When it comes to post-workout snacks, it’s truly a case of the good, the bad OR the ugly. So, which one is yours?
There are a few key things to consider when evaluating whether a post-workout snack is aiding you in reaching your goals:
Are you doing cardio or resistance training?
If your workout was a nice and sweaty cardio session, there is generally no reason to have a post-workout snack (unless your blood sugar is low). You have just spend a lot of energy burning calories and depleting your body’s glycogen stores, and you want to stay in that fat-burning state for at least a little while before re-filling your energy reserves with a meal.
If you do resistance training, the general advice is to have a snack or meal with protein and carbs fairly soon after your workout so you can start re-building your muscles fibers right away (breaking down and re-building muscles fibers is how muscles grow.)
Is your post-workout snack a part of your meal plan or just a reward for exercising?
If you tend to reward yourself for your exercise effort with food, you’ll most likely find that you end up consuming as many calories as you spend exercising (or more). And if your health goal is weight loss, these post-workout meals will not help you get there.
Furthermore, many post-workout snacks (even those marketed as “healthy”) are basically desserts in a healthy-looking wrapper. Let’s say you swing by Starbucks on your way home from the gym and grab a strawberry smoothie. That sounds healthy and delicious, except that it’s 300 calories and 60 grams of carbs in a cup. Most energy bars are the same.
This brings us to the next consideration:
Should a special post-workout meal be part of your meal plan at all?
If you’re following any of my meal plans, you know that I prefer to eat up to six smaller meals per day. When you eat every 3-4 hours, you’ll almost always have a meal scheduled for after your workout and that’s your post-workout meal right there. And because all my meals include proteins and carbs, they all work as healthy post-workout meals.
Assuming your diet fulfills your nutrition needs, I don’t suggest adding more food in the form of an extra post-workout meal. Instead, structure your daily meal plan to fit your workout schedule.
Note for insulin users: A benefit of eating after a (resistance training) workout is that this is the time when your insulin sensitivity is the most fired up and your body is hungry for energy. If you take insulin, you’ll most likely find that you only need a reduced bolus (fast-acting insulin) for your post-workout meal so that’s something to take into consideration to prevent low blood sugars.
Do you use carbs to get through your workouts?
I generally recommend not eating carbs during your workouts (unless it’s a very long cardio session) but to adjust your insulin instead. However, this can be easier said than done, especially if you are new to exercise and don’t know your formula for food and insulin around workouts.
If you have anxiety about going low when exercising, you can plan ahead and use some of the carbs from your meal plan to get you through your workout. However, if you’re drowning bottles of Gatorade or juice to get through a 60-min workout, I believe that you need to focus on your insulin titration instead of compensating with carbs. If you need that many carbs to get through a workout, you have too much insulin in your system before working out.
It’s not easy to figure out how much insulin you need to have onboard for different types of workouts, but it can be done by diligently tracking what you eat, how much insulin you take around workouts, and how your blood sugar reacts. If needed, read or revisit the how to find your formula for food and insulin around workouts post to learn how I do it and download my tracking template.
The key to not letting your post-workout snacks sabotage your weight loss journey is to make sure you have a plan for what you eat after your workouts and to make those meals a part of your daily meal plan.
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