What to NOT eat after your workoutIt’s a classic dilemma and that question hits me over and over again. “What do I have to eat before and after my workout to lose weight … to build muscle … to get abs … to fit into my wedding dress … lose belly fat?”
How you eat BEFORE your workout determines how energized you are and how strong you can finish your session. The same is true for the food you eat AFTER your workout. How much is enough to refuel your muscles and not sabotage your weight loss progress.
Not eating after a workout to lose weight is as bad as eating the wrong foods. The body needs nutrients to rebuild muscle damages and fill up glycogen storage for the next sweaty workout.
In an effort to immediately satisfy your hunger after working out many of us tend to grab whatever is closest to us. Often leading to foods that are contra-productive for your fitness goals.
10 worst foods to avoid after your workout
- Energy Bars
Don’t be fooled by marketing claims and labels that promise the perfect fitness food which covers all your nutritional needs for your body. The truth is, a lot of energy bars are highly processed and full of added sugars. They have more in common with a candy bar and are far away from being healthy. Check out the nutrition label and make sure to eat a bar that is as low in sugar as possible.
– a Snickers bar has 27 gr. sugar
– a Kellogg’s Special K Protein bar has around 13 gr. sugar
– a Quest Bar Cookies & Cream has 1 gr. sugar
The daily recommended sugar intake for women is 25 gr. and for men 37 gr.
Choose your snacks wisely to refuel post-workout.
- High Fat Foods
High-fat contents slow down the digestion process in your gut. As a result, your body takes longer to absorb the much-needed nutrients into the muscles.
Fat provides 9 kcal for energy and carbs provide 4 kcal for energy. That means it takes much less food than you think to destroy the calorie deficit from training.
- Low-Carb Foods
This might come as a surprise but for a post-workout meal, it is more beneficial to not go low carb. The goal is to fuel our body for the next workout and low carb meals won’t do the trick. It will leave you in an under-recovered state when you hit the gym the next day. To be as recovered as possible you want to refill glycogen stores. There is no need to shy away from carbohydrates in moderation, eat high-quality carbs like whole-grain bread, potatoes, quinoa for example.
- Raw veggies
While veggies should definitely be a part of your diet daily they are not the best choice after you hit the gym. Veggies don’t provide the much-needed carbs to refill glycogen storages and they are also typically low in protein. But there is nothing wrong if you combine veggies with a source of complex carbs and a good source of protein.
- Peanut Butter
Nut butter, in general, is a healthy food (if you choose a brand that is not loaded with added sugar) and often seen in the fitness community. But when you look at the benefits of peanut butter as a standalone post-workout snack it is not perfect. It’s a perfect source for healthy fats but has no carbs and not enough protein to offer.
- Baked Goods
Refilling your empty glycogen storages with baked goods like donuts, pastries and so on is not what I have in mind when I talk about carbs. These foods are far from being nutritional beneficial as they are more like sugar and fat bombs. The high fat and sugar content slows down digestion and delays the important nutrient absorption process.
- Salty Foods
After a sweaty workout, it seems obvious to replenish sodium levels. Foods like pretzels, chips and other crunchable snacks are not an ideal choice. While they are high in sodium they do not provide any other minerals like magnesium, potassium, or calcium. These are the main minerals which are essential for a fast recovery.
Don’t rehydrate with alcohol post-workout. A lot of people claim that beer is full of electrolytes, all-natural and therefore an acceptable beverage after a workout.
“The lack of a negative effect doesn’t always mean there is a positive effect.” according to Melmagazine. Booze interferes with your body’s ability to synthesize and repair muscle fibers. And after having a few drinks you might be one the people who can’t control their cravings for salty snacks anymore and then the downward spiral begins.
