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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