You work out. Great job! But now you’re ravenous and feel like you want to devour everything in sight!
Here are ten tips to help you control your raging post-exercise hunger pangs and develop a healthy relationship with food and training.
#1: Workout Before A Main Meal
If you’re always hungry after exercise, having a main meal post-workout allows you to refuel without guilt. It also keeps you on track with healthy eating rather than letting your hunger nag at you until you cave and snack on something unhealthy.
#2: Get Extra Protein
Eating protein post-workout helps muscles recover by triggering protein synthesis but it also keeps your appetite in check. In response to high-quality protein, the GI tract releases hormones that send an appetite-suppressing message to the brain. For this reason, any time you feel a craving coming on, choose a complete protein like a slice of turkey or steak, some salmon, or Greek yogurt. If you’re a vegan, lentils or beans are a good choice.
#3: Eat Healthy Carbs Post-Workout
The best time to eat carbs is after a workout because your cells are automatically more sensitive to insulin, which means calories will be stored as an energy source in muscle instead of as fat. Additionally, because carbs raise blood sugar, they signal the brain that energy stores are sufficient, which helps minimize appetite and keep you satisfied. Healthy carbs include foods in whole, unprocessed form such as starch (boiled grains, sweet potatoes), all vegetables, and fruit.
#4: Plan Ahead
An all too common scenario is that after your workout you aren’t immediately hungry. You forego eating, a few hours pass, and your appetite sneaks up on you. All rationality escapes you and you end up mowing down a pizza or inhaling five “protein” bars. Instead, always have a plan for a healthy meal post-workout, whether you eat out or bring a salad with leafy greens, steak, cashews, and avocado with you.
#5: Make Your Workout Fun
Studies show that when people exercise in order to lose weight they are much more likely to compensate and eat back the calories they burned during their workout than if they exercise for health, fun, or athletic gains. Take the focus off calories and fat loss by setting performance-related goals and remember that there is a laundry list of physical and mental health benefits you get from exercise including increased brain function, stronger bones, and less cancer risk!
#6: Don’t Train Fasted
Are you going into your workout with an empty stomach due to the fear that eating pre-workout just negates the calories you’d eat in a pre-workout meal? This is a bad choice. Working out on an empty stomach can lead to greater post-exercise hunger. It backfires because you end up more ravenous after exercise.
Plus, studies show that your body conserves energy during training when you exercise fasted, lowering the amount of calories you expend. Have a meal of protein and healthy fat about an hour before your workout to curtail appetite and minimize protein breakdown.
#7: Use Whey Protein
Whey protein has the highest concentration of the amino acid leucine of all protein powders. Leucine signals the brain to release transmitters that blunt hunger and maintain satiety longer term. Whey also improves insulin sensitivity and has a beneficial effect on stress hormones, which are often associated with increased appetite and poorer food choices when elevated.
#8: Don’t Rely On An Activity Tracker
Just like the calorie counts on cardio machines, activity trackers are surprisingly bad at estimating energy expenditure, misreporting calorie burn by as much as 25 percent. Relying on trackers sets you up to overshoot your calories and it fuels the unhealthy habit of exercising to eat. It also makes it more likely hunger will be dictated by numbers rather than physiological responses that help regulate energy levels in your body.
#9: Understand Your Hunger
If you’ve eaten a healthy post-workout meal and still feel hungry, take a moment to analyze your hunger. Have you supplied yourself with sufficient calories and a balanced array of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) to fulfill your needs? If so, are you inclined to reward yourself because after all, you got out there and got it done. You burned off these calories so you deserve a dietary break, right?
Or maybe you haven’t established a set eating schedule and you don’t know when your next meal will be coming. Dig deep and question your hunger. Take a brief meditation break to see if your appetite can settle. If you’ve still got that gnawing need for food, have some more protein or healthy fat and monitor whether you’re actually hungry.
#10: Refuel During Extra Long Training Sessions
We don’t recommend long training sessions that last much more than an hour because training quality is reduced and stress hormones are elevated. But if you’re preparing for a long-distance endurance event or are practicing for a team sport, long workouts may be necessary. For workouts over 90 minutes, refueling with a mixture of protein and high-quality carbs can provide your body with the fuel it needs to avoid out-of-control hunger in the post-workout period.