The Post-Gym Snack Trap & 7 Tips To Stop Overeating After A Workout

Follow our 7 tips to help you stop unhealthy-snacking after a workout. Read on to find the best healthy post-workout snacks to keep you fueled and help your muscles recover.

Are you one of those people who get that ravenous, want-to-eat-everything-in-sight feeling after your workout? It’s a vicious cycle. You sweat your butt off at the gym and then eat an entire sleeve of cookies and crackers. Research suggests that such experience is very common and here are the reasons why:




“I run for pizza” or “I run because I like beer” remarks sum up the way many of us think about the relationship between food and exercise. A lot of us like to indulge in naughty foods after gym because we have a “reward mentality”. In other words, some people treat food as a reward. They’ve worked hard so they believe they deserve to treat themselves. Whilst I am an advocate for treating yourself once in a while, if you indulge in a bowl of ice cream after every killer workout, you might end up gaining weight despite all your hard work.

For every 10 calories that we burn, we’re expected to crave at least three. But some people tend to overcompensate too much for the number of calories they lost and consume eleven or more calories for every ten burned. This tends to be more common for beginners who aren’t intrinsically motivated to exercise. Newer people, who do not find the activity to be rewarding in itself,  may choose to reward themselves with a food treat. They then end up eating more than they normally would or eating foods they’d otherwise avoid.



After 30 minutes of sweating on the elliptical, you look down at the console and feel triumphant. You’ve burnt 340 calories. Or did you? Too often we overestimate the number of calories we burnt during exercise.  

One study showed that people who tried to lose weight reported eating 47% less and working out about 51% more than they actually ate and exercised. Therefore it is not surprising that a lot of people regularly overcompensate for what they’ve burned.

In reality, our gym efforts aren’t as productive as the machines tell us. Researchers at UC San Francisco’s Human Performance Center set out to find the exact discrepancy between the calories that cardio machines say that users burn, and actual calories burned. The study concluded that cardio machines overestimate calorie burn by an average of 19 percent. When broken down by machine, the stationary bike overestimated calorie burn by 7 percent, the treadmill by 13 percent, the stair climber by 12 percent, and a fan-favorite, the elliptical, overestimates by a huge 42 percent.


Research shows that biological factors may be responsible for exercise-triggered food urges. A study found that for some individuals, particularly obese people, exercise increases the reward value of food thus they are more likely to experience cravings. Having said that, according to research, the leaner a person gets and as their body becomes more accustomed to regular workouts, these urges become less powerful. Studies observing the brain activity of leaner and fitter people showed that their food-reward brain regions responded less aggressively to images of tasty food.


Do not worry. Post-workout food cravings are common and here are 7 smart tips that will stop you from unhealthy post-workout snacking and silence that rumbling belly.


A common belief is that working out on an empty stomach will help you burn more fat. That’s a myth and starving before exercising can do more damage than good. Letting yourself get too hungry is a guaranteed setup for a binge. We end up eating much more than we normally would. That is because being extremely hungry makes us eat much faster and we miss out on satiety cues which normally take around 15 minutes to reach your brain. Therefore it is important that you do eat at least 30 minutes before your session. Your body needs fuel for a successful workout so make sure you provide it with some if you want to perform your best.


Dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger after an intense workout. Most people don’t drink enough water before, during and after exercise. The brain then confuses a lack of fluid with not enough food and signals hunger pains. Next time you have munchies, try to satisfy your cravings with water. Sweeping sweetened drinks and juices can quickly override any calorie deficit created working out.



The basal ganglia wants you to do habitual movements, like put something in your mouth and chew. It doesn’t always care what that thing is. So if you feel like snacking, instead of reaching for sweets, chew gum!


If you find yourself hungry after your workout, regardless of whether you ate beforehand, try to schedule your exercise before one of your main meals. In this way you will satisfy your hunger with the calories you would have consumed anyway, rather than adding extra snacks. So if you are a morning person, have a small snack when you wake up and eat a larger breakfast after your morning workout. If you prefer to workout at night, you can prepare your dinner ahead and heat it up when you get home.


