The first time I hit a 400-pound back squat, I celebrated by eating a pair of cheeseburgers. When I threw up after setting a personal best in the 500-meter row, I proceeded to eat barbecue less than an hour later. Any fitness coach — and lots of memes on Facebook — will tell you that working out isn’t about earning food, but my body and my very stupid brain tend to disagree.
After you work out, there’s a 30-minute “anabolic window” during which your body is in an optimal state to convert food into muscle. This is the perfect time for a protein shake or a $7 smoothie with some unexpected herb in there — banana and oregano, yum. But I don’t spend my anabolic window double-fisting protein shakes. I spend it driving home along a route lined with fast-food restaurants. And I act like Odysseus, trying desperately to navigate the choppy seas while junk-food sirens call out to me, tempting me to crash my fitness ship into the jagged rocks of grease and fat.
The truth: I regularly succumb. Next time, this is going to be a salad, I think to myself as I eat a burger that belongs on a Travel Channel show about people who eat really big food. I know it’s bad for me. I know it’s negating the suffering I just did at the gym. I know I’m an idiot. But so far, self-realization hasn’t helped. For me, “This is going right to my thighs,” isn’t just a ‘90s sitcom punchline. It’s a sad, delicious reality.
The silver lining is that weight training has helped prevent these bad habits from turning me into a fleshy bean bag chair. I’ve learned a lot about post-workout pig-outs in my day, and I’ll share that wisdom here with you. So, next time you want to cry-eat a whole pizza after bench-pressing your body weight, you’re totally prepared.
Post-Workout Shame Diet #1: Fast Food
The drive-thru is the holy grail of post-workout shame-eating. The person in the window won’t notice that you’re wearing gym clothes. I’m just one more in a long line of chubby, sweaty guys looking for an illicit meat-and-cheese endorphin boost.
Once you get your food, you have two options: You can sit in the parking lot and eat it while listening to a podcast and trying not to make eye contact with other people doing the same exact thing. Or, you can scarf it down while driving. The latter option is actually illegal in many states, which should make sense to you if you’ve ever tried to eat a Big Mac and steer a car at the same time. (Getting busted while binge-eating is bad enough without bringing the cops into it.)
Some people might point to a third option of bringing the food home and eating it there. But this is a non-option because it takes you outside your metabolic window and shines a light on your shameful behavior.
Post-Workout Shame Diet #2: Convenience Store
A gas station or convenience store is your second-best option. If the person behind the counter isn’t going to judge you for buying 40s of Natty Ice or spending hundreds of dollars on scratch-offs, then they certainly won’t judge you for getting a few hot dogs while you’re still wearing your sporty headband. I recently cracked 600 pounds in the deadlift and celebrated my victory by inhaling gas-station hot dogs and a protein shake on my way home. Plus, the wide variety of products gives you an opportunity to mix good and bad decisions, like crushing up a bunch of multi-vitamins into a 4Loko.
Post-Workout Shame Diet #3: Fast Casual
Chinese restaurants, upscale burger joints, and pizzerias are a little tougher because you actually need to spend time inside them. It’s good to bring a hoodie to throw on over your disgusting shirt. I often put on my jeans directly over my gym shorts in the parking lot. Even though my shorts get all bunched up, and I sort of look like I’m wearing a diaper, it’s still somehow less embarrassing than letting people know what’s really going on.
Your other option is to lean into the whole gym clothes look. This typically results in one of the employees saying something like, “Post workout snack?” and then laughing. If this happens, just flex your bicep, pat your stomach, and swallow the deep, deep sadness that penetrates every fiber of your body. Then wait for him to get your food.
Post-Workout Shame Diet #4: A Fancy Restaurant
I’ve never eaten at a real restaurant after the gym. I have thought about it, though. Hammering down a $50 steak while wearing $4 gym shorts is the post-workout scenario of my dreams. But I’m not brave enough to make it a reality. To sit among normal folks with “self-control” and “steady jobs” just seems like too much to endure.
Post-Workout Shame Diet #5: Actual Health Food
Of course, you can always take the high road: Keep a tub of trail mix in your back seat and grab a handful before you start driving (because it’s classier than filling your cup holder with loose raisins and peanuts). Or grab a hard boiled egg, but make sure you don’t leave it in your car on a hot summer day.
I’m proud of my accomplishments at the gym, but I’m even prouder of the times I drive past my favorite junk-food establishments and cook egg whites at home. Standing in front of the stove, wearing only my surprisingly expensive boxer briefs, gently folding that bland, protein-packed goo fills me with a sense of pride that almost rivals how I feel after completing a heavy squat or a deadlift. Sure, it’s not the sort of decision that makes people cheer for you — and dear lord, that is some tasteless, rubbery swill — but resisting the wiles of fast food only makes the next post-pump slice that much sweeter.