Can’t Eat After A Workout? Is This Bad + 5 Things To Do

As a nutrition coach, I’m always telling my clients how important it is to eat after a workout, but sometimes they just aren’t hungry after exercising and wonder why that is.

So, why can it be difficult to eat after working out? It’s perfectly normal to not feel hungry after a workout because, as the research shows, exercise actually reduces hunger levels. The harder and longer the workout, the less hungry we tend to be after.

Exercising reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin and increases the appetite-reducing hormone peptide YY. Though it’s normal to not feel hungry after working out, it’s important to eat anyway so your body can recover and rebuild after exercise.  The key is to pick foods that are easily consumed so that it doesn’t feel like a chore.  

In this article, I will discuss:

  • Why you aren’t hungry after a workout
  • How different workouts affect hunger
  • Why you should always eat after a workout, even if you’re not hungry
  • What happens if you don’t eat after a workout
  • Tips for eating after a workout when you’re not hungry
  • 5 ideas for post workouts meals and snacks

Why You’re Not Hungry After a Workout (3 Reasons)

Why you’re not hungry after a workout (3 reasons)

There are three key ways in which exercise affects your hunger:

  • It increases your appetite-suppressing hormones, making you feel full
  • It decreases your hunger hormone, making you feel less hungry
  • Your neuroendocrine system can become dysfunctional, making you lose your appetite

Let’s discuss each of these in more detail. 

It Increases Your Appetite-suppressing Hormones, Making You Feel Full

After a tough workout, you would expect to feel hungry and ready to eat, but this isn’t always the case. Research has shown that exercise actually increases your appetite-suppressing hormones, leaving you feeling full.

In one particular study, researchers from the UK found that participants were less hungry after exercising on a treadmill for an hour compared with when they simply rested for 60 minutes. This drop in hunger was due to an increase in PYY (a hunger-suppressing hormone) and GLP-1 (a hormone that promotes fullness and satiety) in those who exercised

Those who burned more calories by working out instead of resting were paradoxically less hungry because of this increase in appetite-suppressing hormones.

It Decreases Your Hunger Hormone, Making You Feel Less Hungry

In addition to an increase in appetite-suppressing hormones, dozens of studies have found that working out suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing a decrease in hunger.

A group of researchers from the UK and Kuwait compared the effects on hunger when creating an 835-calorie deficit through diet versus burning 835 calories through exercise. 

They found that participants who restricted their diet by 835 calories saw an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing them to feel hungrier and eat more than usual. 

Those who burned 835 calories through exercise, however, saw a decrease in appetite due to lower levels of ghrelin.

Your Neuroendocrine System Can Become Dysfunctional, Making You Lose Your Appetite

A chronic lack of hunger after working out could be a sign you’re exercising too much or too intensely – loss of appetite is a known symptom of overtraining.

When you have been training too hard for too long and become overtrained, your hypothalamus (the control center for hunger and satiety) is unable to handle the total amount of stress you’re putting your body through. And when your hypothalamus is distressed, your neuroendocrine system – which regulates your metabolism and eating behavior – becomes dysfunctional, causing you to lose your appetite.

There have been times in my life when I’ve really struggled to eat after a workout, and they’ve consistently come during periods of intense training. 

I always found my appetite returned, though, once I took a deload or easy week. Training for a shorter duration and with less intensity (i.e. lighter weights) for a few days always brought back my appetite.

Have a FeastGood Nutrition Coach help you get results faster than trying to stick it out alone

Do Different Types of Workouts Affect Hunger Levels?

Your hunger level after exercising is directly related to the intensity, duration, and type of workout you’re doing. The longer and more intense your workout, the less hungry you’ll feel after. And, running appears to reduce hunger more than lifting weights.

In a study done by the University of Western Australia, researchers found that high-intensity interval training reduced hunger more than moderate-intensity continuous exercise, which further suggests that post-workout changes in appetite-suppressing hormones appear to be directly related to the intensity of the workout.

When it comes to workout modality, researchers at Loughborough University in the UK compared the effects on hunger of a 90-minute weight-lifting session and a 60-minute run

The researchers found that both a 90-minute weight-lifting session and a 60-minute run decreased the hunger hormone ghrelin, however, the 60-minute run also increased levels of peptide YY – a hormone that reduces appetite. 

Subsequently, those who ran felt 25% less hungry than those who lifted an hour after their workout.

Should You Eat After a Workout When You’re Not Hungry?

You should always eat after a workout, even if you’re not hungry. Eating after a workout helps your body properly recover and rebuild the muscle it just broke down while exercising. Consuming protein and carbohydrates after a workout is just as important as the workout itself.

