you need are post-workout foods that can support your keto lifestyle and fitness performance.
Unfortunately, most post-workout nutrition data includes eating a ton of carbs. And that’s just not true.
Muscle protein synthesis — or workout rehabilitation — actually works better without carbs. Instead, you need plenty of protein and fat.
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10 Best Keto Workout Food
The amino acid leucine is needed to make your muscles grow. And you can only get leucine from whey protein.
For one, whey protein is a complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids, including muscle-building branched-chain amino acids. You can’t synthesize essential amino like leucine. You have to take them through food or supplementation.
Compared to other protein powders, whey stacks up fairly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), whey rates higher for digestibility and efficiency than casein, hemp, pea, or soy protein.
And when it gets to post-workout recovery, whey is king.
In one study, researchers gave whey or carbs to 12 athletes, then had them lift weights. Unsurprisingly, whey won.
To be precise, at both 12 and 24 hours post-workout, the whey-supplemented group had better markers of muscle recovery, strength, and power.
In another study of 70 older women, the whey-supplemented women stayed stronger after 12 weeks of strength training. They also maintained more muscle mass than the placebo-controlled.
Whey also pairs nicely with keto-induced weight loss. For instance: one group of researchers pointed out that adding whey to a ketogenic diet preserves muscle and blasts fat.
Whey protein isolate — preferably the grass-fed kind — is easy to add to your keto lifestyle. You just have to scoop 20-30 grams into your smoothie and blend away.
Meat and Fish
High-quality and grass-fed, pastured meat and wild-caught fish are excellent sources of fat and protein. Because of this, both make a perfect post-workout meal.
Meat and fish, like whey, are complete proteins. Keep in mind that you can only get leucine to form complete proteins.
Plus, meat and fish are super keto-friendly — particularly the fattier choices like wild-caught salmon or an excellent grass-fed rib eye.
The keto diet is about 60% fat, 30% protein, and 10% carbs by calories for guidance. A salmon fillet is fatty and protein-rich, making it an ideal post-workout meal. Plus, it won’t add to your carb quota.
Salmon also contains EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. These are anti-inflammatory omega-3s and are believed to minimize post-workout soreness.
A final benefit of meat and fish? They tend to be hypoallergenic.
A few people can’t eat dairy — which rules out casein and (sometimes) whey. Others have trouble with soy, while some have troubles with egg.
If any of these sounds like you, perhaps meat and fish should be your post-workout protein source of choice.
When you work out, you don’t just break down muscle. You also break down connective tissues.
Connective tissue is what holds your bones together. It also helps determine your force output and influence your motion range.
What’s that connective tissue made of? It’s made of collagen. And so after exercise, collagen synthesis is essential for recovery.
And the best way to increase collagen synthesis is to consume collagen powder.
Collagen powder doesn’t contain much leucine, but it contains high amounts of amino acid glycine and proline. This amino is your chieftains of collagen production.
Is collagen keto, you ask? Yes, indeed — collagen is the excellent keto food.
That’s because collagen doesn’t add to your carb count, and it assists in keeping your blood sugar low. This sends a message to your brain that your body is in a ketogenic, fat-burning mode.
The egg is nature’s ketogenic wonder: high fat, moderate protein, very low carb.
According to the WHO, egg protein rivals whey for efficiency, bioavailability, and digestibility. This means that, like whey, eggs are an excellent choice for a post-workout food.
Egg yolks are also high in choline, which powers mitochondria in muscle cells. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells, so this is excellent news for strength and recovery. No choline, no power.
Pasture-raised and organic eggs contain anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Suitable for minimizing soreness after a workout.
Here’s the thing about eggs, though. They take the time to make. And if you want to buy a good-quality egg white protein, prepare yourself for sticker shock.
Plus, many people are sensitive or allergic to eggs, taking them off the table completely.
If you find yourself at a breakfast buffet and you can tolerate eggs, skip the croissants and load up on scrambles and omelets instead.
It’s hard to find a keto-friendly protein bar. Most of them have way too many carbs. Even worse, those carbs frequently come from straight-up sugar.
Too many carbs can spike your blood glucose, which raises your insulin levels. When that happens, you’ll fall off the keto wagon. And with high insulin levels — a fat-storage hormone — you can’t lose fat.
Keeping your blood sugar low, on the other hand, puts you in keto mode — and keto helps you lose weight, burn fat, and preserve muscle.
So yes, you want to stay in keto.
But you also want something ready after a workout. Something protein-rich but won’t kick you out of ketosis and doesn’t have artificial flavors, artificial colors, or sugar alcohols.
When you eat a ketogenic diet, your body starts generating the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). In turn, BHB lowers your blood sugar and preserves muscle.
But diet alone isn’t the only way to increase your blood ketone levels. You can also consume ketones directly.
