Join 220,000+ Fitness Fans

Share your name and email and I'll send you a FREE copy of my eBook - The 10 Forgotten Rules of Weight Loss. Plus, you'll get exclusive tips not found on the blog.

What Should You Eat After Cardio for the Best Fat Loss

fitness flexingWhat you eat after cardio and after a weight training workouts are not always one in the same. Weight training is geared towards muscle gain, while cardio is mostly used for fat loss. Why then should what you eat after cardio be the same as your other workouts?

What You Eat After Cardio Depends on Your Goals

When we weight train, we start depleting our muscles of glycogen, and we break down muscle tissue. Our goal is to make it grow back bigger and stronger. We eat carbohydrates and protein post workout so that we can replenish muscle glycogen stores (energy) and start rebuilding muscle.

Read more about what you should eat after strength training.

On the other hand, when we do cardio, our goal is usually to burn extra calories and lose fat. This means what we eat will be different than after a typical weight lifting session. You could certainly eat the same thing either way. However, if you’re already at a low body fat and you’re looking to eek out that last bit of fat, you’ll want different nutrition after a cardio session.

What Should You Eat After Cardio?

During a typical cardio session, your body’s biochemistry undergoes some changes. Your body suppresses insulin production and starts releasing other hormones like growth hormone (GH) and testosterone. Not only that, but your body releases several neurotransmitters like adrenaline, epinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. The first two assist with fat mobilization, while the last three are feel good chemicals (think runner’s high).

What we want to do after cardio is:

  • Keep insulin production suppressed. Insulin is a fat storage hormone which is not conducive to fat loss.
  • Keep growth hormone (GH) levels elevated. GH is catabolic to fat cells. It is one of, if not the most powerful hormone for losing fat. See how you can naturally increase your growth hormone levels.
  • Keep those fat loss neurotransmitters flowing so that fat loss continues.

How Do We Accomplish These Goals?

It’s quite simple actually. You control your carbohydrate intake. Eating too many of or the wrong type of carbohydrates will immediately throw you out of fat burning mode. After your workout, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest. This is great. It means you’ll be able to be a bit more loose with your carbohydrate intake.

What you don’t want to do however, is spike your insulin levels. Doing so will halt all fat burning, and will drop your growth hormone levels, along with any other fat loss benefit you just created from your cardio.

If you are in pure fat loss mode, it would be beneficial to have a low carb or carb-less meal after cardio. Something along the lines of a protein shake with some essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as whey protein isolate (if you use protein powder) mixed with Carlson’s omega-3 oil, or a chicken salad with veggies will keep the fat burning machine churning, while at the same time provide protein and essential fats to start rebuilding muscle. You can also have any number of lean protein/healthy fat/veggie meals after cardio.

Will you be replenishing muscle glycogen with this meal? No, not really. Some of the protein may be converted into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis, but even if this did happen, it would have a minimal effect on insulin levels – meaning you will continue to burn fat. Plus, it’s unlikely that you completely depleted glycogen stores, so you will still have plenty of energy for your next strength training workout.

To sum up, if you want to keep fat burning going for as long as possible, you’ll want to manage your carbohydrate intake after cardio. While you don’t have to go no-carb (although this will be the best), you can get by having a small serving of low-glycemic carbohydrates.

I want to emphasize that dropping your carb intake after cardio is an advanced fat loss strategy that is most useful as your body fat gets lower. It’s also best suited for people that separate their strength training and cardiovascular training into separate workouts. The important thing, as always, is to make sure you’re actually doing cardiovascular training. Once you’re consistent with your workouts, then you can start focusing on the finer details.

  • http://www.freefitnesstips.co.uk/ Tom Parker

    Great post as always Tony. I always bring a protein shake to the gym with me and have that after a cardio session. The great thing I find about cardio is that an intense session actually reduces my craving for carbs so I have no problem keeping my intake low after the workout.

    Tom

  • Samantha

    I just read one of your posts that says that the best time to eat carbs is post-workout. However this article says a no-carb meal after cardio is ideal. So which is the best guideline to follow for fat loss? Thanks!

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Samantha, the article you were referring to was talking about eating carbs after strength training, while this one is talking about not eating them after cardio. Unless you are doing HIIT cardio, I would minimize or eliminate carbs after your workout for the best fat loss.

      • Samantha

        I see – thank you for the clarification and tip!!

      • Alejandra

        Why is it encouraged to have carbs post HIIT? Would it not still help fat loss to avoid carbs after HIIT as well? Or does that just cause muscle wasting/being used as energy instead? If so.. would BCAA’s be a better option to take in pre/post HIIT but no carbs to keep the fat burning going ?