- Pure Water
Try to drink water that is enriched with electrolytes after your workout. Electrolytes that are lost through sweat are for example sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Pure water may have traces of some electrolytes but for sure not enough for a decent recovery. Electrolytes must be present in a proper amount in your body to maintain fluid balance, muscle contraction, and neural activity. Acefitness.org pointed out an interesting fact about electrolytes:
“Water follows the movement of electrolytes, particularly sodium and chloride, meaning that water is drawn to locations where electrolytes are most concentrated. Therefore, electrolytes play a critical role in maintaining equilibrium of water throughout the body, particularly during exercise when electrolytes and water can be lost through sweating.”
As you can see, it makes sense to not only drink water after your activity. Instead, infuse it with some electrolytes concentrate. It will make your recovery much faster and you can start refreshed into your next session.
- High Sugar Recovery Shake
It is tempting to grab a pre-packaged recovery shake but let me assure you that this drink can actually more harm than benefit your recovery. The “ready to go drinks” are mostly filled with unhealthy additives and more sugar than you would assume.
A healthy alternative is to make your own recovery shake. Start with high-quality protein powder and maybe add one or two of your favorite fruits and blend it. But keep in mind that adding too many ingredients will quickly change your healthy recovery shake into a nutrition nightmare calorie-wise.
What happens if you don’t eat after a workout?
Eating after a workout is essential for optimal recovery. Take a look at professional athletes they know the importance of proper recovery nutrition. If they starve their body or fill up with junk food they will not be able to bring high-class performance and steady improvement of their strength.
Oftentimes people avoid eating after their workout to keep the fat loss process going. Especially if they had a late workout they avoid to eat at night in order to remain slim.
But there is a biological reason to eat after a workout (especially after strength training)! During your workout, you are breaking down muscle and creating small micro-tears. To trigger the repair process your body needs foods high in protein to repair all the tears.
If you don’t eat after your workout you will weaken your body in the long run.
Your muscles remain damaged and their performance drops. Your muscles are not able to make any progress and that makes it kind of pointless going to the gym.
Another aspect you should consider is the fact that not eating can impact your mood negatively. Physical activity lowers glucose levels. A steady glucose level is essential for overall energy levels and more important for your brain function. Low brain function can have a negative effect on your mood. It sounds too good to be true but there is actually food to balance your mood according to an article from WebMD.
A balanced diet rich in water, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and good protein sources is essential for feeling good and live a healthy life.
Best post-workout meal for weight loss
In order to lose weight, you might know the temptation to skip eating after your workout. Don’t fall for this trap. If you don’t refuel your body after working out you are missing out on the chance to recover your muscles with proper nutrients. Plus, you will start the following workout session weaker.
When you postpone your meals your hunger builds up and can lead to a point where you lose control and you are tempted to overeat.
Should you eat before bed
It’s a widespread assumption that eating before bed will make you fat. There is actually research that proves weight gain and research that proves weight loss.
Which one is right?
They are both kind of right and I tell you why. It does not matter when you eat. The crucial factor is how much you eat and how much you moved during the day. Your physical activity and the daily calorie intake determine if you lose or gain weight.
If your late-night meal consists of fried chicken, chips, followed by sweet treats you will gain fat. But if you eat a well balanced healthy meal that consists of protein and carbs the nutrients will go towards glycogen synthesis and muscle repair.
The perfect post-workout meal depends on the training you did before. After endurance training, the recommended ratio of carbs to protein is 4:1. While strength training will lead to more benefits when you follow a ratio of 2:1 (carbs to protein). Endurance athletes need more carbs to replenish glycogen storages and heavy lifters need more protein to rebuild the micro muscle tears.
Take a look at the following lists for examples of easy to digest foods:
|food||carbs per 100 gr.|
Now combine carbs with healthy sources of protein:
|food||protei per 100 gr.|
Combine the foods listed above and you have the best post-workout meal. Here is some inspiration:
- grilled chicken with vegetables
- salmon with sweet potato
- tuna salad with quinoa
- oatmeal with banana
- cottage cheese with strawberries
- whole bread with hummus
- greek yogurt with fruits