What Your Post-Workout Cravings Could Be Telling You About Your Body

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Tell me you've been here: You knock out a wildly difficult sweat sesh, pat yourself on the back, and go about your day. Then, you find yourself craving sugar after workout. So what's the connection between sugar cravings and fitness—and how can you ensure you're getting balanced post-exercise nutrition when all you want is a handful of last year’s Halloween candy stash?

Before diving into why you’re craving sugar after a workout (and exactly how to deal with sweet cravings after exercise), it’s first important to break down what sugar is in the first place, how the body stores it for energy, and how a little post-exercise sugar intake can actually be beneficial.

Experts In This Article

What is sugar and how does your body use it?

Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, a New York City-based registered dietitian, previously told Well+Good that there are two main types of sugar to be aware of: simple sugars and refined sugars. Simple sugars are naturally-occurring and become carbohydrates (think what’s found in fruits, veggies, and grains), says Zeitin, while refined sugars come from the sugar cane plant and are found in processed foods (think baked goods and cereals).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a sweet treat (hello, fudgy chocolate brownies), but it’s no surprise that the naturally-occurring sugars found in whole foods are better for your health than added sugars. With that being said, there’s a place for both in your diet, so long as you don’t eat added sugar in excess. Sugar plays an important role in helping your body function properly, so completely cutting it out can do more harm than good.

“Glucose, the building block contained in all forms of sugar, is a vital compound that’s required for optimal functioning of our brain and heart, along with all cells in our body,” Robert Glatter, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health, previously told Well+Good. According to Zeitlin, the carbohydrate group “offers essential vitamins to help keep your metabolism running and your nerve system functioning, while the glucose (or simple sugar) in them fuels your brain.”

The key is being more mindful of how you’re consuming sugar. When you think about your post-exercise sugar intake and choose the right options, your body can use it as fuel to help you reach your fitness goals.

“The body takes glucose and makes it into glycogen. This glycogen is then used as energy for exercise,” says Alyssa Smolen, MS, RDN, CDN, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian. “Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. When exercising, the body will tap into these glycogen stores.”

Why do I crave sugar after a workout?

Let’s be real: We all know we probably shouldn’t be grabbing a handful of peanut butter cups after spending 45 minutes in plank pose. But if you’ve been wondering, “Why am I craving sugar after a workout?”, there’s a scientific connection between exercise and sugar desire that’ll help clear things up.

While research on the topic is a bit thin, studies have shown1 people tend to crave more sweets post-workout. And the reason why? The body may be looking to restore glycogen. “One might experience sugar cravings after a workout due to low energy stores,” says Smolen. “The craving signifies the body wanting immediate refueling and sugar.”

But that’s not all. “Studies2 have also shown that during post-aerobic exercise, the part of your brain responsible for food-pleasure cravings may be more active," says Nora Minno, RD, CDN, a New York City-based registered dietitian. So since you can’t escape ‘em, what’s the right way to manage workouts and sugar cravings when they pop up?

When to eat sugar to benefit your workouts (and manage cravings)

You may be asking: Should I eat sugar before or after a workout? Well, when it comes to managing sugar cravings, there’s a lot to learn about pre- and post-exercise sugar intake.

Before a workout

First up, a quick lesson in how to stop sugar cravings after exercise—because Philip Goglia, PhD, nutritionist and co-founder of G-Plans, notes that controlling post-workout cravings starts before you even step food in the gym. The key, he says, is prepping your body with the right nutrients ahead of time. "Some cravings are usually caused by mismanaged food programs. If you're eating the right things, you'll crave the right things,” he explains.

Aside from helping to manage cravings, eating the right things pre-workout can also improve your performance, says Smolen. She recommends getting your sugar fix in before exercising in the form of fast-digesting carbohydrates (think a banana or graham crackers). “These are fast-acting carbs, which will give the body energy immediately as opposed to carbohydrates like oatmeal or sweet potatoes that take longer to digest in the body,” she says.

If you’re extra short on time, Dr. Goglia suggests eating a tablespoon of plain almond butter and a tablespoon of jam. He says the balance of sugar and fat will provide you with a higher caloric burn, give you better results from your training, and set you up for success post-workout (score and score).

During a workout

If you have a typical workout routine, you likely won’t need to consume sugar during a workout. But Smolen says for endurance athletes who need to stay energized and hydrated for long periods of time, refueling during workouts through things like sports drinks can be helpful.

“Not all workouts will require refueling during the activity. However for endurance athletes like runners or cyclists, consuming carbs during activity is advised,” she says. “This is because consuming a drink during exercise improves performance and increases how long one can continue to exercise. It can even help reduce cramping, which might come from dehydration.”

