Post-Workout Nutrition – Are You OVER Eating?

I train with someone on a regular basis and they have a terrible habit. They’ve convinced themselves they burned hundreds, if not thousands, of calories in the last hour or so of their life in the gym. The mentality is, “I’ve worked out, I can reward myself with ice cream or wings or today’s instance of Thai peanut butter sauce-covered chicken. Hold on hot shot, there’s more to it than that.

Research shows people tend to reward themselves with larger portions, rich foods, or BOTH after a workout. Typically they eat back ALL or MORE THAN the calories they just burned during their exercise. Before you jump head first into a food coma, “you have to understand your body’s true nutritional needs so you don’t end up gaining weight despite all your hard work” according to Emily Brown, RD, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

So let us take a look at some smarter ways to refuel after the burn.

Work out around the time of a meal

This strategy works no matter what time of the day you train. Basically, have a small healthy snack before the activity, exercise, then an appropriate meal after. For instance, if your workouts are before work in the morning, wake, eat a cup of yogurt, train, then eat a balanced breakfast after the gym before work. Pair protein and carbohydrates with minimal to moderate healthy fats for food choices. This concept leads to the next tip.

Pair proteins, good carbs, and healthy fats

Now every dietitian, nutritionist, and trainer will differ on this ratio. For arguments sake we are going to say a range of 2:1 to 4:1 carbs to protein for your post-workout meal. This means for every 2 grams of carbs you consume you would need 1 gram of protein.

Let’s use the breakfast example. Our workout for this example will be approximately 45 to 60 minutes of strenuous physical activity, not strolling through the park. So we would want to eat approximately 70 grams of carbs and 35 grams of protein (2:1 ratio) or 70 grams of carbs and 18 grams of protein (4:1 ratio). What type of carbs? Since its breakfast and we have the whole day ahead, maybe some fruit, whole-grain bread, even some breakfast potatoes too possibly. Protein sources could be a 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites, lean turkey or chicken, a protein shake. The main thing is quality food with minimal fats.

What we don’t want to eat is anything drive-thru chain fast-food restaurant breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, foods comprised of mostly sugars and fat.

Got Milk?

Many people tout milk as the best thing post-workout, specifically low-fat chocolate milk. This is due to its ratio of carbs to protein and it is a whole-food source. Personally I say get over it. Milk is overrated and there are better options in today’s market. If you want milk protein though with almost zero sugar, Prescription Nutrition’s Milk Protein fits the bill. This way you can have a variety of carbs you can actually enjoy instead of just plain sugar. Studies do show that using dairy products to recover from exercise helps improve subsequent athletic performance better than sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade.

Your activity tracker is lying to you

So you have the latest tracker app, the latest tracker and you are tracking your every breath and movement. You have your calories down to the tenth decimal place. Awesome! Those little devices are lying to you.

A 2014 Iowa State University study found that not all devices are accurate in estimating calories. For instance the Basis Band had an error rate of 23.5%. That’s a quick way to overeat or undereat.

Don’t Estimate

Humans are terrible at estimating how many calories they really have burned. A study from the University of Ottawa asked people to eat the amount of calories they just burned while working out. The volunteers ate on average 2 to 3 times more than what they expended.

Get a hear-rate monitor. It is still the most accurate proven way to estimate calorie burn and convenient to wear around your chest or your wrist. There’s a reason the top athletes in the world use them. They work!


As simple as this sounds, it is the most ignored. They first thing to do once you are finished working out is to replenish lost fluids. You should be doing this while working out. On the way home or when you walk in the door, simply drink a glass or two of water then wait five minutes to start eating. Just that little bit of water will increase fullness and help to prevent overeating.

2+ hour training

Do you train for more than an hour? Every hour after your first hour, you should consume 25-50 grams of a simple carbohydrate to keep energy and performance levels elevated. This also sets the stage for not overeating post workout because you already have consumed some calories along the way. Most nutritionists do not recommend protein while training for longer times due to stomach digestion times. However, amino acids and a specifically create protein, PeptoPro, break this concept. They are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream without the time delay of stomach digestion. Many benefits can be found to using these items during long periods of physical activity.

Fun, Fun, Fun

As hard as it may be, making exercise seem anything but a chore has rewards. A 2014 Cornell University study found that “exercisers” at 124% more calories than those who where told it was just for fun. The activity was walking. Some things really are just mind over matter.

As always, hope this was helpful, feel free to comment.

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