Why Am I Hungry After Working Out?

“I’m so hungry, I could eat a _____(fill in the blank)!”

Does this sound like you after a tough workout? How about the rest of the day? Do you find yourself hungry all day long? If you can’t seem to satisfy the hunger that follows exercise, you’re not alone.

You’re supposed to be hungry after you work out. Exercise burns calories, uses up your glycogen and stimulates your appetite.

It also dehydrates you and if you don’t drink enough water before, during and after your workout, you’re going to feel hungry. Also, improper pre-workout fueling can lead to increased hunger later in the day. Exercising in a fasted state will only make you feel hungrier. In some cases, appetite may be suppressed during or immediately after exercise. But hunger hormones may increase later in the day, making you want to eat. A lot. Satiety hormones can also decrease, making it harder to feel full and satisfied, especially for women.

According to weight-loss experts, exercise works great for weight maintenance, but not weight loss. It’s also important for decreasing belly fat, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and increasing your level of happiness.

Giving up exercise is not an option—it’s part of a healthy lifestyle. Understanding that exercise will increase your appetite and arming yourself with steps to keep it in check is part of the plan for success.

Why are you hungry after working out?

  • Exercise increases appetite
  • Depleted glycogen stores
  • Dehydration
  • Inadequate pre-workout fuel

HOW TO TAME YOUR HUNGER

1. MEAL TIMING

In the sports nutrition world, meal timing is key to performance and recovery. Because you use up most or all of your glycogen stores while you work out (depending on the type of activity, intensity and duration), you need to replenish them so you can have enough energy to work out tomorrow. It’s ideal to eat your first post-workout meal within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing your workout. For some people, this will require some planning. If you exercise first thing in the morning, you’ll need to have breakfast food available wherever your morning may take you. If you work out at lunchtime or in the late afternoon, make sure to time it so you can have your lunch or dinner meal as your post-workout fueling. For those who work out in the morning or mid-day, a second post-workout meal approximately two hours later will be necessary. Eating the majority of your calories earlier in the day will help control hunger and cravings later in the day. In America, we typically eat a small breakfast and a very large dinner. Reversing that so you have a large breakfast, a medium-sized lunch and a small dinner is more logical in terms of the calories your body needs and when it needs them.

2. MEAL COMPOSITION

What you eat is just as important as when you eat. You need carbs and protein in your recovery meal. The ratio of carbs to protein depends on the type of workouts you do. An endurance or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session uses up more glycogen, so you need a greater ratio of carbs to protein and should aim for a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. You want a blend of fast-acting carbs (fruit) and slower-acting carbs (high-fiber whole grains), which will be stored as glycogen. Adding protein to the carbs has been shown to increase the glycogen resynthesis process. For a weight-training workout, which causes microtears in the muscles, a meal that has a carb-to-protein ratio of 2:1 or 1:1 will help with refueling the muscles and repairing the damaged tissues.

3. HYDRATION

If you feel hungry, you might actually be thirsty. Most people don’t drink enough water before, during and after exercise. The brain confuses a lack of fluid with not enough food, signaling hunger pains. If you just ate a meal an hour ago and are already feeling hungry, try drinking 12 ounces of water and waiting 15 minutes; then reassess your hunger level. A great plan for staying properly hydrated includes drinking 8 to 12 ounces of water when you wake up, 8 ounces before each meal, 12 to 16 ounces an hour before you exercise, and 24 ounces after you exercise. By the end of the day, you should have consumed between two and three liters of water. Other factors to consider that drive up your fluid needs include heat, humidity, illness and pregnancy. Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration status—if you wait until you are thirsty to drink then you are most likely already 1 to 2 percent dehydrated, which is significant. Instead, look to the color of your urine to assess your level of hydration. If it is clear to light yellow, then you’re hydrated. If it’s anything darker than the color of lemonade, be sure to start drinking more water.

4. PRE-WORKOUT FUEL

Whether or not you eat before your workout can impact your hunger later in the day. For morning exercisers, make sure to eat something before your workout. If you have less than 30 minutes between the time you wake up and hit the gym, a banana with a little peanut butter is a good choice. If you have at least an hour before your workout, a bowl of oatmeal with some fruit and nuts, or some eggs and fruit will give you the fuel you need to power through a tough session. Exercising in a fasted state will lead to early fatigue and poor stamina and increased hunger post-workout.

5. MINDFUL EATING

Most of us have very busy lives and tend to eat quickly while doing something else. Ah yes, the art of multitasking. However, when you eat mindfully—slowly and undistracted by the TV, emails, internet or cell phone—and focus attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, you will derive more satisfaction from your meals and feel less hungry throughout the day.

How to Control Your Ravenous Hunger After a Tough Workout

It happens to the best of us. You finish a grueling workout, dripping in sweat, and the first thing that comes to mind: FOOD.