These edible, exogenous ketones come in two forms: Ketone salts and ketone esters.
Ketone esters are more potent, but they don’t have a long shelf-life like ketone salts. Plus, the esters taste kind of nasty.
And exogenous ketones can enhance exercise performance.
Researchers fed ten athletes a carb-heavy drink, a fatty drink, or a ketone drink before a cycling class. After the workout, the ketone-fed athletes had:
- Increased fat burning
- Improved glycogen conservation
- Lower muscle lactate levels (indicates better muscle endurance)
- Higher BHB levels
Another benefit of exogenous ketones? They help transport blood sugar out of your blood to lean body mass. In other words, you improve athletic performance and lower your blood sugar at the same time.
And since high blood sugar is linked to obesity and chronic diseases, you must keep it low.
MCT oil — or medium-chain triglyceride oil — is a type of fat derived from coconut oil. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even had some.
The nice thing about MCT oil? Adding some to drinks or meals can get you into ketosis pretty quickly.
That’s because, unlike any other fats, MCT oil goes straight to your liver for ketone conversion. MCT oil is your keto-shortcut — an easy way to raise blood BHB levels.
And higher BHB levels synergize with leucine to preserve and repair muscle tissue.
Getting ketones and leucine together is simple. You just have to add MCT oil or MCT oil powder to your post-workout protein shake.
Your macronutrient demands on keto are simple enough — fat, protein, carbs. You already know the best ratios.
Micronutrients, however, are not so simple. You need as many nutrients for everything from brain health to respiration to workout recovery. Vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine — the list goes on.
To get your micronutrients, it is ideal to eat your vegetables. But even so, you may still be short on micronutrients.
You’d need to eat 3-4 cups of spinach, for example, to reach your daily requirement for magnesium.
When it comes to building muscles — and supporting your nervous system — magnesium is non-negotiable. Without enough magnesium, you simply can’t perform.
Next time you make a post-workout drink, consider adding a well-formulated greens powder to the mix. That way, you’ll cover as many macro and micro requirements as possible in one glass.
One cup of avocado contains the following macronutrients:
- 22 grams of fat
- 4 grams of protein
- 13 grams carbohydrate
Wait, isn’t 13 grams of carbs too high? Not in the presence of dietary fiber.
The thing is, an avocado has 10 grams of fiber — and this fiber balances the carb load by limiting your blood sugar response.
That said, 13 grams of carbs minus 10 grams of fiber equals 3 grams of net carbs. The net carbs are what you need to consider.
Avocados are strong in the micronutrient department too. In just one cup of this green fruit, you’ll get:
- 42% of your daily vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid — for energy production
- 35% of your daily vitamin K — for blood clotting
- 30% of your daily folate — for energy, metabolism, and DNA repair
- 21% of your daily vitamin E — for antioxidant defense
Finally, texture. Avocados can turn your smoothie from something runny to a thick, velvety pudding.
Eating nuts is the easiest way to add fats to your diet without frying anything in cooking oil.
Almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are high in fat, low on carb, and keto-friendly snacks.
But nuts aren’t just good sources of macronutrients. They’re also good sources of micronutrients.
A quarter cup of walnuts, for example, contains 53% of your regular copper, 44% of your daily manganese, and 20% of your molybdenum.
Take copper. It’s essential for collagen synthesis — which, as you learned, is part of any good workout recovery. And it’s hard to get sufficient copper through diet.
So if you live a keto lifestyle, nuts should be a mainstay in your snack habit. It’s easier to bring a bag of it to the gym, office, or movie theater.
Best Keto Workout Snacks Recipes
Keto doesn’t have to mean you spend all day in the kitchen. For that increase of energy before or after a great workout, all you need are a few gym bag friendly recipes.
Prepping yourself some delicious snacks that you can bring doesn’t need to be complicated. These healthy, keto-friendly recipes are portable, filling, and delicious:
Avocado Egg Salad
Egg salad may not seem ideal for to-go, but keeping it in these avocado boats is suitable for a lunch box or gym bag snack. Rich in proteins and healthy fats, it’s just the thing for the keto diet.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1 handful of chives
- 1 handful of parsley
- Juice of 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- Hard boil your eggs and peel them.
- Scoop out avocado into boats
- In a medium bowl, add the eggs, avocado, and herbs. Add lemon juice and seasoning. Mash with a fork.
- Scoop into avocado boats, and you’re done!
Salmon Cucumber Rollups
- 1 long English cucumber
- ½ cup smoked salmon
- ½ cup cream cheese
- Using a vegetable peeler, peel the cucumber into 6-inch strips.
- Spread a dollop of cream cheese on the cucumber strip.
- Add smoked salmon into the top and roll the cucumber as tightly as possible.