After a workout

How about eating sugar post-workout? According to Smolen, there’s nothing wrong with experiencing sugar cravings post-workout—it’s likely a sign that your body needs to refuel. “Where people can run into issues is if they grab less healthy choices when it comes to refueling,” she says. For instance, if you’re managing sugar cravings with a chocolate bar, she notes that you could be hurting your muscle recovery. “This is because some items don’t provide any protein, and protein is needed in rebuilding muscle and building strength.”

That’s why Smolen says it’s so important to prioritize balanced post-exercise nutrition. “Getting in some quick carbohydrates after a workout, like a fruit smoothie or banana, is a great way to ward off intense sugar cravings,” she says. You can also grab a protein bar with a good ratio of carbohydrates to protein. “This keeps sugar cravings at bay and rebuilds muscle at the same time.”

Other post-workout cravings you may be experiencing

At this point, you know all about why you may be experiencing sweet cravings after exercise and how sugar can affect the body. But let’s say you walk out of spin class dying for a big juicy steak or bag of chips. As it turns out, you're not just hungry for a well-earned snack—it may be your body's way of telling you exactly what it needs.

The experts decoded what these post-workout cravings actually mean and shared the ins and outs of controlling post-workout cravings, no matter what they are.


If you're dying to rip into a bag of chips after a workout, it probably has something to do with how much of an actual sweat your sweat session worked up. "[It means] your body had a high sweat rate while you were training," says Dr. Goglia. "And at that point, you can lightly salt your foods, but it's [more about] getting your sugar first and then lightly salted foods to replace the lost potassium and sodium." If you're training for less than 90 minutes, though, you shouldn't be too concerned with replacing the sodium in your body because it's unlikely that you're losing enough of it to make a real difference.

"The goal after any workout or for any meal pattern is to keep it as simple as possible, so that your body completely understands what the nutrients are supposed to do," says Dr. Goglia. "You don't want to overload any one thing, for example." So even if you're tempted to up your salt intake after a super sweaty sesh, consider a well-balanced meal with a sprinkle of sea salt.


Good news: If you’re craving protein, you’re on the right track. Nutritionally speaking, the best thing you can eat after a workout is a balanced combination of carbs and protein, but this “balance” may differ depending on your body type and the type of workout you’ve completed.

"The main difference will be in the calorie content and the amount of carbs and protein, since this is based widely on body weight and calorie expenditure,” says Minno. "Those performing more rigorous workouts will most likely need more calories post-workout than those completing less vigorous workouts. It's also important to note that whenever building a meal plan for yourself, you need to look at your total daily intake of calories, protein, fat, and carbs to make sure your specific needs are being met.”

According to Dr. Goglia, the type of animal protein you reach for to fill these cravings should depend on the time of day. For example, he says to eat chicken mid-day rather than at dinner time. “The proteins best consumed at night are lean red meats [like filet, flag, or hanger steak] and fatty fish [salmon, sea bass, black cod, or arctic char],” he explains. "The reason why you consume these fattier proteins at night is because the fat and omegas of the fish promote a deeper sleep and are anti-inflammatory, so you sleep deeper and sleep faster.” And as we all know, sleep is pretty much the most important way to recharge post-workout anyhow.

All in all, if you find yourself dealing with post-workout cravings, see them as clues. By playing investigator, you'll be better able to give your body exactly what it needs to fuel you for all the workouts ahead.


1. Is it good to eat sugar after a workout?

Experiencing sugar cravings post-workout isn't a bad thing. Noticing sweet cravings after exercise is typically your body telling you that it needs to refuel. When it comes to managing sugar cravings, Smolen says learning what ​​type of sugar to eat after a workout is key. She recommends grabbing an apple and almond butter, a smoothie, or a protein bar instead of digging into your beloved candy stash.

2. What food to avoid after workout?

When it comes to what ​​type of sugar to eat after a workout, experts say to choose naturally-occurring sugars (found in whole food sources like fruit) over added sugars (which are typically found in processed foods).

If you’ve been eating a lot of added sugar lately and want to cut back, how long does it take to get sugar out of your system? Experts say cravings don't go away overnight, and checking out a sugar withdrawal timeline can give you an idea of how you may be feeling as you decrease your consumption. You can also choose healthier sugar choices when you consume added sugar. For instance, there are so many benefits to using honey as a sweetener. And when it comes to coconut sugar vs cane sugar, coconut sugar has a nutritional edge.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. May, Christine N et al. “Acute aerobic exercise increases implicit approach motivation for dessert images.” Journal of health psychology vol. 23,6 (2018): 807-817. doi:10.1177/1359105316657404
  2. Drenowatz, Clemens et al. “Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between different exercise types and food cravings in free-living healthy young adults.” Appetite vol. 118 (2017): 82-89. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.08.006
  3. Montgomery, Paul et al. “Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study–a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of sleep research vol. 23,4 (2014): 364-88. doi:10.1111/jsr.12135

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