Of course, having a recovery snack of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats post-workout will restore energy and repair muscle. But just how much should you be eating, and just is it normal to be that hungry after workouts? If you can’t even make it to the shower before digging in, it could be an even greater problem than you realize.

Luckily, experts chimed in to discuss exactly why you’re so hungry after workouts as well as some tips for how to tame those hunger levels, avoid overeating, and chose the right kind of fuel.

After exercise, it makes sense to be ravenous-you’re taxing your body and often pushing it to its limits. And while you might notice a decrease in appetite during the workout, you might start to feel famished shortly following the session, explains Partha Nandi, M.D., F.A.C.P., creator and host of the medical lifestyle television show Ask Dr. Nandi.

What’s more, some studies show this appetite-suppressing effect may be slightly less pronounced in women than in men, explains Tom Schmicker, M.D. ,M.S., a resident of orthopedics and sports medicine at Marshall Sports Medicine Institute. Women will have a harder time resisting energy compensation (or refilling the depleted energy stores of food and calories), so that desire for a second dinner after a workout can be pretty common.

In another study (performed only on men), researchers found that working out for longer durations (an hour or so) at a more moderate speed will likely cause you to feel hungrier than if you were performing an intense bout of HIIT training, lasting a shorter 20 to 30 minutes. So, what’s the deal?

Why You’re So Hungry After Workouts

Firstly, logic comes into play: Exercise burns calories, food contains calories, and with energy stores depleted, the body naturally signals that it needs more food to replenish what that cardio kickboxing workout just eliminated. “After 45 minutes of exercise, stores of glycogen (your body’s first available source of energy) in the muscles and liver are depleted. The body is hungry to refill these stores,” says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., board-certified bariatric physician and founder of bistroMD.

Exercise has been shown to suppress acylated ghrelin, a hunger-inducing hormone, and stimulate the release of digestive hormones PYY and GLP-1, which work to limit appetite. “But the effect is short-term, usually lasting no more than an hour after exercise,” explains Dr. Schmicker.

So once your workout ends, your body cries out: Feed me.

Plus, as there’s more blood and fluid in your muscles, inflammation can occur, leading to an increased appetite due to a surge in cortisol. This makes that post-workout snack super important, says running coach, Susie Lemmer. And if you don’t refuel after a workout, you will likely increase your risk of injury, she notes. (Related: The Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout)

How to Stop Overeating Post-Workout

Drink fluids-before, during, and after a workout. “Ravenous hunger can actually be thirst,” says Dr. Cederquist. (Here are three signs you’re dehydrated in the middle of your workout.) “I think it is a great opportunity to drink 24 ounces of water over the course of a Spin class, brisk walk, run, or boot camp. Many women have a hard time drinking water throughout the day, so get your water in while you are rapidly losing it through sweat.”

Similarly, grab that bottle after you’ve wiped off your sweat. It can be difficult during intense classes to stop between sets to drink water (plus, let’s be honest; doing burpees with a stomach filled to the brim with water is probably not the best idea either), so rehydration post workout is key. If you chug an adequate amount of H2O after your workout and you’re still hungry 30 minutes later, it’s safe to say it’s time to eat. But not just anything (or everything). “Reach for some quality nutrition made up of complex carbs and protein,” says Christopher R. Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., Reebok ONE expert contributor.

What’s more, after a tough session, the cool water will “regulate your body temperature, restore energy levels, fight fatigue and muscle cramps, and, if it’s a sports drink, restore lost electrolytes,” says Andy Stern, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing. But make sure to steer clear of drinks with artificial sweeteners-just look at what sugar can do to your body. These artificially sweetened drinks can actually make you hungrier, says nutritionist Isabel Smith, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

Eat well before you exercise. Eating something satiating, but not too heavy on the stomach, before a workout can help limit hunger following exercise, says Mohr. He recommends Greek yogurt with a banana and peanut butter, or even a glass of chocolate milk. An energy bar-something with a little more staying power than a candy-coated granola bar masking itself as healthy-will also supply some much-need fuel before any long day or intense workout.

Don’t wait too long to eat post-workout. Make sure to eat something small soon if you’re often hungry after workouts. This will help you avoid excess (read: uncontrollable) hunger when you get home. “You can wolf down large quantities of food when over-hungry and get way past the point of fullness,” says Dr. Cederquist.

Grab some protein. Here’s where protein is super important, as it builds and repairs muscles, explains Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. She suggests Greek yogurt and berries or a piece of grilled chicken and veggies, plus a small sweet potato. Another option? A healthy, slow-digesting carb such as quinoa, brown rice, or hummus. A goal of 15 to 25 grams of protein is smart, says Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian at Abbott.

Think before you inhale. Simply slowing down the eating process can make you rethink whether or not to eat an entire meal of snacks before your actual dinner. So take a minute, take a shower, unpack your gym bag and then decide what to eat. It takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to register fullness, says Mohr, so enjoy your food and wait before grabbing seconds.

