Why Do You Pig Out After You Work Out?
Outrun Your Hunger
Do a (Calorie) Reality Check
Can't seem to shake those final five pounds? Chances are, you're cooking the calorie books -- and it's time for an audit. "Some women overestimate how much they burn during exercise," says Nancy Clark, RD, the author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. In a study from the University of Ottawa in Canada, people who expended 200 calories during a brisk walk guessed that they had torched 825 calories and then ate an average of 557 calories afterward.
To bring your estimation down to size, keep in mind that your calorie burn may not be what you think -- or even what you're told -- it is. The readout on an exercise machine like an elliptical or a treadmill can overshoot that number by a lot. The only truly accurate measure is a treadmill test done in a laboratory. For a closer gauge at home, invest in a personalized device with a heart rate monitor, such as one from Garmin or Polar USA, or use our calculator below.
Raise the Protein Bar
Some women worry that bulking up on protein leads to, well, a bulkier physique. But getting more of the nutrient can actually help you slim down. According to one University of Washington study, people consumed an average of 441 calories fewer on days when their diet was 30 percent protein compared with when it was just 15 percent protein. "Eating protein blunts the release of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger and increases the release of peptide YY, a hormone that controls satiety," explains Heather Leidy, PhD, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. Her research revealed that having a protein-rich breakfast can help prevent unhealthy snacking later in the day.
"Active women require more protein to repair and rebuild the muscles that are broken down during exercise," says Jim White, RD, the owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesman. Pumping up your intake can help you feel stronger in the gym -- and when facing temptation in the kitchen. Women who exercise regularly may need 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, Clark says. For a 140-pound woman, that's 70 to 105 grams a day. To meet this quota, aim to incorporate protein at each meal: Start with a container of Greek yogurt with almonds at breakfast, top your lunchtime salad with beans and an egg, and have a serving of meat or fish at dinner. Seek out snacks that also pack protein, such as a turkey wrap or a banana or apple spread with nut butter.
Eating meals that are low on the glycemic index (GI) -- a measure of how quickly blood sugar spikes -- can keep you from feeling ravenous. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women who ate a low-GI breakfast including muesli, yogurt, and fruit three hours before an hour-long walk were 44 percent less hungry in the afternoon and torched more fat than those who started their day with cornflakes, white bread, and jam.
Low-GI foods elicit less of a blood sugar response, which can encourage the body to recruit its fat stores for fuel, Clark says. "They also tend to be high in fiber and protein, which can fend off hunger," she says. On race day, you may need refined carbs because they can be easier on a sensitive stomach and break down more quickly into energy that your body can use. But on a daily basis, fill up on high-fiber grains and produce instead of more processed fare: steel-cut oats instead of instant and fresh peaches instead of the syrupy canned kind.
The Eat Sheet
Preparing for a race requires long hours, so repay your body by giving it premium fuel. "What you eat can affect your energy levels, recovery time and even injury risk," says White.
1. Don't go carb crazy.
"All meals should contain protein to rebuild muscles, carbs to supply energy and fat to increase endurance," White explains. Strike a balance among whole grains, produce, and lean protein, with a bit of healthy fat as an accompaniment.
2. Time it right.
Schedule meals or snacks within two hours of exercising. "If you have a lunchtime class, have half of your sandwich beforehand and the rest of your meal afterward," suggests Antonucci. As with any other workout, you should eat within 30 minutes of finishing.
3. Plan ahead.
If you're running or biking for more than 90 minutes, pack some fuel -- about 100 to 250 calories for each hour -- says Clark. Easily digested carbs, such as raisins and dried pineapple, provide a quick dose of energy.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2013.
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