  • Ian

    Im currently trying to build muscle but keep my fat % under controll so as i understand it, high protein and minimal to no carbs after a cardio work out is ideal for fatloss and keeping my muscle mass steady? Thanks!

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Ian, limiting carbs after cardio is a great way to maximize fat loss, but if your goal is to also build muscle, you might do better having carbs in your pre and post workout meals and then limiting carbs the rest of the day.

  • SHAVONNE

    GREETINGS!! I am doing Insanity for weight loss. I’m not doing anything else but this a running for weight loss. I’m around 15lbs overweight. I drink shakeology in the am and eat snacks and a sensible lunch. I do Insanity afterwork with a few coworkers then go home to cook dinner. But I am starving by the time I get home. What do you suggest post workout?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Shavonne, after strength training I have a whey protein shake mixed with oats, a frozen banana, a little omega-3 oil, and some spinach.

      Any combination of carb/protein should be sufficient.

  • Robyn

    I often feel like I am going to faint after cardio if I don’t eat about 30 grams of carbs within 3O minutes; I am litterally shaking, light headed, and disoriented. In that case, should I consider skimping on the carbs for the added fat burn?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Robyn, never put your weight loss before your health. If you are hypoglycemic, eat some carbs. As I said in the article, it’s not necessary to eat 0 carb. Just try to keep them low-glycemic. Eating 30 grams of low glycemic carbs post-cardio will keep the fat loss going just fine.

    • http://www.leanmoms.com Lacy

      Robyn, in your case I would recommend you eat a post workout/recovery shake as soon as you finish your cardio. Then keep your carbs lower throughout the day, if your goal is fat loss. Some people deplete their glycogen stores more rapidly and don’t do well without replacing them frequently especially following cardio. Also pay attention to how well your cardio session goes if you are eating low carb prior to it. If you feel weak and lacking enough energy to work hard and finish you may want to look at having a recovery drink or a healthy carb before you work out as well. Good luck!

  • Jen

    What if you do a combination at the gym cardio and then strength training. What should I eat to really build muscle and tone up body.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Jen, I always recommend carbs after a weight training session. It doesn’t matter if you’re working out in the morning, night, or combining it with cardio. If you’re going to have a meal with carbs, that’s the meal you should have it in.

  • Tini

    My friend told me we stop burning calories as soon we stop doing cardio. Is that true?

    • Coach Calorie

      Only if you’re dead ;)

      • Tini

        Lol! Thank you!

        • brandy

          THANK YOU!!!!!!! I have always wondered why trainers would make that statement and if it was true.. then I would get discouraged after I heard it.. reason being because I run between 10-20 miles a week..I am a very happy person..yaaayy..

  • sarah

    Hi…I do a bootcamp at 6am before eating and do intense interval training with a mixture of cardio and weights. I usually eat Rolled oats after as it is my first meal but it is carbs? do you suggest not having this and just having a protein shake?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Sarah, I’d suggest you stick with your oatmeal after your weights/cardio workout. No no carbs after cardio philosophy is more geared towards people who separate their cardio and strength training workouts.

      For example, people that do strength training on M/W/F and cardio on T/T/S could have protein/carbs after strength training, and protein/fat after cardio.

  • Srujan

    Hi.. I do my cardio in the morning and weight training in the evening. Recently i read on one site, where the trainer insisted in doing cardio on an empty stomach. That aides effective fat burning. I have been doing this for the past one week and I feel it may be effective. But I am not sure to what extent is this healthy and the correct way. Can you please correct me if i am going wrong?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Srujan, cardio on an empty stomach is another “advanced” fat loss strategy you can implement. It’s one of those things that you will notice more of a difference if you are already at a lower body fat. The important thing is that you are exercising – period. You don’t need to do it on an empty stomach to lose fat. However, it can help squeeze out some additional fat loss pounds.

  • bj

    Hi CC am wanting to lose one kilo a week, minimum to lose an excess 40 kilos. there is always a period of 7 days in each 30 where i plateau, for about 7 to 10 days. why is this? what’s the best way to kickstart the loss again?

    • Coach Calorie

      The reason it happens is because it does. Really though, there is no good explanation. Weight loss is not linear. I can go a whole month sometimes without dropping any weight and then it will all of a sudden pick up again. Just stay consistent and understand that it’s going to happen. It will come off when it’s ready.