Consider your workout. Really think about how many calories you’ve burned during your workout, and what that means for your next meal. “I have many clients who think if they exercise, they can reward themselves by eating whatever they want,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet. That approach can backfire.

“My advice is to eat back no more than half the calories you burn off during a workout. So if you burn 300 calories jogging, you have 150 calories to play with afterward.” The trick is to maximize your nutritional intake in minimal calories. Rather than use those 150 calories on a vitamin drink-the wrong move, because liquid calories won’t satisfy your hunger-a better option would be to “spend those calories on healthy, filling foods, such as a sliced apple with peanut butter, to maximize satiety,” says Blatner.

Always Hungry After Workouts? Try This All-Day Diet Plan

The biggest piece of the hunger puzzle is knowing what, when, and how much to eat to stoke your body’s engine. It’s the peaks and dips in energy levels, set off by inconsistent eating habits, that send cravings into overdrive. To keep things on track, follow this around-the-clock advice. (If you feel hungry 24/7 and not just after your workouts, read: Why Do I Feel Hungry All the Time?)

In the morning…

Make your digestive system work. “If you put sugary cereal in your mouth, it literally dissolves. With shredded wheat, you have to work to chew it,” says Kendrin Sonneville, R.D., a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The same thing happens in your stomach; it has to churn away to digest high-fiber foods, making you feel fuller longer.” Aim for 25 grams of fiber a day. (Related: Is it Possible to Have Too Much Fiber In Your Diet?)

At lunch…

Be a meal splitter. If your good in­tentions in attending that noontime boot-camp class are regularly squandered because you’re too hungry to push yourself through it, give your efforts an extra edge by eating lunch twice-half at 11 a.m., the other half when you get back from the gym. Look for a mix of three carbs to one protein; banana and peanut butter on whole wheat is a good option. Have half the sandwich an hour before you exercise, the other half immediately after your workout. You’ll be amazed at how much more energy you have during your session, without the hunger pangs afterward. (See: The Best Foods to Eat Before and After a Workout)

For a snack…

Do the apple test. “Ask yourself, ‘Does eating an apple sound good right now?'” says Blatner. An apple is a stomach-filling food, so if it’s appealing, you probably are hungry and should break for a healthy snack. If an apple isn’t calling your name, you may be turning to food for other reasons, like boredom or stress. Drink water instead.

At night…

Turn in earlier. A study found that participants ate significantly more calories from sugary carbs after five and a half hours of slumber than they did after eight and a half hours. Experts aren’t sure why, but some suspect that less sleep causes ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone, to spike. You already know that more sleep equals a better workout, so hit the sack an hour earlier tonight.

Ultimately you’ve got to approach hunger the way you do your workout: methodically and consistently. “People who manage hunger well are those who eat mindfully,” Sonneville says. “You do yourself a disservice if you just count calories. You’ve got to pay attention to how you feel and how your workout is being affected, too.”

  • By By Isadora Baum and Mindy Berry Walker

4 Healthy Ways to Fix Your Insatiable Post-Workout Hunger

If you’ve ever walked out of a workout feeling absolutely famished only to inhale every food, healthy or not, in your sight, you’re not alone. This post-workout hunger and the subsequent gorging of food is really common. On one hand, it’s awesome that our bodies are working hard and seeking fuel. On the other, regularly overdoing it can lead to issues so we definitely want to get it under control.

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The first step is to understand why this happens. According to accredited practicing dietitian Casuarina Forsyth, intense hunger is our body’s natural response to increased activity. “When we exercise, our bodies are burning fuel. As a result, our appetite is increased as a way of our body ensuring that the fuel sources are replaced,” she says.

Matty Nguyen, expert strength and conditioning coach at The Heights Barbell Club, agrees. “Post training, many people get hungry due to our sympathetic nervous system. We cool down and then need to metabolize food in order to refuel for energy,” he says. “This is because during intense exercise, our metabolisms spike significantly compared to rest and stay like that even after we cool down.”

To help prevent this type of hunger, try focusing on these healthy fixes. They will leave you satisfied without sabotaging all your hard work.

Listen to your body and eat.

This may sound counterintuitive, but hear us out. When your appetite is telling you that it needs food, listen. By actually eating when you’re hungry, you prevent the potential to overeat in the future. As Forsyth explains, “When we let ourselves get too hungry, we tend to enter the meal starving, eat really quickly, and consequently overeat. Eating something small immediately after exercise is a good way to prevent this from happening.”

In fact, she recommends eating a small snack before your session to prevent a post-workout binge. This way, you will “top up your energy to get you through your workout” without feeling famished afterward.

Focus on nourishing foods.

With that being said, this is not an excuse to eat an entire cake in one sitting. What you eat is the determining factor when it comes to making progress on your overall health or sabotaging it. You need to focus on nourishing foods that will satisfy your hunger in a healthy way.

If you want to snack before a workout, Nguyen recommends foods that are “nutritiously dense in carbs and/or fats. A peanut butter sandwich, fruits, muesli bars, or vegetables, such as potatoes, are very easily digestible while being macronutrient- and micronutrient-dense.”