When you eat protein and carbohydrates after a workout, your body stops breaking down your muscles and starts building them back up instead.

Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands found that consuming 0.2-0.4 grams of protein and 0.8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight per hour of exercise post-workout maximized muscle-protein synthesis (muscle growth) and muscle-glycogen synthesis (refueling).

Further research has shown that eating protein and carbohydrates after a workout shifts your body from a catabolic state to a more anabolic state by increasing blood glucose levels, decreasing the hormone cortisol, and increasing substrate availability.

How Soon After a Workout Should You Eat?

The quicker you eat after a workout, the faster your body starts to recover. While consuming protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of a workout stimulates muscle-glycogen resynthesis, it is important to eat at least within two hours after working out.

Consuming a high-quality protein source immediately to two hours after a workout stimulates robust increases in muscle protein synthesis, allowing your body to repair and grow after the workout and improving your body composition.

Highly renowned researchers, Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld, found that delaying the consumption of carbohydrates by two hours after a workout slows the rate of muscle-glycogen resynthesis by as much as 50%, greatly hindering your ability to recover.

What Happens If You Don’t Eat Anything After a Workout?

If you don’t eat after a workout, your body will not have the nutrients it needs to recover and you may even lose muscle mass.

Studies have shown that muscle-protein breakdown slightly increases after exercising, however, it rapidly increases as time goes on. The longer you wait to eat after a workout, the more muscle-protein breakdown your body will experience.

Consuming protein after a workout prevents this from happening. When we eat a protein-dense meal, muscle-protein breakdown decreases and muscle-protein synthesis increases, turning our body from muscle-breakdown mode into muscle-building mode.

5 Tips For Eating After a Workout When You’re Not Hungry

5 tips for eating after a workout when you’re not hungry

Shorten Your Workouts

If you find yourself unable to eat after working out, try shortening your sessions by 15 minutes. 

As your hunger level is directly related to the length of the workout, a shorter session won’t decrease your appetite as much. 

Use the 15 minutes you saved by cutting your workout short to consume some post-workout protein and carbs instead.

Ease Up On The Intensity

If you haven’t been hungry after every workout for a period of a few weeks, it might be a sign you’re over-training. Taking a deload week, where you ease up on the intensity and volume, can restore your appetite.

Lighten the weights and reduce your sets and reps by 40-50% for a week to give your body a chance to recover. You’d be surprised how hungry you can feel after an easier, lighter session.

Not every workout should be an all-out effort. Hard workouts are important, but you need to incorporate light, easy workouts on a regular basis, too.

Forcing yourself to take a deload week every 4th week helps prevent overtraining and allows you to see continued progress over months and years of training.

Drink Your Calories

Drinking your calories after a workout is a great way to provide your body with nutrients if you aren’t hungry. 

Protein shakes, smoothies, and chocolate milk are much easier to consume than a full meal, especially if you don’t feel like eating.

Plan Ahead Of Time

Plan ahead of time by bringing something quick and easy to eat and digest – like a sports drink and protein powder or a protein bar – with you to the gym. And consume this post-workout meal regardless of how hungry you feel.

If you struggle to eat after exercising, you need to treat your post-workout meal as seriously as you do your workout itself.

Don’t Fear Junk Food

If you’re not hungry after a workout, grabbing a chocolate bar, slice of pizza, or even fast food can provide a lot of calories without a lot of bulk.

Hummus and carrot sticks are great, but they’re very “bulky” – i.e. they are high in fiber and are mostly water. Trying to consume enough calories after a workout by eating bulky foods like vegetables, soups, and beans is very difficult, especially if you aren’t hungry.

Rather than trying to choke down three apples and a cup of baby carrots, it’s okay to eat junk food after a workout to help you get your calories in. Researchers from the University of Montana found that fast food is equally as effective at replenishing glycogen stores as sports nutrition products.

If you are choosing to eat junk food after a workout, try to avoid junk food that’s high in fat like nachos. 

For a list of the best junk foods to eat after a workout, check out my article Does Eating Junk Food After A Workout Ruin It? (No, Here’s Why).

Foods to Avoid After a Workout

If you aren’t hungry after working out and struggle to eat enough, stay away from raw vegetables and other bulky, low-calorie, high-fiber foods. High-fat foods should also be avoided after a workout as eating fat can slow the digestion and absorption of protein and carbohydrates.

Raw vegetables and low-calorie, high-fiber foods are very important to include in your diet, just not after a workout. If you already struggle to eat after a workout, these foods will only fill you up further without leaving room for the protein, carbohydrates, and calories you need.

