It should be simple, right? You exercise, you lose weight. That’s what the magazines tell you, anyway. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. People go to the gym every day and many of them go month after month with minimal results. What gives? Well, while exercise is important, changing your body is only 20% exercise. The other 80% is what you eat. This isn’t for just weight loss. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle or just maintain your physique, you have to eat right. More important, though, than what you eat after a workout is when you eat. If you don’t eat anything, I’m sorry to say you’re doing it wrong.
Here’s the scenario: You skipped breakfast simply because you weren’t hungry. Then you go to the gym and get a nice workout in only to either rush to work or crash on the couch to rest with no plans of eating any kind of food any time soon. Awesome workout + less eating = straightest road to weight loss right? Wrong. In order to control calories, many people skip eating after working out, but this is a mistake. Firstly, the hormone that makes you hungry, ghrelin, is highly increased after exercise. If you don’t eat, this could cause you to overeat later in the day. Second, not eating after your workout doesn’t allow you to recover from it properly. Not only may you be low on energy for the remainder of the day, but after your workout you are still burning energy and it’ll come from your muscle tissue along with your fat if you don’t refuel your body.
So, what about before exercise? Can you skip a meal before then too? The answer is no. In fact, what you eat before a workout is probably one of the most important meals you can have. This is because, again, the fallacy of skipping meals to cut calories is a flawed idea. If you don’t fuel yourself enough for a more effective workout, then what was the point of exercising? Furthermore, similar to not eating post-workout, without any fuel from food in your muscles, your body will start breaking down the muscle itself during your workout because it has to get fuel from somewhere. Not only is the idea of breaking down your muscle scary, but this muscle loss also causes a drop in your metabolism which, over time, will hamper your weight loss efforts.
You’re probably thinking, what if I’m not hungry after exercise? Or how can I nourish myself for a workout when I’m always on the go? Below are some ideas for snacks you can have to both give you enough energy for before your workout and to sustain your day after along with protein to help rebuild and protect your muscle:
- Pack a protein shake
- 2 Hard boiled eggs + an apple
- Greek yogurt + berries
- Beef jerky + a banana
- 1 can of tuna + 6 whole wheat crackers
The bottom line? Skipping meals is never the answer for weight loss and can actually be harmful to it if you skip them around workouts. Having a small carbohydrate snack before your workout and a source of good protein after is all you really need. Even a cup of juice or half of a banana would do as long as it’s something — it doesn’t have to be a feast!