Q: I'm starving after my workout! What can I do to stop that or to avoid canceling out the calories I just burned?
A: It may seem a little counterintuitive, but immediately after your workout is the best time of day to eat, so even if you're not starving, you should still eat something.
The good news is that you can't cancel out the calories you just burned during your workout. Weight loss and the human body don't work like that. When you're working out, your body burns fat to be used as energy. If you eat right after your workout, those calories won't be used to replace the burned body fat. Your body only stores food as body fat when it doesn’t have anything else to do with the extra calories you eat. After your workout, your body needs to start restoring and repairing itself from your training session. In other words, it needs calories.
The calories you eat after your workout will be used to replace energy stores in your muscles that got used up during your training session. Your body also uses any protein you eat to build and repair your muscles that were broken down as a result of you pushing them to their limits.
Eating immediately after you finish a workout is beneficial for many reasons. Your body will automatically use the calories you eat for good (repair and recovery) and not bad (fat storage). In fact, research shows that your body's ability to refill muscle energy stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat just 2 hours after your workout compared to eating right away. Eating after your workout may also increase your body’s insulin sensitivity or its ability to use carbohydrates—an important factor for weight loss and health) for the following 24 hours.
Your next question might be “Okay, then what should I eat?” Directly following your workout, I recommend that you have a liquid meal that contains protein and carbohydrates like Gatorade G3 or a similar recovery drink. These drinks don't require a lot of digestion, so the nutrients will get into your system fast, allowing for your body to jump-start the recovery process. If your training session lasts longer than 60 minutes, aim for a recovery drink that contains at least 10 to 15 grams of protein and 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates. Having a liquid meal is also convenient, as you can have it at the gym and many people can't stomach a lot of food right after working out. Forty-five minutes to one hour after your workout, eat a whole food meal, again containing protein and carbohydrates. For example, a piece of fish with quinoa and a green salad with olive oil would be a great meal to have at this time.
Whatever you do, don't starve yourself after your workout. Take advantage of the metabolic and hormonal changes that happen post workout to refuel and enjoy a good meal.