Go Against Your Gut: Controlling Your Postexercise Appetite
For the vast majority of the population, there are two variables that dictate our ability to stay at a healthy weight. Our diets, which determine how many calories that we consume, and our activity levels, which determine how many calories our bodies use, are the two levers that we can pull to affect our body weight.
But they are not independent variables. Our bodies have developed over the millennia to help us survive. If your activity level increases, your body releases hormones to make you hungry and make sure you get the calories necessary to keep you from dying. This was a great benefit to our ancestors, for whom getting food usually required more effort than a short walk to the refrigerator. So while increasing exercise and reducing the amount of calories we consume seems like a simple solution to the problem of being overweight, most of us know that, in practice, the solution can be difficult to employ.
While our hunger generally decreases during and just after an intense workout, it eventually will come back with a vengeance. Consider some of these strategies to help you make sure that the hard work you do isn’t sabotaged by a rebellious hunger:
Our sense of hunger is not so refined that it doesn’t occasionally get confused with a need for water. Make sure you are regularly drinking water during the day and especially before, during, and after a strenuous workout. If you have a scale handy, try weighing yourself before and after your workout, and then drink enough water to bring your weight back up to your starting weight (a liter of water weighs about 2.2 pounds). Water can also help us avoid overeating at meals. Drinking a glass of water or two at least twenty minutes before a meal can increase our feeling of fullness, leading us to eat less at the meal. If your body is telling you that it wants a snack, try drinking a glass or two of water and then wait twenty minutes and see if you still need that snack.
When your hunger hormones kick in after a workout, they come on strong. Planning your workout just before a meal is a good way to limit the possibility of overeating from snacking (though going back for seconds won’t help!). For many of us, scheduling our workouts before meals might not be an option. If that’s the case, it is important to have a healthy snack ready to go after your workout. If you don’t have a healthy snack at the ready, you are more likely to make a poor choice that might negate the calorie deficit you created with your workout.
Make the Right Choice
Different foods do not affect hunger equally. Foods that have fiber, a high water content, and protein are good choices to create a feeling of fullness. Foods high in fiber tend to be more voluminous, making your stomach feel fuller, and the fiber requires more time to digest, making the feeling of fullness last longer. Foods with lots of water in them increase the feeling of fullness without the calories. Protein does a better job at creating a feeling of fullness in fewer calories than carbohydrates and fats. Commit to having a healthy snack soon after your workout to help your body recover and minimize the chances of overeating later on. Low-fat yogurt, raw vegetables, apple slices with one serving of peanut butter, and a handful of unsweetened almonds are all good choices. If you’re on the go, try a glass of low-fat milk instead of an energy drink; its protein will make you feel fuller for about the same amount of calories.