Changing your timing could help you choose a healthy post-workout snack

A woman eating an apple in a gym.

The key to choosing a healthy post-workout snack as opposed to an unhealthy treat could be to alter the timing of your decision-making, according to new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The study shows that the decision you make about what snack to eat following a workout can be influenced by the timing of when you make it. Avoiding a delay in deciding what snack to eat could help to limit the temptation of an unhealthy snack.

Choosing what you eat before you’re hungry

Koehler, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, said: “We found that there was very little research on this very tangible thing that I think everyone can relate to. If your goal is to lose weight, then I would say our findings support that you’re better off making the choice … not when you’re hungry after your workout, but instead before you go to the gym.”

The mentality of a post-exercise reward

“There have been a lot of lab studies that have looked at appetite and hunger,” Koehler added. “Most of these studies have found that right after exercise, you seem to be less hungry. I’ve always looked at these studies and wondered: Does it have such a strong impact that you can use this window after you exercise to say, ‘Because I’m not hungry, I’m going to make a really good choice about what I eat’? But knowing myself and many other exercisers, there’s also the notion that after you exercise, you want to reward yourself.”

However, the study also found instances of a seemingly contradictory mentality.
The study defines two models,“compensatory eating” and “exercise-induced anorexia”. Compensatory eating is when people consume more calorific food following exercise to make up for the calories they burned in exercise. Whereas exercise-induced anorexia is the idea that appetite hormones are suppressed by exercise, which means people eat less following a workout.

Their findings supported the notion of “compensatory eating”, as there was a 6 percent increase in the people post-exercise who chose a brownie to eat after their workout, compared to the groups who decided pre-exercise. However, they also found evidence for exercise-induced anorexia too – the 12-percent fraction that did not want a snack from the pre-exercise group rose to 25 percent in the post-exercise group.

The question remains as to what differentiates the people who exhibit compensatory eating decision-making, compared to those who exhibit exercise-induced anorexia. There are also questions as to whether a study where more unhealthy and healthy options were offered, rather than a simple brownie vs apple choice, would lead to different results.

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  1. I think that this is really interesting and definitely something that should be researched more, in order to look at the activation of brain regions in those who experience exercise-induced anorexia, compared to those who partake in compensatory eating. What you have said about timing being an important factor in the decision of what type of food to consume is definitely correct.


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