In regard to post-workout snacks, Forsyth recommends that you “aim for minimally processed foods that are rich in fiber—fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and foods that contain some protein, e.g., Greek yogurt, eggs, nut butters, or hummus.

Focus on timing.

A great hack Forsyth recommends is “planning your exercise around your preexisting meals.” Try doing your workout before breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That way you can go home and eat these meals when you’re hungry without consuming extra calories.

Planning your post-workout meals is important—but so it planning your workout. Aaptiv has workouts as short as 10 minutes and scheduling tools to help you plan your workout into your day.

Change your approach to food.

Your mentality plays a huge part in this as well. People like to reward themselves with food after an exercise session. However, if you have experienced insatiable post-workout hunger, you know that this can be a dangerous mentality and often leads to overeating.

Studies have shown that this food-reward system, which seems to be hardwired in our brains, can actually undermine the effects of exercise. This is why you may be prone to the post-workout binge.

One particular case study reported that a group of subjects expressed an implicit desire for high-fat sweet food after exercise. They indulged in a post-workout binge to compensate for their energy expenditure.

This is why changing your food–exercise relationship is vital. Rather than seeing food as a reward or exercise as compensation for what you’ve eaten, Forsyth recommends exercising for “enjoyment and stress relief instead.” View food as a way to nourish your body in a healthy way instead of an incentive to exercise.

You’ll be surprised by how this change in mentality can positively impact the effects of insatiable post-workout hunger.

Key Points to Remember

If insatiable post-workout hunger is something you commonly experience, then try these healthy fixes. Remember to listen to your body and focus on nutritious foods, so you can satisfy your hunger without feeling like you just undid all your hard work.

It’s a win-win situation.

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For many people, working out means working up an appetite—often one so big that it keeps you ravenous all damn day long. Why you’re hungry after a workout may seem obvious—you just burned a bunch of calories, so naturally your body needs more, right? But the reason you’re insatiable isn’t as simple as calories in, calories out.

Here, experts explain why you can’t seem to stop snacking after 45 minutes on the treadmill.

The specific amount of calories you burn doesn’t directly determine how hungry you get.

Sometimes, the reason you might feel peckish after a workout is simply psychological, Heather Milton, M.S., senior exercise physiologist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, tells SELF. You burned a lot of calories, so you think you should be hungry, which makes you decide you’re hungry.

Despite what seems like common sense—that you’ll be hungrier after burning a lot of calories—Milton says that it’s not that simple. Burning calories doesn’t directly cause your body to release the hormone that stimulates hunger, called ghrelin, she explains.

One thing that does prompt ghrelin release is a drop in blood sugar, which can happen in any workout for various reasons. “But as long as your blood sugar is at a good level, just burning calories alone doesn’t necessarily mean your body is going to create a hunger response,” Milton says.

Fueling up before a workout is an easy way to keep your blood sugar stable and prevent major post-exercise cravings.

Milton says that most workouts involve some component of glycogen burning—glycogen is the body’s stored source of carbohydrates. When your glycogen stores dip during a workout, your body starts to use more of the sugar in your blood for energy. When this gets low, your blood sugar levels drop, and your body releases more ghrelin to signal to your brain that it’s time to refuel. Cue hunger.

That’s why you should avoid heading into a workout if you haven’t eaten for more than three or four hours, Milton says. If you do, the odds are higher that your body will resort to pulling sugar from your blood for energy, which will make you super hungry post-workout.

The best way to keep this from happening? Bolster your glycogen stores by eating a preworkout snack one to two hours before you exercise. You can find some great DIY options here, and if you don’t have the time for DIY, registered-dietitian-approved store-bought options here.

The kind of workout that you do and your current level of fitness can also impact your postworkout hunger.

Studies have shown that we tend to release more ghrelin and become hungrier after long, moderate-intensity workouts than after short, high-intensity workouts. So in general, you’re more likely to be famished after a jog in the park than after 20 minutes of a HIIT workout. That said, everyone is different, and the hunger response to exercise can vary widely.

Your weight and level of fitness can impact your hunger, too. Studies suggest that fitter you are, the weaker your hunger response will be. In general, women tend to be hungrier after a workout than men. Obese women may have more of an appetite than lean women because obese women tend to be resistant to the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.

You could also just be dehydrated and not realize it.

Sometimes thirst masquerades as hunger, Edwina Clark, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly, tells SELF. And we’re never thirstier than we are directly after a sweaty workout. So before you reach for a snack, have a glass of water and see if that’s what you’re really craving.

And if you’ve ever felt not-at-all hungry immediately after a workout, and then totally ravenous an hour later, there’s a reason for that, too.

“When you exercise, your body is shunting blood to the muscles that are working and cutting off some blood supply to the organs that don’t need to be working,” Milton explains. One organ that definitely doesn’t need to be working when you’re at the gym? Your stomach. When you’re finished working out, it takes your body a little while to get back to normal in terms of hunger sensitivity, which explains that 30- to 45-minute gap when you’re totally not hungry.