The same can be said for high-fat foods – there’s nothing inherently bad about nuts, olives, and avocados, but if you’re struggling to eat after a workout, focus on carbs and protein so that your body can rebuild and refuel as efficiently as possible.

5 Ideas for Post-Workout Meals and Snacks

Here are five quick and easy meal and snack options that can be enjoyed after a workout.

These meals and snacks vary in macronutrient (protein and carbohydrate) content, so scale your portion sizes to meet your macronutrient needs.

If you need help finding how many grams of each macronutrient you should eat after a workout, reach out to one of our nutrition coaches for a complimentary consultation.

1. Pasta and Meat Sauce

pasta and meat sauce

There’s a reason this has been a staple in bodybuilding diets for decades – it’s high in protein and carbohydrates and tastes great. You can’t go wrong with the classic pasta and meat sauce after a workout.

Sticking with a tomato-based sauce instead of a cream sauce will reduce the fat content and increase the carbs.

Ingredients, Protein, Carbs, and Calories:

  • 3oz lean ground beef – 24g protein, 0g carbs, 205 calories
  • ¾ cup uncooked pasta – 12g protein, 63g carbs, 300 calories
  • ½ cup pasta sauce – 2g protein, 11g carbs, 60 calories

TOTAL: 38g protein, 74g carbs, and 565 calories

2. Chicken Rice Bowl

chicken rice bowl

Throw a bunch of chicken in the slow cooker and make a big batch of rice on the weekend and putting this chicken rice bowl together during the week will be so quick and easy, you won’t have any excuses for not eating after a workout. 

While I put teriyaki in this example, feel free to experiment with different sauces or seasonings.

Ingredients, Protein, Carbs, and Calories:

  • 1 cup shredded chicken – 34g protein, 0g carbs, 225 calories
  • 1.5 cups cooked rice  – 6g protein, 60g carbs, 264 calories
  • ½ cup steamed broccoli – 3g protein, 6g carbs, 100 calories
  • 1 tbsp teriyaki sauce – 1g protein, 3g carbs, 16 calories

TOTAL: 44g protein, 69g carbs, and 605 calories

3. Protein Shake Cereal

protein shake cereal

Mixing a protein shake with your favorite cereal is one of the easiest ways to get 35 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbs, and one of the best post-workout options out there – especially if you’re in a hurry or don’t feel hungry. 

There’s no need to choose a “healthy” cereal after a workout. Treat yourself to your favorite as the sugar content will help replenish your glycogen stores quickly.

Ingredients, Protein, Carbs, and Calories:

  • 1 scoop (30g) vanilla or chocolate protein powder – 25g protein, 3g carbs, 130 calories
  • 1 cup 2% milk – 8g protein, 12g carbs, 122 calories
  • 1 cup breakfast cereal – 2g protein, 35g carbs, 150 calories

TOTAL: 35g protein, 50g carbs, and 402 calories

4. Banana Chocolate Protein Smoothie

banana chocolate protein smoothie

A smoothie is a great way to quickly get protein and carbohydrates in after a workout. As drinking calories is much easier than taking the time and effort to eat them, this banana chocolate protein smoothie is perfect if you find yourself unable to eat after a workout.

Grab a blender and blend these three ingredients until smooth. The riper the bananas the better.

Ingredients, Protein, Carbs, and Calories:

  • 1 scoop (30g) chocolate protein powder – 25g protein, 2g carbs, 130 calories
  • 1 cup 2% milk – 8g protein, 12g carbs, 122 calories
  • 1.5 bananas – 2g protein, 36g carbs, 150 calories

TOTAL: 34g protein, 50g carbs, and 402 calories

For other post-workout smoothie recipes, check out: 

Gas Station Special: Jerky and a Sports Drink

jerky and a sports drink

Beef jerky and a sports drink doesn’t sound like the post-workout meal of champions, but this quick and easy combo can be bought nearly anywhere and provides you with much-needed protein and carbohydrates after a workout.

This is a great option if you don’t have time to eat a real meal after a workout, or if you aren’t hungry and just need something to snack and sip on to get your calories in.

Ingredients, Protein, Carbs, and Calories:

  • 3.5oz beef jerky – 35g protein, 21g carbs, 280 calories
  • 20oz Gatorade – 0g protein, 36g carbs, 140 calories

TOTAL: 35g protein, 57g carbs, and 420 calories

Other Post-Workout Nutrition Resources

Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?


About The Author

Riley Nadoroznick

Riley Nadoroznick is a strength, conditioning, and nutrition coach and the owner of Conviction Fitness.