    • Tachikara_01

      What are you doing to detox? Detox should also be apart of your daily regimine. We ingest toxins daily. The best place to store toxins is in the fat cells. As you loose weight you become more toxic because it exposes more of the toxins. This will cause a DEFINITE plateau. If you don’t have an ongoing detox routine you’ll go through the yoyo. This is why that happens.

  • WOM

    I do both HIIT cardio and steady state cardio. What should I be eating to maximize fat loss after each type?

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    If your goal is purely fat loss, I would go protein/fat/veggie after the steady state cardio, and carb/protein/veggie after HIIT. However, the differences will be negligible as long as you’re eating whole foods.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fizucartrujillo Veronica Izucar Malacara

    i do cardio and then weigth trainning, i only eat like half cup of oatmeal before, but what should i eat later if my goal is to drop the fat and tone my muscles?

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    After strength training I like to have a carb/protein meal. Something like chicken/rice, or beef/beans. Those are obviously over-simplified ideas, but you get the idea. This article will help too – http://www.coachcalorie.com/what-do-i-eat-after-a-workout/

  • mark

    Clear and descriptive advice. Many thanks :)

  • Eliz

    Hi there I’m really confused with how I should be eating. I’ve read that too much dairy spikes insulin levels so Thad be bad… But greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and my protein shakes make up most of my day because is low cal, carb, and high protein and i do cardio of walking and running of at lease 4-12 miles a day…I’ve been doing this daily for 2 months and I’ve lost 11 pounds and now this past week I haven’t lost anything…what should I be eting and what should I do? I’m 17. Was 124, now 113, eat about 1000 calories a day.
    Thanks

  • richard86

    hi,i`m about 157lbs,i do cardio two days consistent and rest 1 day followed by another 2days,i mostly power walk with light jogging in between,before i do my cardio i normally eat a banana and afterward my cardio i`ll wait about 30mins then have some lean protein and may be 2 slice of whole wheat bread(but not all the time i eat the bread) i`m i doing anything wrong? my diet normally goes as,green tea,bowl of oats with milk for breakfast,a normal solid lunch,between lunch and dinner,i`ll have a bowl of fruits ,nuts or yogurt sometimes,normally i do my cardio at evenings.thanks much

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I don’t see any problem with lean protein and bread post workout. Just make sure you’re eating enough calories. It’s hard to tell how much you’re eating without seeing portion sizes.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    If you’re eating whole foods you’re doing well. Weight loss doesn’t happen in a straight line. Weeks can go by without any change. Try measuring your progress with a tape measure, or better yet some body fat calipers.

  • nick

    Hey i am about 165, 5’11, 15% bodyfat. a lot of my body fat is around my mid section or on my back. I currently do 4 day split of weight training and recently started to do interval cardio right after weight training. When i get home from the gym i have a scoop of gold standard whey with a banana. 45 mins to an hour later i have 8oz chicken breast with some veggies and white potatoes. I am trying to reduce body fat to lose my love handles and show off my abs. Any tips? thanks

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Here are 100 weight loss tips. Maybe some of them will spur some ideas for you – http://www.coachcalorie.com/tips-for-losing-weight/

  • Taylor

    Hi! This has been very helpful, however I’m wondering if it’s best to eat at a certain time after working out or if it doesn’t matter much. Thanks!

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      In the end it makes little difference, but studies have shown the most protein and glycogen synthesis within 2 hours after a workout.

  • kAY

    Hi

    I’m 19 years old, 6’2, 232 pounds

    I’m trying to drop 35-40 pounds in the next 80 days ( 3 month-ish) is that possible? if so how? also what should I be eating after a 1 hour workout for fat loss? Thank You.

  • Yaz

    Hello, I’m trying to loose 25 lbs. I do 45 minutes of interval boot camp training . An hour later I do 1hr of Power Yoga. What is the best thing to eat in between workouts , or shoud I ?

  • Mitchy Evans

    I’m a bit confused on whether I should have carbs post workout or not. I think nutrient timing has been my problem. Could you advise on when I should be eating what and when in my normal day. I get up at 6.30am, arrive at gym 7.30am do a 30min run (increasing intensity – speed/incline). Go to work and have approx an hour before starting work, so my breakfast time (what should I eat now?). Then I have 10min morning tea break at 11am. Lunch at 2pm and afternoon tea at 4pm. I finish work at 6pm and usually can have dinner cooked by 7-7.30pm. Then I will do 30mins strength training. I need to lose 25kg.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    HIIT uses more glycogen, and therefor eating carbs post-workout will rarely be stored as body fat. When I refer to “cardio”, I’m talking about low to medium intensity steady state cardio.