If you don’t want to eat because you feel like you’re going to puke after an intense interval session, Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., says that’s not uncommon either. She explains that the harder you exercise the more oxygen your muscles need, the more carbon dioxide you then end up exhaling and inhaling. As more of that carbon dioxide begins to circulate through your bloodstream, your body acid levels go up, and that can result in a side effect of nausea. You may end up getting hungry as your body acid levels return to normal, but the fact that you did a high intensity training session may still leave you with a subdued appetite.

Why Your Workout Leaves You So Hungry You Could Eat a Horse

Funny tees with sayings like “I run for pizza” or “I run because I really like beer” goofily sum up the way many of us think about the relationship between food and exercise. Who among us hasn’t pictured the delicious snack waiting for us after a killer workout, for example? But what happens when our exercise routines cause us to consistently overeat? Many of us typically associate a regular fitness practice with healthier eating choices and maybe even a svelte physique, but the relationship between working out and overeating has both biological and psychological roots that may surprise you.

But I Need to Refuel My Muscles… Right?!

Beginning a new exercise regimen or adding new challenges to your current routine may require that you up your caloric intake in order to recover from workouts and keep energy stores full. And our bodies usually tell us as much, naturally bumping up our appetites after workouts. But can exercise make us eat more than we truly need?

For every 10 calories we burn, we’re expected to crave at least three—a biological compensation mechanism that ensures we remain properly fueledCross talk between physical activity and appetite control: does physical activity stimulate appetite? Blundell J.E., Stubbs R.J., Hughes D.A., et al. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2003 Aug;62(3):651-61.. But some people tend to overcompensate for the number of calories lost through physical activity and exercise-improved metabolic rate, consuming eleven or more calories for every ten burned, says endurance trainer Matt Fitzgerald, author of Diet Cultsand Racing Weight. The reason? A combination of physical and psychological forces—some of which we’re entirely unaware.
In many cases, “it’s reward psychology at play,” Fitzgeraldsays. “You see this more with beginners who aren’t intrinsically motivated to exercise; they simply don’t love it. Newer people, for whom an activity itself isn’t rewarding, may choose to reward themselves with a food treat—eating more than they normally would, or eating foods they’d otherwise avoid.”

It’s one thing to use that delicious post-workout snack as motivation to finish a run, but when working out is a straight-up brutal slog, we may find ourselves seeking comfort or reward through food.

Even if you’ve sidestepped the pitfall of food rewards, there’s another common mistake: overestimating the number of calories burned during exercise while underestimating the calories taken in. This can happen whether we’re prone toward overeating or not. As one study showed, subjects trying to lose weight reported eating 47 percent less and working out about 51 percent more than they actually ate and exercised, meaning we might be regularly overcompensating for what we’ve burnedDiscrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake and exercise in obese subjects. Lictman S.W., Pisarska K., Berman E.R. New England Journal of Medicine. 1992 Dec;327(21):1893-8..

The Biology of a Post-Workout Binge

Research into how exercise might trigger urges to overeat pegs the blame on biological factors. For certain people, especially the obese, challenging bouts of exercise cause massive neural activity upticks in brain regions responsible for food reward and cravingLow fat loss response after medium-term supervised exercise in obese is associated with exercise-induced increase in food reward. Finlayson G., Caudwell P., Gibbons C., et al. Journal of Obesity. 2011;pii:615624.. That said, the more lean you become and the more accustomed your body grows to regular workouts, the less powerful those urges may feel. Studies investigating the brain activity of fitter, leaner folks show their food-reward centers respond less aggressively to images of tasty edibles. That leads researchers to believe that while upping physical activity may initially provoke urges to indulge amongst newbies working out, over time those urges wane as healthier habits become the same ol’ same ol’Aerobic exercise reduces neuronal responses in food reward brain regions. Evero N., Hackett L.C. Clark R.D., et al. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012 May;112(9):1612-9..
Registered dietician and Greatist Expert Erica Giovinazzo reminds us that letting ourselves get too hungry is a guaranteed setup for a binge. And that might go double for those newbs adjusting to the increased caloric burn of regular exercise, which triggers the need for a few extra post-workout calories.

“Whether you’re working out or not, you never want to be completely starving at any point in the day. When that happens, we tend to eat a lot more than we normally would—mainly because eating is as much mental as it is physical.” Being ravenous makes us eat faster, leading us to miss out on satiety cues which normally take 15 minutes or more to kick in.

Giovinazzo’s advice? Eat more mindfully (try putting down the fork a few times during your meal or chewing a little longer), portion out your meal like you would if you weren’t famished (chances are, the amount you normally eat should still satisfy you), and stand up mid-meal if you can (sometimes we don’t register how full we are until we get up from the table).

