You worked hard today. You’ve increased your reps, increased your speed, tried a new class, nailed the progression on that yoga move that you have been working on. With all of the effort you are spending on your workout, the last thing you want to do is walk out of the gym and unintentionally undo all of your hard work. Here are the post-workout mistakes to avoid so you don’t gain weight despite your fitness routine.
1. Eating Too Much
This sounds like a no brainer, but you just burned a big chunk of calories and the last thing you want to do is eat too much after your workout. In order to lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you take in, also known as a calorie deficit. If you have worked off 300 calories and then you eat a 500 calorie meal following your workout, you won’t see results. If fat loss and weight loss are your goals, you may also want to avoid swimming and try cycling or running as your cardiovascular workout instead. Studies have shown that swimmers lose less weight and have more body fat than cyclists and runners, and tend to consume more calories– especially after swimming in cold water. Basically, swimming makes you hungry. Eat a small meal post-workout to get your muscles the protein they need, but don’t gorge yourself on a huge meal.
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. 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. Buying 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 calories, not to mention artificial dyes and other additives that can be harmful to your health. Instead, replenish and rehydrate with zero calorie 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 workout, it may be tempting to sacrifice a post-workout stretch and cooldown session in order to get 15 more minutes on the machines. This is a big 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. It can help promote flexibility and decrease muscle soreness. Failing to cool down and stretch can lead to injury that could slow your progress and prevent you from progressing in your fitness goals. Take the extra five minutes to stretch or gently cool down and you can avoid the risk of injury.
5. Not Recording Progress
There is a reason you are working out. What is it? 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 written it down and are keeping track of your progress towards it. Set small goals, and record your progress as you work towards and achieve them. It will keep you on track and more motivated.
6. Over-rewarding Yourself
Congratulations, you worked hard today! Maybe you even hit one of your small personal goals. You deserve a reward! Wait though, before you do, be sure that reward is an experience and not a high-calorie food or beverage. Instead of over-indulging as a reward for your hard work, try a social interaction instead. 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.