How To Balance Increased Hunger After Working Out

Do You Feel Ravenous After Working Out? Here's Why And What You Can Do About It
Woman jumping in air in urban studio
Woman jumping in air in urban studio
Tara Moore via Getty Images

We've all been there: you've just started exercising, or increased your exercise activity, and you suddenly start feeling more and more ravenous.

What do you do? Eat more and potentially compromise the sweaty workout you just did, or try to not eat?

Post-workout hunger -- especially when you've just started a regular routine -- is normal. It's simply your body's response to the calories you're burning from getting up and moving.

"Because you’re exercising more and burning more energy, it means the body is automatically going to realise more food is required and that can then stimulate hunger hormones," Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian, nutritionist and sports dietitian, told The Huffington Post Australia.

Celebrity trainer and former NRL player Ben Lucas agrees.

"When you first start exercising, or boost your existing workout immensely, your body may require more food to help it recover from your workout and keep your energy stores full," Lucas told HuffPost Australia.

However, if our goal is to lose weight, shouldn't we ignore our hunger cues? Should we really be eating more?

While it does, of course, depend on your body size, energy needs and body goals, McLeod said it's not always necessary to eat more when you're working out.

"It depends on the training you're doing and how much," McLeod said. "You may want to increase your calories slightly so that you’re providing your body with enough fuel to support the training you’re doing, but you wouldn’t be increasing it to the same point as a person who is training for a half-marathon, for example."

According to McLeod, post-workout fuelling is about eating more wisely.

"The really key thing here is looking at the timing of your meal," McLeod said. "For most people who are trying to improve body composition or achieve weight loss, then it’s not about eating something extra, it’s just about making sure your timing it at its optimal.

"What I usually recommend, which also helps with the recovery, is to either have a snack or a meal after you’ve finished your training session."

If you don't eat after a workout, hoping it will help you to lose extra weight, you may actually be sabotaging your hard work.

"If you let yourself get too hungry then you are setting yourself up for a fall, such as a binge, which is very counter-productive," Lucas told HuffPost Australia.

This is a sentiment echoed by McLeod.

"If you get home after morning workout, have a shower, catch the bus into work and it’s over an hour before eating anything, then, by that time, chances are you’re going to be really hungry and potentially overeat," McLeod said.

However, as people train at different times of the day, knowing when to eat can be difficult. Don't fret: here is how to make sure you're fuelling your body correctly after any workout.

"Whatever time that is, schedule the post-workout snack or meal around what else is happening that day," McLeod said.

"Say you normally go to the gym after work and then go home and have dinner. That’s great, but aim to eat dinner within about half an hour.

"Or maybe you’re more of a morning training session person and so then you would get up in the morning, go for a run and go home and have breakfast straight away afterwards. That's a really great way to structure it."

Don't compromise your workouts by not re-fuelling.

Running out of the house or the gym without a post-workout meal? To ensure you're properly fuelling your body after a pre- or after-work exercise session (while at the same time ensuring you don't eat too much more), McLeod suggests playing a little game of switch.

"If you have muesli with fruit and yoghurt for breakfast, maybe have the banana component straight away while you’re at home getting ready or on the bus, and then eating your remaining breakfast when you get to work," McLeod said.

"This way you’re not actually eating any more, you’re just switching the timing around slightly. Otherwise there's a higher chance you will be looking for more food later in the day."

If you are still hungry after finishing your post-workout meal, Lucas suggests eating a small, nutritious snack.

"If you finish your meal and after 20 minutes you are still starving, then try to eat something that is healthy, low GI and something that will fill you up by eating only a little of it," Lucas told HuffPost Australia.

"Pepitas are good. A small amount of oats or quinoa can help dash hunger cravings, or even have a teaspoon of an organic nut butter."

Very importantly, if you are increasing your exercise, don't eat less.

"Especially if you are a bigger person who has started exercising more, one of the most regular things I see when people find it difficult to lose weight is they’re not actually putting enough fuel in their body to train hard enough and burn off what they need to burn off," McLeod said.

"Regularly have your fuel levels topped up so you have the energy to burn and your body can run efficiently as it should. Otherwise you might not see the results you want."

To help you get the best of your workouts, try these five tips.

1. Drink More Water

"Ask yourself if you have rehydrated after working out as this is something I see a lot -- people aren't increasing their water intake," McLeod said. "When you train more you sweat more, so you need to replace your fluids.

"It’s also possible that when you’re dehydrated you might eat more. It’s a good idea for everyone then to have a glass of water about half an hour before your meal. That’s a great way to increase your fluid intake and make sure you’re not going to overeat."

2. Eat Good Quality Foods

"If you’re putting more good quality food in your body, it’s going to run more effectively and efficiently, and you’re going to get more out of your workouts," McLeod said.

"Eating something that is high in protein, has some good carbs (such as sweet potato or pumpkin) and some antioxidant-rich foods from fruit and vegetables is key," Lucas said.

"When you are starting a new exercise program, sure, you may be a little hungrier than you would be usually, but you also want to make sure that you fuel your body with the best ingredients possible so you feel your best, recover efficiently and get results."

3. Use You Hunger Cues -- Not Calories Burned -- As A Guide

"I’m a big fan of going by hunger. The reason being, there’s so many different ways of calculating how many calories you’ve burned and so many of them are really poor. They’re just estimates," McLeod said.

"While you might roughly calculate that you burn 400 calories on the treadmill, that’s not to say you should eat an extra 400 calories for the day to make up for it. Just think about how hungry you’re feeling."

4. Plan Ahead

"I think preparation is the key," Lucas told HuffPost Australia. "Have an idea in advance of what your breakfast, lunch and dinner will be so you are less likely to grab unhealthy meal options when you are on the go.

"Also have an idea of what the best healthy snacks would be for you and keep them on hand so you don’t end up buying a pack of chips when you get hungry."

5. Avoid 'Cheat' Meals

"Lots of people use the additional exercise as an excuse to over indulge post-workout, especially if they are newer to exercise and don’t really enjoy it yet. Food essentially becomes a psychological reward for the person that they get once they complete their workout," Lucas said.

This way of thinking actually leads to slower weight loss, with research showing that of those who retrained their 'food rewards' system networks lost more weight.

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