The Takeaway

Hunger is the body’s way of asking to be refueled, so don’t ignore a rumbling stomach, particularly if you’ve recently started working out or ramped up your exercise routine. Stronger hankerings than usual may be a sign your body and brain are adapting to a new set of physical challenges, but craving tons of treats may also be the mind’s way of asking for equal attention in the form of rewards and comfort food. Try to tune in to the difference between physical hunger and the emotional desire to eat, and hang in there as you learn to accommodate new habits. Opting for more fruits and veggies will promote feelings of fullness, and staying fueled and hydrated throughout each day could stave off binges.

When it comes to getting a handle on emotional eating, it’s worth remembering that forcing ourselves to do workouts so torturous that we look to food treats as rewards will likely only fuel an unhealthy cycle of emotional overeating. So find the activity you love, hit your favorite classes, work out with a pal, or create a killer playlist to fuel your cardio sessions. Once we get fitter and exercise becomes its own reward, the physical and emotional need to overeat falls by the wayside.

Why your workout makes you hungry…or not

It’s a paradox: After a blazing high-intensity interval training class that left you in a puddle on the floor and spent hundreds of calories, you’re not the least bit hungry. However, you’re ravenous after an hour and a half of yoga.

Culturally, we kind of panic when we feel hungry: it’s a major culprit of overeating, after all. So it doesn’t hurt to try to reframe hunger as merely a sign that your body’s using food the way it’s supposed to, says Lindsea Burns, a clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Encino, California. “We naturally assume hunger is the enemy, but what this really means is that your body is working so efficiently that it’s metabolizing and storing your food as fuel.”

Still, there are certain workouts that tend to deplete your energy stores more than others. Hunger is dependent on a lot of individual factors such as metabolism and researchers are still trying to nail down the physiology, but here’s where we’re at.

All-out effort: Not hungry

Put simply, hunger is your body’s demand for fuel. When the stomach is empty, research suggests that a hormone called ghrelin sends signals to your brain to eat. But your body reacts differently in the hour or so after a bout of tough exercise. Researchers in the UK compared a high intensity workout (treadmill running) withweight lifting. Ghrelin levels appeared to drop more in the aerobic runners, and they were subsequently less likely to be hungry than a group of weightlifters were after their sessions. This starts to explain why even a hardcore HIIT session doesn’t spur an immediate desire to refuel.

Part of the reason is that, during a taxing exercise session, your body redirects all its blood flow and energy to areas (lungs, muscles). It doesn’t want you to eat because it’s temporarily shut down your digestive system.

“The more intensely you exercise the less ghrelin your body produces, generally,” says Isabel Smith, a registered dietitian in New York City.

Long, low-key workouts: Hungry

The length of your workout also can affect how hungry you get, so even if you barely get out of breath, 90 minutes of asanas can make you weak and hungry after yoga. Your body might perceive a long workout as a famine and get hungrier, says Nancy Clark, MS, a Boston-based sports nutritionist. And as you might imagine, prolonged, intense exercise such as endurance running can make you really hungry, even if it’s not right away. Some people actually gain weight while training for marathons because they overeat, even though they’re burning 2,000 calories some day, Clark says.

Weight Lifting: Hungry

Pumping iron causes small tears in muscle tissue; as those tissues repair and heal, you build stronger muscles. That process requires nutritional refueling and replenishing, Clark explains. “We know that muscle drives hunger,” Clark says. “It’s very active tissue, so the more muscle you have, the hungrier you get, generally.”

A very sweaty workout: Not Hungry

Body temperature is thought to play a role in hunger suppression after a tough workout as well. “Sometimes the core body temperature is raised so much during intense exercise, and blood flow is redistributed so much to the muscles and skin, that digestion is essentially shut down until blood flow and body temperature normalize,” Burns says. “During a short window after exercising, you won’t be hungry because the body knows digestion would be ineffective.”

Another factor is hydration, which affects body temperature and recovery (which includes refueling). “Inadequate hydration can trigger sugar and salt cravings and make you feel hungry when you’re not,” Smith says. “Most people don’t get enough fluids to begin with, and we lose sodium in our sweat when we work out.” So if you get back from a summer run and want to devour a three-course meal, try drinking water first so you can better gauge whether you’re actually hungry.

Swimming: Hungry

Body temperature starts to explain why swimming leaves you so hungry. The activity can be intense cardio exercise yet tends to spark appetite in many people, however, likely because the body stays cool in the water despite the workout the heart is getting, Clark says. You also use all your muscles when you swim as opposed to mostly just using your legs during a run.

5 Tips to Stop Overeating After a Workout

Feeling very hungry after your workout? Regular workouts can boost your metabolism and increase your hunger.

Although this has been scientifically proven, it shouldn’t serve as an excuse to pig out afterwards on burgers, fries and pizza. We often overestimate the number of calories burned and we end up eating more after the gym than our bodies need to build muscle. Or we eat the wrong things.