    In the end it will come down to calorie balance. Don’t get too caught up on the details ;)

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    If you are working out intensely, eat your carbs. Nutrient timing is unlikely to be your problem. I’d be looking at your calorie deficit to make sure it’s not too big or small. Journal all your food for the week and nail down your total calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates for each day. Then you can make adjustments.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    That’s an interesting gap between your workouts. I’d probably have something fast digesting post boot camp, such as a protein shake. Then have a regular meal after yoga. I would much rather either try to put your workouts back to back or spread them out further, however.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    That is unlikely to happen. Expect it to take 35-40 weeks if you plan to do it right without losing muscle and being able to stick to your plan.

  • Ashwin

    Hey I do my mass building workout in the morning with high weights, 6-8 reps, 90 sec rest period. In the evening i do the same workout with low weights,20-30 reps and 30 sec rest periods and then abs as well. Do you recommend carbs for the evening post workout shake because it is kind of a mix of weights and cardio vascular training. Thanks.

  • Sharpen

    Hi I am 18 yrs old, 177 cm and my goal is to have 6pack abs (and ofc I need to lose some weight along to make them visible), I weight 81kg (not sure how much should I lose but I think 10kg would be good) and today I started doing 5~6~+ min cardio workout (packed togehter with some elbow crunches) at home nonstop. At what time should I eat after cardio? Can you give me example of food? (milk, bread…) Should I exercise in the morning or afternoon? And one last question, can I do this 5 min wokrout more times a day if I feel like it?

    If you need to know how does workout look, then I am doing this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uQtPyWkXcc

    Hope, you will answer me. thanks :)

  • Dr.Nikkhil

    Thank you a million times Tony Sir.I was awaiting some valuable and logical information regarding the same.Keep enriching lives and posting such great articles.

  • RJ

    I’m a little uncertain about what I should be eating throughout the day. I’m 5’11, 180-185 currently. I’m on a cardio only workout right now, as I have a shoulder injury that needs an operation to be fixed, so any weight training is out. 2 days on/1 off, for a mile and a half/2 miles, while I’m training for a 5K in a month. Typically I don’t ingest anything before my run, then try waiting an hour after to have anything (usually a banana or bagel). I’m not expecting to transform my body without weight training, but would like to be back in the 170-175 range. I’m unsure if I’m helping or hurting my goal.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I don’t recommend you do a second workout in the same day that is the same as earlier. You won’t have enough time to recover. Focus on workout quality, not quantity. Then, have you one single post workout shake.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Clean up your diet, create a deficit, and do some strength training. Your abs will come through in time.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Here’s an example 4 week meal plan – http://www.coachcalorie.com/healthy-weight-loss-meal-plan/

  • Kayiro

    Hey Brother,

    I am pretty low on money, after my morning working i eat this: A bowl with oatmeal,skim milk a scoop of whey and some omega 3 oils. Good?

    Cheers

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I did something similar in college. It worked for me. Do your best!

  • Rene Thomas

    My boyfriend lifts weights alot, he has alot of muscle, his arms are 17″ around, but his belly is like 50″ around..He will not eat anything other than meat and potatoes, no veggies, no fruits..Is there anything I could do to get him to eat right and regularly

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Hi Rene, you have a good question, and I’ve been thinking about writing an entire article about how to get your spouse/significant other/friend/family member involved in your fitness lifestyle. It’s a difficult question to answer as you don’t want to force your lifestyle on anyone. That tends to lead to them not wanting to do it. You want them to want it. Keep an eye out for an article addressing this subject, and thanks for the topic idea :)

  • boxorox13

    Hi! Thanks for your article. Every morning, I eat 1 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt with a cup of mixed berries for breakfast, and about 30 minutes later, I go out for an hour-long walk. Do I need a snack afterwards? (I have a bodymedia fit armband, and it says I have both vigorous and moderate activity during the walk. I don’t know if this helps any..)

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      In the end it isn’t going to make much of a difference if you eat right after your walk or an hour later. Just make sure your calories equal out at the end of the day.

      • boxorox13

        Thanks for your help!

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    With that much high intensity exercise, a meal contain carbs and protein would likely be ideal to replenish glycogen stores and get recovery started.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    If you are already follow carb timing principles, I’d keep them in post-workout. As to your fat intake question, I don’t know if it’s too high, as you didn’t say how much you were eating. However, somewhere around 20-30 percent of calories is just fine.