How to Keep Your Post-Workout Hanger In Check
Control Your Raging Post-Exercise Hunger
You work out. Great. But then you're ravenous. Which can make you frantically eat back the calories you burned. It's the catch-22 of exercise. You sweat, burn off calories—and then want to inhale every single thing in sight.
Sometimes your rampant appetite kicks in fairly soon after you finish your workout, but often it strikes hours later or even the next morning, says sports nutritionist Lauren Antonucci, R.D.N., the director of Nutrition Energy in New York City. In fact, studies show that most workouts actually make you less hungry at first. "During and right after exercise, the hunger hormone ghrelin is suppressed, while PYY, a satiety hormone, is elevated," explains Barry Braun, Ph.D., the head of health and exercise science at Colorado State University. "But then your appetite comes back to get you at some point," Antonucci says. That's why you're voracious the day after a long run. (Don't forget the pre-race meal plan, it's just as important!) And, she adds, you'll really notice this rebound effect whenever you amp up your routine, like training for a race or starting intense CrossFit sessions.
Fortunately, you can make smart tweaks to your routine to prevent sabotaging all your efforts.
Do HIIT Three Times a Week
Your body reacts to tough workouts by curbing hunger, possibly because exercise diverts blood from your gastrointestinal system so more can go to your muscles. This helps suppress ghrelin and slows the absorption of food from your intestines. It may also dampen the system of the brain that thinks of food as a reward, making snacks and meals seem less tasty. In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, people who did three weekly 30-to 45-minute HIIT sessions on a stationary bike ate about 120 calories less during their post workout meals than those who pedaled continuously at a moderate pace. (Want to really pump up your spin class? Try these cycling-specific ab exercises to really kill it next class.)
Turn any cardio session into a HIIT workout by alternating going hard for 15 to 30 seconds and then easy for one to two minutes, says study coauthor Timothy Fairchild, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in exercise physiology at Murdoch University in Australia. On non-HIIT days, make sure your steady-state workouts are intense. Another study found that women who ran for an hour didn't eat more than usual, but those who walked did.
Bounce More, Sit Less
The type of movement you do also affects hunger. In a study published in the journal Appetite, exercisers who jumped rope for 30 minutes were less hungry for fatty foods afterward than those who spent that time cycling. Researchers theorize that the gut jiggling caused by jumping may lower the production of ghrelin. This also applies to running or any workout that bounces your belly. (Try this jump rope workout—it only takes 15 minutes.)
Stay On Dry Land
Swimming may be less effective for weight loss than land-based work-outs like running, possibly because it's more likely to stimulate hunger. In a study at Loughborough University in England, exercisers experienced a boost in appetite after an hour long swim workout. Previous research found that water temperature might be a factor; in one study, people consumed 44 percent more calories after exercising in a 68-degree pool than when they did the same workout in 91-degree water. If your pool isn't heated, hop into a sauna or a hot shower afterward, says D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Ph.D., R.D.N., an associate professor of human nutrition and food at the University of Wyoming. This might be helpful after a cold run or a day of skiing too.
Fill Up On Protein and Healthy fat
Eating protein after a workout helps your muscles recover, and because it's so satiating, it also helps keep you from feeling ravenous six to eight hours later, Antonucci says. Healthy fat is filling and fights rebound hunger,too. Make sure you get both nutrients ASAP post workout. (Try eggs and avocado for breakfast or chicken and veggies cooked in olive oil for dinner.) "If you don't get the food you need within 30 to 60 minutes, you'll be more likely to experience serious hunger later that day and overeat," Antonucci explains. When a meal in that time frame isn't realistic, have a 100- to 150-calorie snack, such as a Greek yogurt or half a protein bar. (There are so many high-protein portable snacks, so find what you like best!)
Refuel During Long, Hard Workouts
If you're exercising strenuously for more than an hour, and especially if you're training for a race, taking in some fuel during your session will help stave off intense hunger, so you'll eat less later on, Antonucci says. Pack some gels or gummies and a sports drink, and start eating them after the first half hour. (Don't like energy gels? Try these delicious alternatives.) But if your workout is 45 minutes to an hour or is only moderately intense, skip the snacks. Your body simply doesn't need the extra calories.