So how can you avoid binging after your workout? Check out these 5 expert tips:

5 tips to avoid overeating after your workout

1. Think twice about the calories you burned

Did you really burn the same number of calories as there are in a big bowl of ice cream on your leisurely 5K run?

Studies have shown that we usually underestimate the calories consumed through food and overestimate the number of calories burned by exercise. Stay realistic when it comes to choosing post-workout foods.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having ice cream once in a while. But a full meal with complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein and good fats is a better choice after a hard workout. Or how about this healthy post-workout smoothie?

Need more ideas on what to eat when you’re hungry after workout? Check out the favorite post-workout meals from our users and the nutrition guide for runners.

Don’t forget that those who take their time and enjoy their food tend to consume fewer calories!

2. Ask yourself: Am I really hungry?

After every workout, ask yourself the question: “Am I really hungry?” If you can’t answer this question with a definite “yes,” maybe you forgot to drink enough water during your workout.

We often mistake sensations of thirst for hunger. So, before grabbing a snack, drink a big glass of water and see how you feel afterward.

Is your tummy still growling? Then you should definitely eat something. After a short training session, all you need is a 150-200 calorie snack like a Greek yogurt or a handful of nuts. If you worked out longer or were lifting weights, you’re going to need something a little more filling.

3. Eat your meals regularly

If you experience genuine hunger attacks after working out, then perhaps you haven’t eaten enough during the rest of the day.

Regular meals help keep your blood sugar level constant. Thus, there is far less danger of overeating. How often you should eat depends entirely on your personal goals.

One way of making sure you are satiated is to eat protein-rich foods (lean meat, fish, dairy products, nuts, legumes, etc.) with every meal. A study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that examined the effect of protein on weight management and satiety. The researchers found that protein was more satiating and satisfying than carbohydrates and fat. In this study, this led to a reduction in energy consumption and thus to weight loss in the participants.

Want to learn more? Find out how much protein you really need after a workout.

4. Schedule your workouts smarter

If you always feel hungry after working out, then simply make sure to schedule exercise before one of your main meals.

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to exercise before breakfast, lunch or dinner, smart planning gives you the chance to replenish your energy stores with a wholesome meal. That way you won’t need to eat any extra snacks, and thus additional calories, between meals.

5. Don’t work out just to “earn calories” you can eat later

We often torture ourselves with workouts we don’t really enjoy. We spend the entire time thinking of the sweet rewards awaiting us afterward.

Try to change your way of thinking. Find an activity you like to do—it doesn’t matter if it is running, biking, bodyweight training or yoga. Exercise should be your body’s reward, not food.

The most important thing is to listen to your body. If you are hungry, don’t ignore your growling stomach. Learn to interpret your body’s signals with intuitive eating and fill up your energy stores with a balanced meal.

If you want to do something good for your body, then keep it fit and healthy!

***

Why Does the Gym Make Me Feel So Hungry?

Potential fat loss is one of the leasing reasons people choose to hit the gym. With new diet plans coming out every week, and a near-infinite number of intensive boot camps and spin sessions promising to fight the love handles, it’s clear that getting lean is a top priority for many fitness enthusiasts.

And that means it’s likely to be pretty annoying for people on a weight loss mission to find themselves starving after an intense cardio session. Yet, unfortunately, it happens pretty often.

Why does the gym make people so hungry? And what does that post-workout appetite-boost mean for weight loss?

What does the science say about exercise and hunger?

Interestingly enough, different studies have turned up conflicting findings when looking at the effects of exercise on hunger. Specifically, a 2016 study from Loughborough University found that regular exercise resulted in less hunger and less overeating in a group of women than calorie-restrictive dieting alone, whereas a 2004 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that High-Intensity Exercise resulted in women consuming more calories than they otherwise would.

Why the different findings? Well, there could be various reasons.

One possible explanation could be that exercise in and of itself has certain hunger-suppressing effects, but that particularly intense or long-duration training stresses the muscles and central nervous system enough that they simply need more fuel to repair and rebuild.

Is hunger after exercise something to worry about? Will it get in the way of weight loss?

Some degree of hunger after exercise is natural. The body fuels and repairs itself with food, after all, and — as mentioned above — intense exercise may naturally cause the body to require more fuel for the rest-and-repair operation.

Generally, some hunger after exercise shouldn’t be a concern as long as you keep the following principles in mind:

Plan your post-workout meals, don’t binge — if you’ve trained far harder than your body is accustomed to, you may feel a combination of extreme hunger, fatigue, and irritation. That doesn’t bode well for your diet.
Plan and prepare your post-workout meals in advance and stick to healthy and nutritious staples. No processed food. Don’t give yourself any extra excuses to drive to McDonald’s on your way home from the gym.

Pay attention to your hunger. Is it manageable or is it completely out of control? — Feeling hungry after a good workout is normal. Feeling completely ravenous and out of control, on the other hand, is likely a sign that something’s wrong. If your post-exercise hunger is too severe, you may need to decrease the intensity of your training or eat more during your pre-workout meal.