Take your machine calories-burned readout with a grain of salt. Too many machines ignore important factors such as your weight, use of handrails, or fitness level which makes a big difference. One way to prevent overestimating your calorie burn is to wear a heart-rate monitor. Still, if your heart-rate monitor says you burned 500 calories, that’s not automatically an excuse to eat a 500-calorie sundae. If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to consume fewer calories than you expend.



It’s amazing how many people still fear to consume carbs post-workout. Contrary to common belief, you shouldn’t skip carbs. The optimal post-workout snack has protein and carbohydrates. In fact, the ratio of carbs to protein is advised to be 2:1-3:1. You need carbs to replenish glycogen stores while an adequate amount of protein is necessary to assist in muscle recovery and repair. Further, protein increases satiety and helps to keep your appetite under control. Make sure you include it in your diet. Timing is key. You should fuel your body within 20 to 30 minutes after a workout.


If you’re really struggling to keep your appetite under control, go and brush your teeth when you go shower after your workout. Who wants to eat a chocolate bar with the taste of mint on their tongue? Not me.

Following these tips will help you control your post-workout cravings for naughty foods. But you must be eating something. After a tough gym session, post-workout snacks are vital to restore energy and rebuild tissue that breaks down during exercise. Here are healthy snack ideas to make sure you end your workout on a high note.



Don’t have time? For a quick, store-bought fix, feed your muscles with a protein bar. But do pay attention to the sugar content. Choose bars with 10-30 grams of protein and less than 10 grams of sugar.


Low-fat Greek yogurt is one of the best post-workout foods to add to your diet. It is a  protein powerhouse and has twice as much protein as regular yogurt. Fat-free Greek yogurt contains between 17 and 20 grams of protein for a 6- to 7-ounce serving. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined you only need 20 grams of protein for muscle synthesis, which helps the body grow and repair its muscles. Greek yoghurt also has a thicker, denser texture which will help to fill you up. Since no post-workout snack is really complete without a good balance of carbs, make sure to add some fresh fruit or granola to the bowl. We recommend pairing your yogurt with berries. They help fight muscle soreness.

greek yogurt


Forget the protein shakes, chocolate milk may be the best thing to drink after your workout. It doesn’t just taste good. It also has all the nutrients your body needs to replenish itself from exercising. Research has found that chocolate milk contains an ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.  Highly active people need to consume about 1.8 g of protein for each kilogram of body weight, about twice the need of sedentary people. A cup of chocolate milk offers 8 grams of protein. In addition to protein, athletes also need to increase their carbohydrate intake to refuel glycogen supplies. Drinking a glass of chocolate milk provides you with 25 grams of carbohydrates. It’s no wonder that marathon runners are often rewarded with a carton of chocolate milk when they cross the finish line.


Tuna, a protein powerhouse, is low in fat (when canned in water, not oil) and provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that may also boost metabolism. To add the carbohydrate, spread the tuna over a slice of whole wheat bread.  


Packed with fiber, B vitamins, calcium and as a natural source of protein, almonds are a gym buff’s best friend. In about one serving (22 almonds), you get 160 calories, 6g carbs, 6g protein, and about 3g fiber. No preparation is needed, they are super tasty, on-the-go snack that can easily fit in your gym bag.



If you’re craving something more substantial after a workout, dates with peanut butter will fit the bill. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter provides 6 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein. Dates are high in potassium, which is great to help revitalize post-workout and also helps to flush out any excess salt and water weight.


Slice a hard-boiled egg in half and spread each side with one tablespoon of hummus for a light post-workout snack. The yolk contains crucial amino acids that aid in muscle repair. Hummus, a dip made from pureed chickpeas, gives you a high level of both carbs and protein. You can buy hummus pre-made, but I find that it tastes much better to make it yourself. To prepare your own hummus just crush up a few cups of chickpeas with a drizzle of lemon, olive oil, and garlic.


The food we fuel our bodies within the post-workout periods is critical to creating the metabolic environment we desire. Make sure you pick the right kind of snack to ensure a faster recovery.

Do you have any other tips to break the work-out/binge cycle or any good post-workout snacks we have not mentioned? Put them down in the comments below!

Check also: The 6 Most Effective Fitness and Nutrition Apps in 2017

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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