Have you recently joined the gym and noticed you’re much hungrier than usual? Some people caution that increasing your activity levels will ramp up your appetite, but is this really true? The answer is a bit more complex than just yes or no. Appetite is influenced by a range of factors including hormones, sleep and the type of exercise you partake in. Read below to find out more about the relationship between physical activity and hunger.
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that have a major effect on our hunger levels. Although there are many more hormones, these two are the most frequently discussed. Leptin makes us feel full and originates from the Greek word for ‘thin’. Ghrelin on the other hand turns us into hungry gremlins. When you are feeling ravenous, it is likely that your ghrelin levels are high.
It is well established that exercise can have an impact on our hormones. Consistently doing high intensity workouts could potentially alter our levels of leptin and ghrelin. However, it is not certain that exercise will make us feel hungrier. Researchers have studied the effects of exercise on appetite and found interesting results. One study found that ghrelin levels were actually lower in subjects who had just completed a hard run.
Although it seems logical that you’d feel hungrier after an intense workout, it appears that the opposite is true. Exercise can actually suppress ghrelin levels in the short term. This is referred to as “exercise induced anorexia”. Whether this appetite suppressant effect works long term is still unclear. Individual factors and the type of exercise chosen may make a difference.
Does The Type Of Exercise Affect Hunger?
Not all workouts affect us the same way. There are many different ways to exercise. Lifting heavy weights or doing fast intervals on the rower are just two examples. Workouts can also vary in intensity and frequency. How you feel after a light bicycle ride will be completely different compared to a hard crossfit style workout.
The research done on how exercise affects hunger is quite conflicting. One study found that sedentary men perceive an increase in hunger after beginning an 8 week resistance training program. Another study found that moderate exercise did not lead to increased appetite in research participants. Basically it will depend on the individual, their previous exercise history and the type of workouts they are doing. Some people might feel hungrier after a big session whereas others might have no appetite at all.
The best way to find out what works for you is to self experiment. Try a range of different workouts and assess how hungry you feel afterwards. High intensity sessions suppress some people’s appetites whereas others feel depleted and ravenous afterwards. If you feel hungrier after HIIT training, then you might be better suited to moderate intensity sessions.
Appetite is not just about your hormone levels and physical state. There is a psychological element as well. If you believe an intense workout will increase appetite, then you likely will feel hungrier. The placebo effect is strong. Think about how you could move your body in a way that won’t make you feel depleted, then do that activity. It’s not just about your physical hunger. Your thoughts matter too.
Does It Depend On The Individual?
The conflicting research results suggest that the effect of exercise on appetite will vary from person to person. Even studies that have concluded exercise suppresses hunger note that individual variation is prevalent. An individual could have high leptin levels and still perceive their hunger to be strong. Another individual could feel completely satiated while still having high ghrelin levels. Appetite is not just physical.
One thing we do know is that consuming sufficient protein makes us feel full and satisfied. So if you are working out more and noticing an increase in hunger, try upping your protein intake to help with satiety. It is great to be training hard in the gym but you must also fuel yourself correctly. Not just with nutritious high protein foods but lots of water too. Dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger. If you keep on top of your fluid and nutrition, then post exercise hunger shouldn’t be an issue for you.
Whenever you hear someone say “doing more exercise just makes you hungrier”, take it with a grain of salt. Hunger is influenced by a range of different factors. Plenty of studies show that exercise actually decreases ghrelin levels. Therefore you might actually have less of an appetite after commencing a new exercise regime. If you do feel significantly hungrier after workouts, you can combat this by drinking plenty of water and eating high protein, fibrous foods.