Have you ever had a great workout, only to overcompensate and eat more calories than you burned with your post-workout snack? Next time, making your snack choice prior to your workout may help stave off those unwanted calories.

We know that eating after a workout allows the body to refuel and recover, but what you eat is just as crucial as when you eat. If your ultimate goal is weight loss, know that your post-workout food choices can either help or hinder you in pursuit of that goal.

What Science Says About Post-Workout Snacking

There are some individuals who eat more after exercise, compensating for the fact that they burned calories during their workout. Researchers have concluded that 77 percent of college students show compensatory eating behaviors, defined as an increase in food intake following physical activity or exercise (1,2). These eating behaviors are barriers to weight loss, particularly if you’re taking in more calories than were expended during exercise.

In a new study, researchers were interested in the timing of food choice and if it had an impact on the healthfulness of the foods consumed after exercise (1). The study randomly assigned 256 college students to make a post-workout snack choice either prior to or immediately following their workout. Participants could choose from an apple, a brownie, or neither. When given the choice prior to their workout, participants were 33.5 percent more likely to choose the apple. After the workout, participants were 39 percent more likely to choose the brownie.

The results led researchers to believe that behavior modification may be a key factor in achieving weight loss goals through exercise. Since diet choices play such a large role, making food decisions before workouts could weaken the impulse to choose unhealthy snacks.

Changing Your Post-Workout Snacks to Maximize Weight Loss

Long-term studies have shown that there are those who eat less or make healthier choices after exercise, possibly because they put in the work and want to get the most out of it. Successful weight loss is often accompanied by a decrease in disinhibition and hunger scores and an increase in restraint (3).

If you find yourself struggling with food choices after a workout, try planning your post-workout snack before your workout even begins. Snacks or small meals containing protein will help refuel working muscles and support muscle protein synthesis, while carbohydrates will help replenish glycogen stores. Choosing foods that aid in muscle recovery can help ensure you get back into the gym sooner and stay on track with weight loss goals.


  1. Gustafson CR, Rakhmatullaeva N, Beckford SE, et al. Exercise and the timing of snack choice: healthy snack choice is reduced in the post-exercise state. Nutrients. 7 Dec 2018; 10: 1941.
  2. Stein AT, Greathouse LJ, Otto MW, et al. Eating in response to exercise cues; role of self-control fatigue, exercise habits, and eating restraint. Appetite. 2016; 96: 56-61.
  3. King N, Horner K, Byrne N, et al. Exercise, appetite and weight management; understanding the compensatory responses in eating behavior and how they contribute to variability in exercise-induced weight loss. Brit J Sport Med. 2011; 46: 315-22.