There’s no shortage of delicious street food on offer in Bangkok, but things get tricky if you’re trying to find something healthy to eat after a workout. Sure, coconut desserts are tempting, but do you really want to undo all that hard work you just did at the gym?
I asked Bangkok’s health and fitness experts about the best and worst ways to refuel after a workout. Fortunately, according to them, you don’t have to give up coconut completely.
“It is hard to find the ideal post-workout snack on Bangkok’s streets, but I almost always go for a fresh coconut water for the essential electrolytes and grilled chicken for the perfect lean animal protein,” said Emma Harris, yoga teacher and VP of Global Brand Strategy for popular fitness app GuavaPass.
“This combination hydrates me and helps my muscles recover after exercise.”
May Savita Sresthaporn, the personality behind wellness site MS’HappyDiet, agrees with Harris.
“Fresh coconut water is the best after-workout drink with natural sugar and electrolytes instead of the energy or sport drinks with lots of artificial sugar,” she said.
While a coconut water is delicious and hydrating, it’s not going to fill you up if you’ve just put in serious work at the gym. One expert recommends looking towards Isaan for inspiration.
“My personal favorite street food options after a workout would be Issan food, like grilled chicken, som tam (papaya salad), grilled eggplant and some sticky rice,” said personal trainer, and co-owner of Body Core Thailand, Vishal Haria.
“You’ve got a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fats, which would be nutritionally fulfilling after a grueling session in the gym,” he noted about the Isaan dishes.
Like Harris, both Sresthaporn and Haria look to popular chicken dishes — with some modifications.
“Another option would be khao mun gai (chicken rice),” Haria said. “I would ask for chicken breast without the skin and plain rice, as opposed to the rice cooked in chicken fat that normally comes with it.”
“Chicken rice, get the steamed chicken without skin for the protein boost,” Sresthaporn said.
As far as foods to avoid, the message was clear: Stay away from anything fried.
Photo: Anne Roberts
“Greasy khao gaeng (curry on rice), fried chicken or fried meatballs,” were what Sresthaporn listed as the worst street food picks. “Overused oil, overused sugar and MSG, why waste all of your running?”
“The ingredients themselves don’t really offer anything positive in terms of nutrition as they are usually made from some type of flour with sugar and fat, and then they’re deep-fried in oil,” Haria said of fried street food, “so they’re basically very low in protein, high in nutrient-lacking carbohydrates and low quality fats.”
Indulgences like sugary coffee and tea drinks aren’t going to do your health any favors either.
“You don’t have to completely avoid [sweet drinks] but you can choose not to put too much sugar and condensed milk in them,” Sresthaporn said.
“However, for bubble tea, I would personally avoid it in terms of the amount of starch it contains and how much sugar is in the drink.”
For those of us who don’t want to remove all pleasure from our diets, some Bangkok street sweets are better than others.
“Grilled banana without, or with little, coconut sugar syrup,” Sresthaporn recommended. “It’s a natural form of carbohydrate. Not only it will give you energy, but it tastes so good.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what’s good for you or bad for you. It matters what you want to put in your body.
“What you eat after your workout really depends on what your goals are,” Haria said.
If you’re trying to gain muscle or put on weight, Haria notes that you can be more free when picking out a post-workout meal. But if you’re trying to drop pounds, it’s another story.
“If you’re trying to lose weight and become leaner, you’ll need to be stricter with your diet and really limit the types of street food you let yourself eat,” he said. “They can contain a lot of hidden calories that you wouldn’t want in your diet.”