While many assume that the more they exercise, the more their appetite will increase, in numerous research studies, this has proven not to be the case. A 2011 study demonstrated how aerobic exercise had a significant effect on reducing appetite.
Based on the results, researchers suggested that exercise plays more of a role in weight management strategies than previously thought . Exercise isn’t just about burning calories during the activity itself but is also about reducing caloric intake due to a reduction in appetite.
In this article, we’ll dive into why this happens and provide useful tips to help you manage your weight through exercise and appetite signals.
Why Does Exercise Reduce Hunger?
The release and levels of ghrelin usually coincide with your regular meal schedule. Ghrelin makes you feel hungry so that you eat. After you eat, the levels of ghrelin in the body significantly decrease.
Protein and carbs work to decrease ghrelin, whereas fats have less of an effect. There are higher levels of ghrelin in individuals who have been on a diet, which is why most diet approaches may not work for sustainable weight loss .
Leptin, the other hormone involved in hunger, suppresses your appetite. Some scientists believe that leptin may somehow regulate ghrelin. Leptin sends out signals to your brain, indicating that the body is good to go for energy stores. Overweight or obese individuals tend to not respond as well to leptin’s signals, which doesn’t trigger the need to stop eating .
So, how does exercise come into play? Some scientists suggest that since blood flow is directed to the muscles during exercise, little blood flow is left for the stomach, which means less ghrelin is produced .
Ultimately, this leads to reduced appetite and causes the individual to consume less. However, this may only last for as long as the person is exercising and for a little while afterward.
Some experts indicate that these reduced appetite signals only last for about three hours after exercise, then they return to normal . Other studies have even shown that extended exercise duration actually increased the appetite in women . All in all, this demonstrates that the effect exercise has on appetite is only temporarily.
Exercise Factors Impacting Your Hunger
There are various factors at play when it comes to exercise and hunger cues. The intensity, duration and frequency of exercise have a major effect on hunger, which we explore in more detail below:
Experts say that a more intense workout may have a bigger effect on temporarily decreasing a person’s appetite. This is because, as mentioned previously, blood is diverted to your muscles, heart and brain.
This effectively pulls blood away from the digestive tract, which means you won’t feel as hungry, but this is temporary. Meanwhile, moderate and less intense exercise has less of an impact on hunger with the body recovering fast and feeling of hunger returning sooner.
If you exercise longer, your body will suppress appetite for a longer period as well. For instance, you may not immediately feel hungry after a two-hour long-distance run. But you may feel starved after a quick 20-minute high-intensity workout.
If you’re new to exercise, it appears that your appetite may go up as you move more. However, as your exercise frequency increases and you become a regular exerciser, your body tends to become better equipped at handling hunger cues .
Tips for Handling Your Appetite Post-Exercise
Ideally, whether you are hungry or not, it’s important to eat after a workout. Doing so can help your body recover and also prevent cravings later on. So, what should you be doing post-exercise when it comes to food?
- Eat a meal within 30 minutes to 60 minutes after a workout, whether you are hungry or not
- Make sure the meal includes a balance of protein and carbs. This will help refuel your body properly, as well as help balance out and regulate hunger cues within the body.
- Ensure you are eating a nutrient-dense meal. This means whole and real foods. Steer clear of processed food products!
- Drink plenty of water. While you should eat post-exercise, if you find you are experiencing intense hunger, you may actually just be thirsty. The cues between thirst and hunger can be confusing. Try drinking a glass or two of water before your post-exercise meal. This can help determine how hungry you really are and prevent overeating.
- Try not to exercise after fasting. Your body needs fuel to get through that next workout. Your pre-workout snack or meal is just as important as your post-exercise snack or meal.
Are you still unsure about how you can keep track of and control your hunger? Try keeping a food diary or journal.
Make sure to note how hungry you are or aren’t after exercise, as well as the type of exercises performed. Doing this can help you become more in-tune with your body and hunger cues.
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