You worked hard today. You’ve increased your reps, improved your speed, tried a new class, or nailed the progression on that yoga move that you have been working on.
With all of the effort you’re spending at the gym, the last thing you want to do is immediately (and unintentionally) undo all of your hard work with some bad post-workout habits. Here are the post-gym mistakes to avoid so you can reach your personal fitness goals, whatever they may be.
1. Eating Too Much
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most common mistakes around. After a grueling workout, you may feel like going home and devouring everything in your fridge. But chances are that what you’ve burned off at the gym is a lot less than you think. If fat loss or weight loss is your goal, you shouldn’t gorge on a meal immediately after working out. A small post-workout meal or a protein shake is all you need to give your muscles the fuel they need to recover. Try to wait at least an hour, or until your normal meal time, to consume what you normally would for lunch or dinner on rest days.
2. Eating Too Little
If eating too much after a workout is bad, then skipping a post-workout meal must be good, right? Wrong. Your body needs protein to rebuild and repair muscle tissue after your workout. Studies have shown that protein helps with weight loss, improves body composition, and can leave you feeling more satisfied than fats and carbohydrates. The right foods will help you recover and rebuild your muscles, and keep you from overeating later on by sending a message to your brain that you are full. Whey protein in particular has been well studied and found to improve muscle mass and increase fat loss. For maximum results, eat a small meal 15 minutes to 45 minutes post-workout or a protein shake if that’s easier. The most beneficial meals for both before and after your workout will consist of a lean protein and a complex carbohydrate, such as a piece of wheat toast with a tablespoon of almond butter, or a chicken breast with a sweet potato. Add a banana or whole grain oats to a whey protein powder shake for the perfect post-workout snack.
3. Relying On Sports Drinks And Protein Bars
Sports drinks are marketed as healthy tools to help hydrate and replenish electrolytes to athletes and gym goers, but one look at the label should stop you in your tracks. Some of these drinks contain hundreds of empty calories, not to mention artificial dyes and other additives that can be harmful to your health. Instead, replenish and rehydrate with water during and after your workout. Unless you are running a marathon, you most likely don’t need to replenish your electrolytes. If you do, include a high-potassium food in your post-workout snack, such as part of an avocado, a banana, lima beans, or a sweet potato. Protein bars may seem like an easy and convenient way to get beneficial protein after a workout, but again, read the label. Some protein bars contain inferior protein sources, trans fats, and added sugars to help keep them moist and tasty. Just like a sports drink, you may be surprised at the amount of calories lurking in that protein bar as well. One little bar may have more calories than a full, nutritious meal.
4. Skipping Your Cooldown
When you have limited time to work out, it may be tempting to sacrifice your cooldown for 15 more minutes on the machine. Don’t do it. This is a mistake that may cost you dearly in the long run. A cool down and/or stretch helps return your body to its pre-workout state and promote recovery. Failing to cool down and stretch can lead to injury and soreness, which could slow your progress and prevent you from reaching your fitness goals. Take the extra five minutes to stretch or gently cool down. Your body will thank you.
5. Not Recording Your Progress
Most of us work out for a reason. Do you want to lose weight and fat, increase strength, improve flexibility, or enhance your overall health and wellness? Whatever your goal is, you will be much more likely to reach it if you have goals in mind and are keeping track of your progress towards them. Set small goals, and keep working towards new ones as you get fitter/stronger/leaner. It will keep you on track and motivated.
6. Over-Rewarding Yourself
Congratulations, you worked hard today! Maybe you even hit one of your small personal goals. You deserve a reward, right? Rewards are excellent ways to keep us motivated, but the wrong kinds of rewards can reinforce bad habits. Think of rewards as experiences, rather than high-calorie foods or beverages. Researchers have found that the reward pathways in your brain processes social interaction in the same manner as it does food, alcohol, and drugs. Plan a fun, calorie-free date with some friends as a way to celebrate your achievements. Get pedicures, go rock climbing, see a concert in the park – it will be much more memorable than a chocolate chip cookie, and better for your waistline, too.