Whether your goal is to stand on the podium or simply feel a little better at the end of each day, it’s never a bad idea to start eating healthier. But that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) say goodbye to dessert. Honestly, that just seems like living in misery.
While dessert isn’t necessarily meant to be health food, it can certainly be made with a better-for-you spin and deliver the nutrition you need to recover well. Yes, eating your dessert after a workout can be a good thing, and undeniably makes every drop of sweat you shed worth it. The key to success is choosing the best homemade desserts that will work in your favor in terms of recovery nutrition. It’s not about depriving yourself – after all, if you have an overall healthy diet, there is plenty of room for a treat here and there. Everything in moderation, right?
This collection of tasty desserts has something for everyone and every type of workout. Grab a spoon, pick your sweet treat and dig in!
1. Fruit Crisp
If you think about it, fruit crisp is really not that much different than a wholesome bowl of oatmeal, just turned upside down. You’ve got baked fruit that is topped with toasty oats. In other words, lots of quality carbohydrates to restock your spent energy stores, setting you up for your next hard-charging workout. The soluble fiber in the oats helps keep cholesterol numbers in check, and the nutrients and antioxidants contained in apples, berries or any other fruit base you desire help athletes better adapt to the rigors of training. In other words, like apple pie – but healthier. Include some nuts or seeds in the topping, and you’ll add a dose of healthful fats and some additional essential micronutrients. And, yes, if you’ve worked up a storm, there is room for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Go for it.
2. Fruity Yogurt Pops
Part cooling effect, part nostalgia, there’s nothing better than a cold popsicle when temperatures are soaring. Popsicles can be so much more than a frozen sugar bomb. To give pops a fitness-friendly makeover, make your own with protein-rich Greek yogurt and fresh fruit to give you a nutritious protein-carb duo to help you recover like a pro. A report in Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that the lithium present in Greek yogurt could help improve muscle and bone strength during periods of training. In small amounts, lithium is considered a nutrient that is involved in several biochemical processes.
Recipe: PB&J Pops
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup raspberries
- 1/4 cup peanut butter powder
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8 tsp salt until smooth.
Blend together ingredients until smooth. Evenly distribute mixture into popsicle molds, filling each about three-quarters full. Insert sticks and freeze for about 6 hours.
3. Black Bean Brownies
There is a reason why brownies are a dessert that never seems to go stale: they always taste like a treat, and help satisfy the most wicked chocolate cravings. Brownies made with black beans are a clever way to sneak in some plant-based protein and fiber, all while still providing a delicious dessert. You can’t even taste the beans in the recipe, we kid you not. The web is full of various fudgy black bean brownie recipes that give the dessert a healthy spin. Or press the easy button and simply blend together a 14-ounce can of no-salt-added black beans with a boxed brownie mix, then bake according to package directions. Nobody said you had to be Martha Stewart, baking everything from scratch.
4. Banana Bread
Full of easy-to-digest carbs and potassium, many athletes have a big crush on bananas. This is why it’s so easy to love tender and moist banana bread. It’s also helpful that you can often find wedges of this dessert bread at coffee shops and country stores, should you be looking to make a mid-ride refueling stop. The combination of flour, banana and sugar delivers a sizable dose of recovery carbohydrates. To fully restock carbohydrate stores (glycogen) and make it easier to perform in subsequent endurance exercise, research suggests athletes should take in at least 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body mass per hour for the first few hours after training cessation. Certainly, a slice or two of banana bread can help you reach this mark.
To make it more nutritious, swap out the all-purpose white flour for a whole grain option, like oat flour or whole wheat pastry flour. Also, many recipes call for more added sugar than necessary, especially when you consider the 3 to 4 ripe bananas you’ll be using in the bread are plenty sweet. You can add a bit of muscle-friendly protein by swapping out 1/2 cup of the flour with a plain or vanilla plant-based protein powder. (Pro tip: Don’t use whey protein, as it will give the banana bread a rubbery texture.)
5. Fruit Salad
OK, this might not be a news flash, but one of the healthiest desserts you can possibly eat is fruit salad. It’s easier to make than most desserts, and comes packed with loads of micronutrients and antioxidants to help you better adapt to the rigors of training. Fruits, be it berries, grapes or melons, are high in water making the salad helpful for rehydration purposes. A recent study review in the European Journal of Sports Science found that going bigger on fruits can improve several markers of exercise recovery including muscle damage and inflammation. Top your fruit salad with a couple of dollops of Greek yogurt, and you’ve now got some top-notch protein to better support muscle repair and building. You can even add on a layer of granola and call it breakfast at any time of day.
6. Chocolate Pudding
There is something about spooning up chocolate pudding that makes you feel like a kid again. But there’s a stealth ingredient that helps give this dessert stalwart a serious nutritional boost: avocado. The green stuff not only lends chocolate pudding a fudgy consistency, but also a payload of nutrition, like monounsaturated fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals, all of which can be part of the recovery equation. Chocolate pudding made with avocado also provides another dessert option for people with certain allergies or dietary restrictions. When masked with cocoa and flavorings like cinnamon, we promise your dessert won’t taste like guacamole.
If gunning for a pudding with recovery in mind, go ahead and blend in some of your favorite protein powder to give you a dose of the amino acids needed to kickstart muscle protein synthesis.
Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Recovery Pudding
- 3/4 cup milk of choice
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- Flesh of 2 small avocados
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup protein powder (if desired)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth and thick. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill for at least 1 hour or until very cold, and serve within 2 days.
7. N-Ice Cream
It’s not ice cream, it’s nice cream. Frozen banana sent for a whirl in the food processor (or a high-powered blender) can produce deliciously silky ice cream-like results – with a lot less saturated fat. Made with the correct ingredients, nice cream can provide you with the carbs and antioxidants needed to recover better and boost performance. This investigation in the journal PLOS One found that athletes who consumed carbohydrates from bananas after a long bout of endurance exercise experienced fewer signs of internal inflammation which may signal a better rate of recovery from the workout. And on non-training days the lower calorie count than traditional ice cream means you can fret less about a few extra spoonfuls. The key is to blend the frozen bananas first, then blend in any additional ingredients you wish.
Recipe: Summery Strawberry-Basil Banana Ice Cream
Place 3 frozen chopped bananas in a food processor or high-powered blender container. Turn the machine on and let it run until banana is reduced to the size of small pebbles. Scrape down the sides of container and add 1 cup strawberries, 1/3 cup basil, zest of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons honey and pinch of salt. Continue blending just until the point where the mixture is creamy. Serve the portion you want immediately, then store the rest in an air-tight container in the freezer. (Note: You’ll need to let any leftovers from the freezer sit at room temperature for a bit of time to soften.)
8. Oatmeal Cookies
No shade to chocolate chip, but the always-reliable oatmeal cookie can help you go the distance on your training. Lumped in with some of the healthiest grains out there, oats are considered a whole grain and a good source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. If making your own, think of your recipe as being closer to granola than a standard cookie. The cookie should still be oat-heavy, but you’ll also want to include generous amounts of nuts and dried fruit. Yes, it will now be higher in calories, but that is a good thing if you are trying to recover from a killer workout or are in the midst of high-volume training. So go ahead and embrace your inner cookie monster.
Recipe: Granola Oatmeal Cookies
- 1 cup quick-cooking oats
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour or spelt flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together both oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, applesauce and vanilla until combined. Add in flour mixture to wet mixture until just combined. Fold in nuts and dried cherries. By the heaping spoonful, arrange balls of dough on prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Gently flatten each ball slightly. Bake until golden around edges, about 12 minutes.