Make sure you’re eating enough calories throughout the day — Even when you’re cutting weight, you should make sure you’re consuming enough calories throughout the day for your body to function properly. Use an online calorie calculator to predict your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and be sure not to eat below that number.

How can I reduce the post-gym cravings?

Here are a few ways of reducing post-exercise hunger.

Drink some coffee (preferably decaf) — Coffee has long been used as an appetite suppressor. Fascinatingly, a 2012 study found that decaf coffee had even stronger appetite inhibiting effects than regular coffee.

Eat a filling pre-workout meal — It’s not rocket science that if you don’t eat enough before a workout, you’re likely to feel all the hungrier when it’s done. Make sure your pre-workout meal leaves you feeling satisfied (but not stuffed) and includes some protein and low-GI carbs.

Keep a post-workout snack in your gym bag — Munching down on a protein bar or a handful of nuts immediately after finishing your workout is a great way of taking the edge off your hunger before it has time to develop.

Stay properly hydrated during and after your workout — The body may, at times, confuse thirst for hunger, and many people report feeling less hungry after having a glass of water. Interestingly enough, . The body loses a lot of water during exercise, so keep a sports bottle nearby.

Are Your Workouts Making You Eat More?

You’re ramping up your active minutes, hitting those workouts, getting those steps in. Are you feeling awesome? A little lighter, leaner … or ready to eat the world? Cue the stomach rumble. Exercising more does have the tendency to leave you feeling extra hungry, but if you want to lose weight, you have to avoid eating back all those hard-won calories you just burned off. Here’s how to handle the hunger pangs, while still crushing your weight and fitness goals.

How Exercise Affects Your Appetite

“In general, your body does an excellent job of being its own calorie counter,” says Nancy Clark, RD, CSSD, and author of the best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “If you’re more or less active, your body will respond. Hunger is simply a request for fuel! So respect hunger, and listen to your body.”

That said, there are some disheartening studies, indicating that exercise can even lead to weight gain. High-intensity activity, like running, can suppress your appetite, at least temporarily. But low-intensity activity, like walking, can leave you feeling hungry right away. Clark points out that everyone’s body is different, and the way you perceive hunger is personal. “The real problem is that most people wildly overestimate how many calories they’ve burned at the gym! And don’t take the rest of their day into account.” Here are a few classic scenarios that lead to overcompensating with calories.

4 Ways to Avoid Overeating After Exercise

Your tracker says you burned calories—score! Time for a snack.

Wait a second—are you actually hungry? There’s a common misconception that activity gives you permission to eat. It doesn’t, especially if you’re going to be sitting for the rest of the day, or having a meal soon. Practice mindfulness, check in with your body, and wait until you’re really hungry to reach for a healthy snack.

After every workout, you grab a protein shake or energy bar.

If you towel off and immediately belly up to the snack bar, ask yourself a few questions. How long was your workout? And how hard was it, really? If you’re not sweating for more than hour at high intensity, you may not need a post-workout snack. Time your workouts to roll straight into your next meal—a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and balance energy-boosting carbs with muscle-restoring protein.

You worked out today, so you deserve a treat, right?!

On gym days, are you even more tempted to hit happy hour for a few glasses of wine, or to make reservations and order the cheeseburger? Unfortunately, even if you burned a few hundred calories at the gym, that’s not going to cover a thousand calories in the evening. You worked hard, and that’s awesome. But find other ways to reward yourself—without food.

Late in the evening, your sweet tooth strikes.

So you managed to work out and eat a healthy dinner, but at the end of the day, there you are standing in front of the fridge, desperately craving chocolate. “Sweet cravings can be a sign that your body is over hungry,” says Clark. “If you feel tired, cranky, and crave-y, your body may simply need more fuel.” Instead of indulging with a few bites of sugary carbs, check that you’re getting enough good nutrition at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, earlier in the day.

A Few Bites Make a Big Difference

“The more you drive your car, the more gas you’ll need!” concludes Clark. “But check in with your body and how hungry you feel, and then look at your whole day, including how much you’ll be sitting, and how many meals you have left to eat. It’s deceptively easy to overcompensate with too many calories.” Keep in mind that if you burn 300 calories on the elliptical or stationary bike, it only takes one vanilla latte, two big handfuls of potato chips, or a donut to eat those back! The better way to think about it: Exercise is an added bonus, not an excuse to eat more.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.

Becky Duffett

Becky Duffett is a contributing nutrition editor for Fitbit and a lifestyle writer with a passion for eating well. A former Williams-Sonoma cookbook editor and graduate of San Francisco Cooking School, she’s edited dozens of cookbooks and countless recipes. City living has turned her into a spin addict—but she’d still rather be riding a horse. She lives in the cutest neighborhood in San Francisco, spending weekends at the farmers’ market, trying to read at the bakery, and roasting big dinners for friends.

Working out when hungry

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