HEALTHY LIVING

If You Crave Sweets After A Workout, Science Says You're Only Human

This explains so much.

06/08/2016 6:03 AM AEST | Updated August 9, 2016 00:30

Congrats on completing a tough sweat session! Care for a cookie?

Apparently the instinct to reach for something sweet after a workout isn’t abnormal. Exercise makes people crave dessert, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

Researchers examined 88 college participants as they took an “approach avoidance task” test, which is basically a tool that measures an individual’s response to certain stimuli. The test contained images ranging from desserts to common household items. Each participant held a device during the test that measured their hand movements as they responded to each image. If a participant even subtly pulled the device toward them, that meant the image made them happy or was attractive to them.

Next, the participants were either assigned to exercise on a stationary bike or complete brain puzzles. After that, they were given the same test a second time.

Those who were in the workout group were more likely to be attracted to the photos of sweet treats than those in the brain puzzle or control group. The study authors theorize this has something to do with their bodies (and brains, really) trying to make up for the calories they expended during physical exertion, The Cut reports.

The results can offer some useful insight into post-workout habits ― even the ones you’re not necessarily aware of. Thanks to the hand-held device, the research measured the volunteers’ immediate reactions to food rather than their conscious reactions. It appears a person could be motivated to reach for dessert after working out thanks to human biology (i.e. a need to replenish calories), not just because they’ve consciously made a decision to do so (i.e. the cookie is appealing because they’ve “earned” it by burning calories).

There are some caveats to the study. Its sample size was small, for starters, so a definitive conclusion can’t be made. It’s also not clear if it was food the exercisers were craving, or sweets specifically, since the study used a dessert-based approach avoidance task.

Either way, heading for the cookie jar likely isn’t the best thing after the gym. We asked a few HuffPost Lifestyle editors to share their favorite post-exercise snacks to help you indulge without undoing your workout.

Take a look at the recommendations below:

  • Fruit
    Creatas Images via Getty Images
    "For some reason, after workouts I always crave fruit ... I just load up my cart with watermelons, cherries, fruit juice popsicles and fresh juice.” -- Kristen Aiken, Executive Food & Style Editor

    Fruit is an excellent way to get nutrients like vitamins C and A and fruit also helps with hydration thanks to its high water content.
  • Green Smoothie
    jenifoto via Getty Images
    "I love green smoothies with almond butter or acai bowls with almond butter!" --Talia Cuddeback, Lifestyle Intern

    Smoothies packed with fruits and vegetables can be post-workout wonders. They give you the nutrients your body needs, like iron from spinach, and you can use peanut or almond butter to sneak in some protein.
  • Hummus
    ALLEKO via Getty Images
    "I prefer saltier foods over sweet ones. I usually head straight to my fridge for hummus after a workout because it satisfies my craving without totally destroying what I just did." -- Lindsay Holmes, Deputy Healthy Living Editor

    This savory snack is a great source of protein thanks to chickpeas. Eat it with some pita bread for carbohydrates to help refuel, or with some veggies for an even healthier kick.
  • Chocolate Milk
    VeselovaElena via Getty Images
    "CHOCOLATE. MILK. When I'm on a run and struggling towards the end, that's actually what gets me through." --Jessica Kane, Lifestyle Editor

    Rejoice, dessert lovers! Chocolate milk is a great way to satisfy your cravings and boost your body after sweat session. The drink is a good source of protein and carbs, both of which can help with energy and recovery after working out.

What are your favorite post-workout snacks? Share them with us in the comments below!

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