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Don’t Sabotage Your Workout Routine: 5 Pitfalls

After workout smoothieThink now that you’ve exercised, you’ve burned enough calories to reward yourself with a little guilty free pleasure?

You may be surprised to hear that consuming even seemingly healthy treats like a fruit shake, a sports bar, or an energy drink following your workout can put more calories into your body than you have just burned sweating in the gym. 

The Little, Not-so-Little Snack

Consider this: To burn off a 200-calorie Balance Bar, for instance, would require a 150-pound woman to jog on a treadmill at a leisurely pace, or 6 miles per hour, for 16-17 minutes.

Surely, a 45-minute morning walk would burn enough calories for someone of that body weight to enjoy a hearty breakfast, right?

Well, it would suffice to burn off a 160-calorie Starbucks Grande Skinny Flavored Latte and nothing more. Even walking at a brisk pace would take 33 minutes to burn off this nonfat, sugarless Starbucks treat.

It could be worse. To enjoy a 610-calorie White Chocolate Crème Frappuccino would take a woman of that size to walk for nearly 126 minutes. Add a 460-calorie Starbucks blueberry scone or a 350-calorie Apple Bran Muffin to the diet and she’d have to train like a professional athlete to burn off breakfast. And that’s just the beginning of her day.

Workout Calorie Calculator

It’s not uncommon for people to underestimate the number of calories burned during a single exercise bout.

The good news is that self-discipline and awareness of how many calories you actually burn during your workout vs. consume post-exercise can go a long way toward a healthy body weight and a slimmer waistline.   

Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, a registered dietician and pediatrics resident at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, noted while exercise duration and intensity play a key role in energy expenditure during exercise, eating a snack afterward is generally a good idea, provided you don’t take in more calories than you’ve just burned.

For most people a piece of fruit--a banana or an apple--tend to have a good amount of carbohydrate and nutrients without adding unwanted calories. If you’ve exercised for an hour or more or at a higher intensity, a slice of toast with peanut butter or a glass of chocolate milk helps restore proteins and carbohydrates. Replacing lost protein is especially important after a heavy weight-training session or resistance-type activity, Digate Muth said.

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute recommends consuming a turkey sandwich or a yogurt mixed with nuts or an energy bar and apple juice within 30 minutes of your weight-lifting session and again within 2 hours after finishing to help rebuild muscle energy stores for the next workout. 

Sports and Energy Drinks

Sports and energy drinks are all the rage, but for recreational exercisers, these high-calorie drinks can quickly pack on extra calories. 

Consider this: A 185-pound man would need to lift weights vigorously for 25 minutes to burn off a single 200-calorie Monster Energy drink or shoot baskets for 19 minutes to burn off 150 calories contained in a 24-ounce Gatorade Lemon-Lime drink.

Fabio Comana, an ACE Exercise Physiologist, noted that the body really doesn’t need anything more than water when exercising at a moderate effort for less than 60 minutes.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends sipping 7 to 10 ounces of water during exercise and for longer and more intense sessions, sipping on a sports drink every 10 to 20 minutes.

Starving is Never the Answer

Some people may think that skipping food altogether after exercise may be the fast track to a slimmer waistline, but the experts say that starving yourself is never good.

Digate Muth noted that depriving yourself of food often leads to binge eating or taking in more calories later in the day.

Comana agreed, noting that for athletes, it’s especially critical to replace glycogen stored in the muscles with a carbohydrate-rich snack within the first 60 minutes after working out.

But even for non-athletes, eating healthy throughout the day is key to maintaining normal blood sugar levels, which regulates brain functioning, energy levels and mood.

Skipping meals causes blood sugar levels to drop.

Going without eating for long periods of time is especially bad, because it slows the metabolism up to 20 percent, Comana said. It also makes it tougher for our bodies to burn calories during the day. The best way to fuel your body is to start with a healthy breakfast. And what better way to ‘earn’ your breakfast, than with morning exercise.


Dr. Eric Heiden, a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater and orthopedic surgeon, noted on an Internet blog post, that many fitness programs promote the idea of the “after-burn,” which is the number of calories burned after exercise.

The disappointing news is that for most low-to-moderate intensity exercisers, the magical “after-burn” is rather insignificant, only about 60-150 calories, Comana said.

Heiden cited research showing that during a 20-minute continuous aerobic dance class, exercisers subsequently burned 55.5 calories, the nutritional equivalent of a small apple; those who exercised 40 minutes, had an after-burn effect of 73.5 calories; and those who exercised 60 minutes, burned 159.5 calories during after-burn.

This confirms studies suggesting that the higher the exercise intensity and the greater the magnitude and duration, the greater the after-burn rate, Heiden said.

Hence, if a 150-pound woman engaging in moderate-activity aerobics for 60 minutes burns about 340 calories, then enjoys a 22-ounce Jamba Juice Berry Yumberry juice, she would undo all that hard work in class. That is discounting the after-burn.

But Digate Muth finds that a lower-calorie smoothie with less added sugar would be the better option. Why undo all that hard work with a sugary juice, if there are lower-calorie options?

Another consideration: After-burn seems to influence gender as well.

Another research study, cited by Heiden, comparing male and female subjects, showed that after 30 minutes of highest-intensity exercise, females burned an average of 121.5 calories whereas men burned 140.5 calories.

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to strive for a healthy body weight.

With regular exercise and watching your daily calorie intake, including post-exercise, managing  optimal health will be a breeze.



Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at