- Use a toothpick to secure it before rolling it in a wax paper. It won’t keep for long but should stay fresh in a sealed container.
Keto Chocolate Coconut Fat Bomb Squares
Keto fat bombs are a famous snack while you’re on keto. That’s because they are rich in fats and proteins, they’re also straightforward to stuff in a gym bag.
They keep for a long time, so they’re great for freezing, and are sure to kick any sweet cravings you have.
- 4 cups coconut flakes, unsweetened
- 1 cup of coconut oil
- 1 cup of chocolate chips
- ½ cup of butter
- 2 tbsp sweetener of your choice, powdered
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Melt the coconut oil and butter together, and then add it to the chocolate flakes.
- Add 1 tsp of vanilla and mix well.
- Add in sugar and mix.
- Pour the coconut mixture into a square pan lined with parchment. Freeze until set.
- Melt chocolate chips by setting a glass bowl in a pot of boiling water, so you get a nice even coat.
- Remove the coconut mixture from the freezer, and coat the top with the chocolate, spreading to a beautiful, even coat.
- Freeze completely
Keto-Friendly Banana Bread Muffins
Baking and keto? There are ways!
These banana bread muffins are excellent breakfast on the go or a delicious snack to take to the gym.
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cups mashed bananas
- ½ cup almond butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup coconut flour
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- sea salt
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a muffin pan
- Combine eggs, bananas, almond butter, and vanilla in a large bowl.
- Whisk till fully combined.
- Add dry Ingredients: together and mix until well-combined.
- Spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake for 15-18 minutes.
- Let them cool for a few minutes before placing in a food container.
Carmelitas are traditionally made with oats and sugar. But these are healthy and keto-friendly.
The keto carmelitas are about the size of a protein bar and packed with sweetness. Hence, they’re an excellent way to curb an after-workout craving.
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut
- 3/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1 cup almond flour
- ½ cup sweetener of your choice
- 3 tbsp coconut flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1/3 tsp salt
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 1 cup sugar-free caramel sauce
- 1/3 sugar-free chocolate chips
- Preheat your oven to 225F and grease a 9×9 inch square pan
- Combine coconut and sliced almonds in a food processor. Pulse it until they’re about the size of oats.
- Add your coconut-almond combo in a large bowl with almond flour, sweetener, coconut flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in melted butter.
- Pour and spread half the mixture into the baking pan, and let it bake for 10 minutes.
- Fully cool. And while cooling, prepare your caramel sauce and chocolate chips.
- Spread the caramel sauce and chocolate chips. Add the other half of the mixture to the top and bake for another 15 minutes.
Homemade Chipotle Beef Jerky
Beef jerky is the ultimate travel-friendly protein. These jerky sticks are delicious and flavorful. They take a while to cook, but the cooking procedures are simple.
- 1 ½ lb flank steak
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 tsp chipotle powder
- ½ tsp chipotle salt
- 2 tsp chipotle flakes
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- black pepper
- Freeze the flank steak for 2 hours to make it easier to cut. Cut in thin strips. Use the rest of the Ingredients: to make the marinade.
- Add the sliced steak, stir to coat, cover, and place inside the fridge overnight, for at least 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to your lowest setting. Lay the steak slices on a baking rap.
- Bake in the oven, leaving the door propped open slightly. The baking should take between 4-6 hours to dry out completely, and you should turn the meat every two hours.
Egg Cups on the Go
Egg muffins are full of proteins, and you can make them with whatever your favorite mix-ins are.
This recipe is customizable, portable, and takes only minutes. Whether it’s an on the go breakfast or a protein-packed snack, it’s up to you.
- 12 eggs
- 4 oz cooked bacon
- 4 oz cheddar cheese
- 4 oz sun-dried tomatoes
- Preheat your oven to 400F
- Place cupcake liners in a muffin tin
- Crack an egg in each cup and fill it with your favorite mix-ins. We’re using cheese, bacon, and sundried tomatoes, but you can replace them with whatever you like best.
- Bake for 15 minutes
Keto is an excellent choice if you’re looking to lose weight and gain lean muscles. But your diet can also affect your health.
Sticking to an exercise routine that works for your keto diet means having keto-friendly snacks on hand wherever you go. That includes the gym.
That said, the foods and recipes listed above can keep you healthy and feeling great during training.
- Gym-Friendly Keto Snacks To Keep You Fighting Fit
- Top 10 Keto Post Workout Foods To Help You Build Muscle
- The Keto Diet Won’t Sabotage Your Gains as Long as You Eat This After a Workout
- The Role of Leucine in the Regulation of Protein Metabolism
- Dietary protein intake and human health
- Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass
- Protein – Which is Best?
- Ketogenic Diet
- Growing collagen, not muscle, with weightlifting and ‘growth’ hormone