You had an hour-plus, sweat-inducing, hardcore workout this morning, which more than justifies that large stack of protein pancakes for breakfast or the extra helping of pasta at dinner, right? After all, you earned it!
Not so fast. Portion control is one of the most important factors when it comes to dropping a few pounds and keeping them off, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicine. “You have to consider energy output versus energy intake,” she notes. “You might be doing a great job increasing your calorie burn at the gym, but that doesn’t mean you can overindulge when the workout is over.
That goes not only for cheat foods like fries and sweets, but also for otherwise healthy fare like fish, Greek yogurt, and nuts. “Too much of almost anything (with the exception of water) can interfere with your ability to maintain a healthy weight,” adds Bonci. Overdoing it with one macronutrient, be it protein, carbs, or fat, can also sabotage your efforts.
Of course, it’s nice to reward yourself after you’ve worked hard. It just means you need to balance these added calories with the rest of your diet. “If you really need that mocha latte post-workout, then be more mindful of what you’re eating throughout the rest of the day,” Bonci says.
Use the following guidelines when plating a meal to keep your portion sizes realistic: a palm-size amount of lean protein like chicken or fish; a fist-size amount of carbs such as rice, pasta, potato, or corn; two fists of fruits or veggies; one to two thumb-size amounts of fat like salad dressing, peanut butter, or mayo and a thumbnail-size pour of oil.
Stick with these guidelines and you’ll be way ahead of the curves when it comes to successful long-term weight control. “If you can control portions, you will inevitably be controlling calories, too, and ultimately that’s what will make the difference,” Bonci explains.