Whether you’re training for your next 5K, rocking a spin class or just increasing the pace of your morning power walk, exercise takes fuel. After a particularly strenuous session, you crave a “pick-me-up” to replace what you’ve burned working out. But let’s face it, it’s all too easy to justify a calorie-packed post-exercise snack as a reward for putting in the hard work. So make sure that the snack you choose doesn’t pile on the calories.
Try some sensible snack strategies that can help fight the post-exercise “hungries,” without undoing the benefits of your workout.
Beware over-crediting your calorie burn. Research shows that most of us overestimate our expenditure of calories during vigorous exercise (sometimes by two to four times). Calorie trackers can help, but even they are not always accurate. Unless you exercise for more than 90 minutes, it’s best to compensate by keeping your snack between 150 and 200 calories.
What you eat matters. The ideal post-workout snack has carbs to refuel your energy stores and protein to repair muscle tissue. Try a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. For a workout of less than an hour, a good snack might be a slice of turkey and cheese on crackers or an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Got milk? Low-fat dairy, especially chocolate milk, is another great recovery food with plenty of protein to tide you over until your next meal.
Keep a water bottle handy. Hydrate before, during and after your workout. That empty feeling in your tummy might be more than hunger. The signs of mild dehydration can mimic hunger and convince your brain that you need food. During intense exercise you can lose anywhere from 24 to 48 ounces of sweat. Step on the scales before and after your workout and sip 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound you lost. Drinking water can also help you feel fuller until you can get a bite to eat.
Skip the snack and go straight to a meal. If exercise leaves you ravenous even when you eat before your workout and no matter how many calories you burn, try going straight to the table for a meal. (Of course you will probably want to shower first.) That way you refuel with the calories you would have consumed anyway.
Refuel throughout the day. If you tend to go overboard with after workout snacking or at meals after vigorous exercise, try eating two to three small, healthy snacks throughout the day. It may sound strange, but eating healthy snacks between meals can help regulate hunger, increase energy and keep metabolism bumped up.
Avoid the reward trap. If you associate your post-workout pick-me-up with reward for a job well done, “this treat yourself, you deserve it” mind-set can take you down a path to overcompensation. To avoid undoing all your hard work, stick to your basic 4:1 carbs to protein snack, then wait 10 or 15 minutes and help yourself to more if you’re still hungry. It will help you avoid automatically supersizing your meals.