The truth about why you feel like you could eat everything in sight after working out is actually pretty simple. Your body is signalling that it’s ready to refuel.
Exercise has been shown to suppress the acylated ghrelin, a hunger-inducing molecule, and stimulate the release of digestive hormones PYY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which help regulate appetite.
But the effects aren’t long term—usually lasting no more than an hour after exercise.
Once your workout ends, your brain sends out a signal saying, “Hey, I’m tired. I’d better feed myself.” And because you’ve worked up quite a sweat during your workout, your body thinks it needs fuel.
It’s telling your stomach to make room for some protein and carbs.
You might think it’s because you just worked up a sweat. But there are other reasons why you might feel hungry after working out — including having too much sodium, eating too little food, or even being dehydrated.
The intensity of physical activity determines whether it suppresses or boosts your appetite. Researchers found that intense exercise, like a kick-boxing class, tends to suppress the appetite.
But moderate-intensity exercise, like walking or hiking, tends to increase your appetite. Other studies have found that those who exercised vigorously had lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone associated with feelings of hunger, compared with those who did moderate-intensity exercise.
However, another study showed that even light-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, increased the level of ghrelin.
Women tend to experience greater feelings of hunger after exercising compared to men. Researchers believe that this hormonal shift may explain why women report being hungrier after exercise.
In addition, women often face additional challenges during workouts such as managing menstrual cycles etc.
Taming Your Hunger
Meal timing is important because it affects how much glycogen stores are depleted during training. Glycogen refers to glucose stored in our muscles and liver cells.
When we train hard, our bodies break down muscle tissue and store those carbs into glycogen. These carbs are used to fuel our workouts and provide us with energy afterwards.
When we run out of glycogen, we’re forced to tap into fat reserves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that we’re burning calories faster than usual. So what happens next? We begin to crave carbohydrates.
Some people call this “carb cravings.” Eating too many carbs will cause blood sugar levels to spike and crash, leading to fatigue and headaches. To avoid this, make sure you refuel properly after a tough workout.
Listen To Your Body
There are certain situations where it makes sense to eat when we’re hungry because sometimes our appetites tell us exactly what we need.
When we’re feeling hungry our brains send signals to our stomachs to prepare for a feast. These signals include increased blood flow to the digestive tract, which increases digestion and absorption.
So if you are sure you are hungry post workout be sure to grab a nutritious snack.
What To Eat
The best meals are those that contain enough carbs and protein to fuel intense exercise sessions while providing sufficient energy during rest periods.
Carbohydrates provide quick energy, while proteins help build muscle tissue and repair damaged cells. A balanced diet that includes both carbohydrates and protein helps prevent muscle loss and fatigue.
Carbohydrate sources include fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, oats, beans, lentils, milk, yoghurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, and honey. Protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, soybeans, legumes, tofu, and eggs.
A good rule of thumb is that one gram of carbohydrate provides four calories, while one gram of protein provides six calories.
For example, a piece of fruit contains about seven grams of carbohydrate, while a cup of low-fat milk contains eight grams of protein.
If you consume too many simple sugars without adequate amounts of protein, you could experience sugar crashes, headaches, mood swings, and even weight gain.
If you’re exercising regularly, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the proper amount of fluids. Thirst can often be disguised as hunger.
Water is recommended, but there are many different types of drinks out there. Some contain caffeine, some sugar, others artificial sweeteners.
Most people don’t consume enough water before, during, and after physical activity and what we may think is hunger is actually dehydration.
So next time you go for a run, bike ride, or workout class, take note of your appetite levels. If you start to experience hunger pangs, you might be dehydrating yourself so try drinking more water and see if that helps.
Fuel Up Pre Workout
If you want to build muscle mass quickly, you might think about eating protein shakes before working out. But research suggests it could actually hinder your progress.
A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that people who ate a meal before exercising burned fewer calories during exercise than those who skipped breakfast.
Another study conducted at McMaster University in Canada revealed that athletes who exercised while fasting did better on endurance tests than those who had eaten breakfast beforehand.
The researchers theorised that skipping meals before exercise causes blood sugar levels to drop too low, causing the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.
Exercising without eating is a recipe for disaster. Studies have found that people who exercise immediately following a meal consume fewer calories during subsequent workouts compared to those who skipped a workout session altogether.
In fact, participants who ate breakfast prior to exercising burned about 25% less fat during a 45-minute treadmill run.
Skipping meals before working out causes the body to enter into “starvation mode,” where it becomes primed to conserve energy.
So even though you might feel hungry, your body won’t burn as many calories. And because you aren’t burning enough calories, you’ll end up consuming more calories later on.
So, be sure to refuel if you are feeling hungry after workouts but ensure you eat the right foods so you can maintain a healthy weight.