I know the overwhelming discomfort of mid- to post-workout hunger pangs all too well, having been struck by devastating, mind-clouding starvation sensations at the gym on more than one occasion. During them, it becomes crystal clear that if I don’t ingest food with some serious macronutrient value within the next 30 minutes, my body and mind are going to be totally at odds. Each of these incidents ended with the purchase of a roasted turkey meal at the Boston Market that sat roughly 80 yards from the entrance to the Planet Fitness I trained at.
Why am I always so hungry after a workout?
Your body is extracting energy from various sources while you’re in the midst of working out. Depending on the length and intensity of your training sessions, your body may shift from burning off the glucose in your muscle cells, to burning glucose from the food presently being digested in your intestines, to burning glycogen in your muscles, to breaking down your body fat. It may even get to the point where it begins to break down its own protein. Depending on the type and quantity of food you’ve eaten that day — and how long and intense your training has been — your body may respond by alerting you in no uncertain terms that you need to eat before something dreadful happens.
So what is the key to not eating too much after a workout?
Well, let’s start with what you shouldn’t do: Don’t start grabbing every morsel of food in sight and shoving it into your mouth, because following up a high-quality fat-burning session by gobbling up a high-calorie smorgasbord is completely self-defeating.
Instead, as best you can, slow things down. For starters, make it home first and avoid the temptation of grabbing an entire Hot-N-Ready Pizza from Little Caesars and pounding it down like a Ninja Turtle. Once you get there, prepare yourself something possessing fewer than 300 calories. If you’re still just as hungry in 10 or 15 minutes, carefully eat a bit more.
That makes sense. But does it matter what type of food I eat after my workout?
This is definitely one of those cases where I think a post-workout protein shake or supplement is a good idea. If you’ve taxed your muscles heavily during your training, they’ll be craving some protein anyway, and 30 to 40 grams of post-workout protein is going to deliver at least 120 to 160 calories to your system. Your body will use the protein to begin rebuilding the muscle fibers that were broken down by your training, but it will also use the calories to replenish the caloric depletion that transpired during your workout. This is a tactical first line of defense that fulfills a dual role by providing your body with one of the key macronutrients it’s seeking, and also by chipping away at your appetite so that you don’t make an abrupt decision that will have you staring down the barrel of the Ultimate Feast at your local Red Lobster.
Or in my case, a heaping plate of roasted turkey and the requisite sides at Boston Market.