Make your workout fun
Thinking about exercise less as a chore and more as something you do because you enjoy it can help you eat less afterward, according to a 2014 Cornell University study. Researchers led volunteers on a 1.4—mile walk, telling half of them that it was for exercise and half that it was a scenic stroll. The “exercise” group ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert than the “scenic” group. In another experiment, volunteers were given post-walk snacks, and the “exercisers” ate 124% more calories than those who were told it was just for fun.
Pair protein and carbs
When you do need a snack to recover from a tough sweat session, Brown recommends a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. “This will allow you to begin to replenish your energy levels and repair muscle damage resulting from the workout,” she says. For workouts less than an hour, keep your snack to 150 to 200 calories total—an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of turkey and cheese on crackers, or a handful of trail mix, for example. If you worked out for longer than an hour and aren’t eating a full meal soon, aim for half a gram of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight. A 140-pound person, for example, should refuel with 70 grams of carbs and about 18 grams of protein. (An energy bar or protein shake, plus one of the healthy snacks above, should fit the bill.)
Low-fat dairy is another great recovery food with plenty of protein to help tide you over until your next meal, says Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. Plus, studies have shown that refueling with dairy—low-fat chocolate milk, specifically—helps improve subsequent athletic performances better than traditional sports drinks.