1. Store-Bought Shakes and Smoothies
“Smoothies are often high in calories, and they don’t have the right carb-to-protein ratio for post-exercise,” Bazilian says. It’s true: Smoothie chains hawk “healthy” drinks with as many as 469 calories and 100 g of sugar. Plus, they tend to upsell you larger sizes and protein powder add-ins, making you consume even more calories.
Better pick: Choose a lower-calorie smoothie with about a 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio.
How could awesome avocados make it onto a worst-snacks list? Well, when it comes to post-workout eating, fat can actually slow down your body’s recovery. “Sure, we’re excited about fat again, but post-exercise, it’s the carbs and protein that help best in recovery, replenishment, and repair,” Bazilian says. (Plus, gram for gram, fat has twice the calories of carbs and protein.) “Fat slows down the digestion and delivery of carbs and protein, so while that’s good to keep you satisfied between meals, too much fat post-exercise can backfire.”
Better pick: Choose snacks that have some fat and protein, like hummus or natural nut butter, paired with a carb like carrot sticks or apple slices.
3. Yogurt-Covered Raisins
There isn’t much actual “yogurt” in these products—that sweet coating is made mostly of sugar and processed oils. “Raisins are sweet enough already,” Bazilian says. “This is a sugary food that just sounds healthy.”
Better pick: A handful of dried fruit and nuts, like raisins and peanuts or walnuts and dried cherries, either of which will offer a better carb-protein balance. Bonus: Dried cherries have anti-inflammatory properties that can boost recovery.
4. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
“Done poorly, a PB&J can start to look like a donut: refined white carbs slathered with sugary jelly and sugary peanut butter,” Bazilian says. Basically: It’s a giant sugar bomb.
Better pick: Make your PB&J clean: Use 100% whole grain bread with minimal ingredients, natural nut butter, and fruit spread with no added sugars. Better yet: Swap the fruit spread for actual fruit, like banana slices spread with nut butter.
5. Fruit-Flavored Greek Yogurt
Don’t make the mistake of thinking flavored Greek yogurts are good for you just because they’re high in protein. “Some of these have upwards of 5 teaspoons of added sugars—even the organic, supposedly ‘healthier’ brands,” Bazilian says. (Believe it: Some yogurts have more sugar than a doughnut.)
Better pick: Pick plain yogurt and top with fresh fruit or try one of these savory yogurt recipes.
6. Energy Bars
“If they’re candy-coated or laden with chemical-sounding ingredients or just simply too high in calories for your post-exercise needs—or all of the above!—these can be a poor choice packaged with the lure of a healthysnack,” Bazilian says. “And while some have protein, others are low in protein or don’t have the right ratio of protein to carbs to optimize recovery.”
Better pick: Get a bar with around 200 calories or fewer, less than 10 g of sugar, and a decent amount of protein. KIND’s Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt is one good example: It has 5 g of sugar, 6 g of protein, 210 calories, and some sodium to replace what you’ve lost through sweat.
No one really thinks bagels are health food, but they’re often offered at the end of endurance races, meaning they’re a good post-exercise snack, right? Wrong. “They pack 350 to 400 calories of quick-acting refined carbs with no other nutrition,” Bazilian says.
Better pick: A whole wheat pita or tortilla paired with some source of protein, like sliced turkey or natural almond or peanut butter.