Tell yourself you’ll eat an apple before a workout to avoid chocolate

Don’t want to stuff yourself with chocolate after the gym? Tell yourself beforehand you’ll eat an apple when you finish on the treadmill

  • Scientists questioned how timing of food choices can affect your nutrition
  • Participants were asked to choose a post-workout snack before or after exercise 
  • Likelihood of indulging in a brownie rose when the choice was after a workout 

If you don’t want to threaten your hard work in the gym, choose your post-workout snack before, and not after. 

Leaving the decision until after your workout can leave you more likely to indulge in chocolate as a reward, scientists claim.  

A study found gym-goers who decide what to eat before they go on the treadmill are less likely to be swayed by chocolate afterwards.

The findings suggest that efforts to pre-plan food really do increase the odds of having a more nutritious diet.

Choose your post-workout snack before, and not after exercise, scientists have said

Researchers at University of Nebraska – Lincoln, led by Professor Karsten Koehler, asked two groups of participants to go about their normal workout routines.

Before exercising, 137 members of one group decided whether they wanted an apple, brownie or no snack following the exercise session. 

The 119 members of the other group were presented with the same choice after they had already exercised.

Roughly 74 per cent of participants who were asked prior to the workout session chose an apple, compared with 55 per cent of those asked afterward.

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Whereas just 14 percent of the pre-exercise group selected the brownie, about 20 percent of the post-workout group decided to indulge. 

Professor Koehler said: ‘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 team’s recommendations support broader research looking at the relationship between timing and food choice.

Studies have consistently shown people are more willing to indulge when making immediate dietary decisions than when thinking ahead, said researcher Professor Christopher Gustafson.

‘Our study conformed very closely to the ideas in behavioral economics about this present-biased preference [for unhealthier options],’ Professor Gustafson said. 

‘Using solely that model, I would’ve predicted that people would be more likely to choose the healthy snack when choosing before they exercise.’

The study, published in the journal Nutrients, also raised questions about how exercise can affect appetite.   

One theory, known as compensatory eating, suggests that people consume more calorie-dense food in the aftermath of exercise to make up for calories lost. 

But exercise-induced anorexia proposes that exercise can suppress appetite-related hormones and consequently lead people to eat less.

Professor Koehler said: ‘There have been a lot of lab studies that have looked at appetite and hunger. 

‘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.’

There was evidence of both theories. The 12 per cent fraction that declined a snack entirely before doing their workout rose to 25 per cent in the post-workout group.

The six per cent increase in brownie choice between the pre- and post-exercise groups supported the compensatory eating theory.

But the researchers questioned – did the post-exercise group choose the brownie because of compensatory eating, or from the impulsive decision.

The team are conducting more research to figure out how and why people make food choices around exercise. 


Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at NutriCentre, told MailOnline: ‘What you eat post workout is extremely important. The aim of a healthy post workout snack/meal is to improve recovery, reduce muscle soreness, increase the ability to build muscle and to help with your immune system.

It is best to eat your food within one hour after you finish your exercise. The perfect post workout snack or meal consists of both carbs and protein, according to Ms Wilkinson.


Quiona is a great alternative to rice. I often recommend it as it is a good source of protein and fibre. This is a great food to have after a workout to ensure you are getting a good intake of nutrients,’ Ms Wilkinson said.


‘It is becoming increasingly popular due to its probiotic content which can help with digestive health,’ said Ms Wilkinson.

‘It is also high in protein. You can drink a cup of kefir after a workout for a healthy way to get a good healthy intake of protein to help with the repair and recovery of your muscles.’

Pita and hummus

‘Pitta and hummus is a great combination for a post workout snack,’ the nutrionist advised.

‘Go for wholewheat pita rather than white pita. Hummus is a good source of protein and carbs. The wholewheat pita is a good source of slow releasing carbs to keep your energy levels up.


Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain helps with digesting protein and is a helpful anti-inflammatory which is useful for preventing injuries. Pineapple also contains fibre, vitamin B6, manganese and is a great source of Vitamin C.

Sweet potato

Try a starchy vegetable such as sweet potato for a nutritionally dense carbohydrate snack after your workout. Sweet potato is just as delicious whether eaten hot or cold.

Fish and chips

Opt for a healthy version of fish and chips. Go for an oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines or anchovies. These fish contain plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids to improve body fat burning as well as a good source of protein to help rebuild muscle.


A a great source of protein. It also contains zinc which is critical to prostate health and fertility, iron which is a key component of oxygen delivery within your cells and selenium which gives your immune system a boost.

Green vegetables

Green vegetables are anti-inflammatory and also help alkalise the body. This will help towards preventing muscle pain, fatigue and injury.


A daily walk or bike ride makes people want to eat fruit and vegetables instead of burgers and chips, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Known as the ‘transfer effect’, the phenomenon is where a single improvement in lifestyle triggers another.

The study of 2,680 formerly sedentary young adults found they were more likely to opt for lean meats, fruits and vegetables – after a few weeks of exercise.

What’s more they went off fried foods, soda and other fat and sugar laden goodies.

The participants, who were not exercising regularly or dieting, were US undergraduates aged 18 to 35 – a period of young adulthood critical for forming healthy habits.

Those who said they exercised less than 30 minutes a week started 30-minute workouts three times a week for 15 weeks. 

They were instructed not to change their diets in any significant way, but it happened anyway.  

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