Help! My Workouts Make Me Too Hungry
Many people (myself included) find that exercise temporarily suppresses hunger. I really dislike exercising with food in my stomach, so I am usually a little bit hungry when I begin exercising. By the time I’m done, though, I have absolutely no hunger. But this is a relatively short-lived effect.
The (Totally Unfair) Truth About Women and Exercise
The fact is that exercise eventually makes you hungry and the more intensely you exercise, the hungrier you are likely to get. This is one of the reasons that exercise alone usually fails as a weight loss strategy. In fact, women often end up more than compensating for the calories they burned through exercise through increased food intake. Infuriatingly, this does not seem to be true for men. On the other hand, women’s bodies are quicker to burn body fat during exercise than men. So, at least there’s that.
Even though exercise (alone) is not a magic bullet for weight loss, there are tons of other benefits to exercising regularly, such as cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of many cancers, improved hormone balance, and so on. Exercise also has a role to play in weight loss, of course. You just also need to keep an eye on what you’re eating.
But in Chau’s case, weight loss is not the goal and it doesn’t sound as if weight gain is a problem either. The problem is that she comes home every evening feeling like she could eat the front door and everything behind it. Here are three possible explanations for that caveman-like hunger, each of which suggests a different solution.
Possibility #1: You may be over training. Two hours a day of intense exercise is a lot and the desperate feeling you get may be your body trying to signal you that you’re pushing yourself too hard. Most of us have to discipline ourselves to exercise. But hardcore athletes often have an opposite challenge: They have to discipline themselves to give their bodies enough time to recover.
You might want to discuss this possibility with a coach who knows your performance and might be able to spot (or rule out) other signs of over training. But the next possibility is perhaps more likely—and just as problematic:
Possibility #2. You’re not eating enough. Chau says she eats “well” all day prior to her workout but I’m wondering if she’s eating enough. If you are neither gaining nor losing weight (outside of minor day-to-day fluctuations), it suggests that your total calorie intake is appropriate for your activity level. But maybe it’s not distributed as well as it could be.
You might experiment with eating more calories in the first part of the day and see whether you notice a difference—either in your workouts or in how hungry you are afterward. It could be that stoking the engine a bit more during the day means you are less depleted when you come out of your workout.
One caveat: You may still feel an urge to eat a lot in the evening simply because you’ve developed that habit. It might help to break up the pattern in other ways as well. For example, spend the evening in a different room or mix up your evening routine in some other way to avoid slipping into your habitual routine.
There’s one more possibility that occurs to me:
Possibility #3: There may not be a problem here.
Chau shared that she “doesn’t like overeating” and that she worries that her hunger—especially for carb-rich foods—seems to occur at the “worst possible hour of the day.”
Eating a good percentage of your calories at a single meal isn’t necessarily a problem.
Now, if she’s overeating to point of severe physical discomfort, that’s a problem. If she feels she’s unable to stop eating even though it is causing negative consequences for her, that’s a problem. But if the only negative consequence is guilt for breaking some rule about not eating carbs after 8 pm, I can make this a lot easier!
Eating a good percentage of your calories at a single meal isn’t necessarily a problem. Researchers call that a restricted eating window and are finding that it might have some benefits.
Eating a good percentage of your calories in the evening also isn’t necessarily a problem. Despite what you may have read on the inter webs, calories eaten after 8 pm are not converted directly into fat.
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