Anyone who exercises frequently is likely familiar with the concept of post-workout food cravings. Even if you finish your workout with nary a hunger pang, you may find yourself craving all kinds of foods within a couple of hours. Or you might feel hungry immediately following your workout – it will vary from one person to the next.
The problem for most fitness buffs is that they are trying to maintain or lose weight (or alternately, bulk in a measured way), and/or they’re interested in healthy living. When post-workout food cravings hit, though, they can cause even the most devoted health nuts to reach for high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie items to satisfy cravings.
What can you do to overcome these cravings without starving yourself or feeling the burn of deprivation that will eventually lead to binging? How can you conquer post-workout food cravings? Here are a few tried-and-true strategies to employ.
Eat Prior to Working Out
If you’re dieting, you might be hesitant to eat prior to working out. The problem is that your body needs nutrients, especially when you’re placing unusual demands on it, say during workouts.
As a result, failing to prepare for burning calories will lead to even worse post-workout food cravings in most cases, whereas eating ahead of time can preempt cravings. Take for example marathon runners who carb load prior to race day. They don’t necessarily eat their body weight in pasta – they simply add a little extra to what they would normally eat in order to set their bodies up for success.
For the average exerciser, eating your regular diet should be enough. Don’t try to push the envelope by reducing calories below recommended levels in order to see speedier results. If you go into a workout hungry you’re going to be famished by the time you’re done. You’re also more likely to see negative effects as your body goes into famine mode and desperately clings to every calorie.
Eat Immediately After a Workout
There’s no reason to avoid eating right after a workout. In fact, more and more experts are touting a small snack after exercise as a great way to fight post-workout food cravings and begin repairing muscles.
Part of your post-workout food cravings could be due to thirst rather than hunger. Do you crave a gallon of milk after a workout? This could be a signal that your body is lacking not only nutrients, but also hydration.
Generally speaking, it is recommended that you hydrate before, during, and after a workout. The amount of water you need to add to your daily eight cups depends on the intensity and duration of your workout, as well as weather conditions in some cases (you’ll sweat more in high temperatures).
Just because you’re dieting doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allowed to forego the traditional rules of nutrition. Your body needs specific nutrients in order to function at its peak, and it will require additional nutrients to recover following the strain of exercise.
You can find basic nutrition guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov. The revamped food pyramid features a plate for visual guidance on creating balanced meals. In addition, you should look into adding a daily vitamin to replenish electrolytes and other nutrients lost during exercise.
If you don’t want your post-workout food cravings to get the better of you, it’s important to eat foods that are going to satisfy you. For example, drinking a protein shake may technically provide the nutrients your body needs, but it won’t keep you full for very long. You’ll soon find yourself seeking further satisfaction.
Instead, choose foods that fit into your caloric budget, provide needed nutrients, and also leave you feeling full and satisfied longer. This is one of the best ways to ensure that you don’t end up going overboard following a workout.
Consider Your Relationship with Food
Many people go into exercise with the mistaken notion that they have free license to eat anything and everything they want just because they are burning calories. If you’re interested in maintaining your weight and your health, though, you must adopt a different attitude.
Just because you burn a bunch of calories hitting the treadmill or track doesn’t mean you should satisfy your post-workout food cravings with calories you wouldn’t normally consume. If you have something planned, like a special meal, tempering your diet and exercising to account for extra calories once in a while is okay. However, using your workouts as free license to scarf down soda and chips with abandon is only going to derail your health and weight goals.