6 Tips to Curb Your Post-Workout Overeating
Sometimes we go to the gym just so we can justify eating more. While the principle is sound and you should treat yourself reasonably, research shows that if you indulge in a reward you often consume all or more calories than you just burned.
Emily Brown, RD, is a wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and a former professional runner.
Related - Do You Need Post-Workout Carbs?
She's been noted saying "There’s nothing wrong with a small snack or a filling dinner after exercising, but before you dig in, you have to understand your body’s true nutrition needs so you don’t end up gaining weight despite all your hard work."
Refueling can be a great way to improve your performance, but oftentimes we overindulge without realizing.
So there are a few strategies you can implement to try to curb your overeating session after you exercise.
Stop Post-Workout Overeating
1.) Try to Exercise Right Before a Meal
It's no surprise that we are hungry after we exercise -- regardless whether you ate before you worked out.
Scheduling your workouts before a main meal can help you refuel with nutritious calories you would have eaten anyway.
This tip can work for anyone regardless if they are a morning, noon, or nighttime exerciser.
- Eat a small snack when you wake up, go exercise, and eat a larger breakfast.
- Hit the gym on your lunch break and eat on your way back to the office.
- Have dinner prepared so all you have to do is heat it up after you get home from your sweat session.
Use your imagination and find what works best for you.
2.) Try Eating Protein with Your Carbs
If you need to eat something after you exercise, Brown recommends a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
“This will allow you to begin to replenish your energy levels and repair muscle damage resulting from the workout,” she says.
Brown also provides a few examples of some snacks that are great for a post-workout snack.
If you've exercised for less than an hour:
- Slice of turkey and cheese on some crackers
- A handful of Trail mix
- Open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
It is ideal to keep these snacks to 150 to 200 calories in total.
If you've exercised for more than an hour:
- Energy bar
- Protein shake
Aim for a half gram of carbs per pound of body weight. For example, a 160-pound person should refuel with 80 grams of carbs and about 20 grams of protein.
3.) Try to Snack Throughout the Day
Eating small, planned meals throughout the day may help you curb overeating post-workout. Try to incorporate two to three healthy snacks throughout the day.
This will keep you from feeling that "steal food off of someone's plate" feeling you may have post-workout.
4.) Quit Overestimating
I know you just busted your hump in that Spin class, but research suggests we often overestimate how many calories we burn -- by as much as four-fold.
The study is from the University of Ottawa and they asked volunteers to eat back the calories they'd just burned. The participants tended to consume two to three times more than they actually burned.
Buy a heart rate monitor that includes the sensor that you wear around your chest and a wristwatch. Even then, if your monitor says you've burned 500 calories, don't go and eat 500 calories.
The goal is to burn more than you eat.
5.) Drink Water as You Are Done
Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist and author of Diet Cults and The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. He says “having a lot of water in the belly also reduces appetite—not a lot, but a little. Guzzle water as soon as you walk in the door to quench your thirst and take up space in your tummy.”
You don't want to take in too much water; you could cause water intoxication due to excessively diluting the salt levels in the body.
6.) Make Exercise Fun Again
If you can make exercise less of a chore and turn it into something you do because you enjoy, it can help you eat less afterward.
A 2014 Cornell University study took volunteers on a 1.4-mile walk. Half of the group was informed it was for exercise, the others were told it was a scenic stroll. The group who thought it was exercise ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert than the people who saw it as a scenic stroll.
Another research offered post-walk snacks. Those who thought it was exercise ate 124% more calories than those who saw it as fun.
Wrapping It Up
I know when you look at people who've lost a lot of weight or hit fitness goals you'd like, you ask yourself "how did they make the change?"
The answer is to find what works best for you.
Everyone has some sort of struggle with food, it's how you manage and deal with it that makes the difference. It only takes "eating healthy" more times than you "eat unhealthily." It only takes exercising a little bit more than you have been.
There's no secret sauce, and there's certainly no shortcut to long-lasting health.
Try all of these tips and see which work for you, and which don't.