Pizza is a favorite food among both meat lovers and vegetarians, which is exactly why it's so hard to give up. Eating pizza after workouts may not be the best option if you're reaching for the frozen or chain restaurant kind, but there are ways to incorporate pizza into your diet in healthy ways.
The Problems With Pizza
It's likely you're not going to be creating your own healthy pizza recipes after a workout, as this might take hours. When you're looking for pizza as a quick fix, you may be tossing a frozen one into the oven or ordering some for delivery. This is especially true if you think pizza might be the best junk food for bulking.
The problem with many frozen, store-bought or delivered pizzas is the nutrition — or lack thereof. Many of these options are packed with refined white flour, salt, greasy fat, processed cheese and meats.
One slice of pepperoni pizza can contain up to 313 calories, 760 milligrams of sodium, 28 milligrams of cholesterol and nearly 6 grams of saturated fat. Even just a regular slice of cheese pizza can contain up to 10 grams of fat and 285 calories.
The problem isn't so much the fact that pizza contains cheese and carbs, but rather the kind of cheese, carbs and toppings that cause the health issues. Processed meats like sausage, bacon, hot dogs, cold cut deli meats and fast food burgers have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and mortality, as noted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The high levels of saturated fats found in many frozen pizzas or pizza chain foods come with their own damage. Harvard Health Publishing states that a diet high in saturated fats can increase your cholesterol and potentially have a negative effect on your cardiovascular system.
Plus, while the calories from refined white flour, cheese and processed meats can be incredibly filling (which makes pizza an easy food after a workout), most of these calories are empty calories and don't hold much nutrition. You may be able to get your protein and carbohydrate fix from pizza after workouts, but you won't be getting enough of the vitamins, minerals and healthy fats your body needs for optimal health.
If you're trying to lose weight, build lean muscle or simply bulk up, what you eat may be just as important as how you work out. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, planning to eat enough food and drink enough water before, during and after exercise is crucial. This maintains your blood glucose, boosts your physical performance during your workout and improves recovery afterwards.
Replenishing your body with energy from carbohydrates and protein is absolutely necessary during intense physical activity like weight-lifting or long endurance workouts, according to Mayo Clinic. Carbs and protein will keep your body weight healthy and repair muscle tissue.
However, even if you're working on bodybuilding and eating anything that comes your way, the best junk food for bulking shouldn't always be junk. In fact, it's important to get a varied array of whole foods in your diet.
Protein is often touted as the one most important element of workout-fueling meals. A May 2014 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition points out that bodybuilders should be consuming 2 to 3 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass per day. That protein should be split up across the course of several meals, even up to five or six, a day.
Fortunately, pizza contains a good amount of protein. One slice of basic cheese pizza can have up to 12 grams of protein, which constitutes nearly a quarter of your daily value. Pizza with meat toppings like pepperoni or sausage contain even more protein.
Carbohydrates often have a bad reputation when it comes to exercise and healthy eating. It turns out, however, that your body needs carbs to fuel intense workouts, marathon runs or weight-lifting sessions.
Carbs are particularly important for bodybuilding. A January 2018 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that a higher carbohydrate intake could benefit bodybuilders by helping them reach greater muscle mass during competition preparation.
The goal is to always aim for healthy, complex carbs like whole-grain breads, cereal or oats, as these contain the highest level of nutrients. Vegetables and fruits also have some carbs, according to the American Heart Association.
You'll need to restore your body's energy and glucose levels with carbohydrates about 20 to 60 minutes after your workout. This is why you'll often see marathon runners eating pasta after workouts or before big races.
You don't have to completely avoid high-fat foods either. Just be smart and choose the right ones. Avocados, certain types of cheeses, oily fish like salmon, nuts and extra virgin olive oil are all excellent sources of healthy fats. These healthy fats have been shown to have a positive effect on the brain, cardiovascular system and inflammation, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Healthiest Pizza Recipes
While many frozen pizzas or pizzas from chain restaurants come with problems, this doesn't mean you need to completely cut pizza from your diet. In fact, there are ways you can make pizza work to your advantage. It can be the best junk food for bulking, with tweaks to make it healthier. Ditch the pasta after workouts and instead try healthier pizza recipes.
You now know that you need to eat enough protein and carbs before and after workouts to restore your blood glucose, repair damaged tissue and grow new muscles. While you'll want to focus on fat-free options like plant-based whole grains and protein every day, it also can't hurt to eat pizza every so often to help you gain muscle mass. It's similar to eating pasta after workouts: It's OK to fuel your body with carbs.
Fortunately, pizza happens to have the perfect combination of both carbohydrates and plenty of protein, and it can even be beneficial as a post-workout meal. And yes, it's even possible to eat pizza if you're hoping to lose weight; it all depends on the ingredients.
Start with the crust. While store-bought pizzas are often made with refined white flour, you may want to switch things up a bit and make your own whole-wheat pizza crust. You can also experiment with cauliflower pizza crust if you want to increase the vegetable count.
Next, make your own fresh red sauce (olive oil, garlic, crushed canned tomatoes, red onion, salt and pepper) or pesto (basil, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper). Throw on some mozzarella, which is low in fat, or any other cheese you desire.
Finally, top your pizza with plenty of vegetables — spinach, mushrooms or broccoli, for example — and add some chopped chicken, ham or low-fat sausage on top for a protein boost. With these ingredients, eating pizza after workouts can actually be a healthy choice.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: "Processed Meat"
- Harvard Health: "The Truth About Fats: the Good, the Bad, and the In-Between"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Where Are Kids Getting Their Empty Calories? Stores, Schools, and Fast Food Restaurants Each Play an Important Role in Empty Calorie Intake Among Us Children in 2009-2010"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Nutrition and Athletic Performance"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Evidence-Based Recommendations for Natural Bodybuilding Contest Preparation: Nutrition and Supplementation"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Cheese Pizza"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Nutritional Strategies of High Level Natural Bodybuilders During Competition Preparation"
- American Heart Association: "Food as Fuel Before, During and After Workouts"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Choose Healthy Fats"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Pepperoni Pizza"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition Rules That Will Fuel Your Workout"