ASK A TRAINER: 'What Can I Do if Exercise Makes Me Really Hungry?'
"I have been a very active person most my life; I played four sports in high school. I had to stop running and actually exercising altogether last year because I had knee surgery. I finished physical therapy and am back to my old, active self now. I try to take two to four classes at my gym each week and I do strength weights and abs with a trainer twice a week. I gained some weight when I was recovering from surgery and I've lost most of it but since I started exercising again I've noticed that I'm always hungry. They say you should listen to your body so maybe it has something to do with getting older. How can I lose the last few pounds and keep the weight off and stay as active as I am without feeling like I'm starving?" - Terry M., Farmingdale, NY
First off, Terry, I want to congratulate you for getting back on the horse after working through your injury. I have a specialization in corrective exercise and, as a result, have worked with a number of clients returning to the gym post-surgery and the work involved in rebuilding strength, stabilization, endurance and range of motion is not only physically challenging but can be psychologically daunting. I hope you can appreciate how impressive your progress has been thus far.
It's not surprising that you're experiencing a marked increase in appetite as you have shifted from being more or less sedentary to full throttle in a relatively short period of time. Almost anyone will experience an increase in appetite when they drastically change the intensity of the fitness regimen, even if you are already in excellent shape. They do say you should listen to your body but your body might not simply be telling you need more food; it might actually be telling you it needs more of certain things in order to fuel your workouts and repair and rebuild during your non-exercising hours. You want to make sure that you are giving your body what it needs; plenty of lean protein, complex carbs, vegetables, some (but not too much) healthy fat, an adequate amount of fiber and a lot of water. If you are trying to lose those last few pounds you are going to need to create a calorie deficit by taking in fewer calories than you expend but the good news is the types of foods I mentioned tend to pack the most pound-for-pound (pun intended) caloric punch in terms of the way to get the most out of your allotted calories for the day.
Eating the right foods in small portions every couple of hours should help preempt the desire to binge. Plus, fibrous foods, foods rich in protein and complex carbohydrates tend to make you feel more full for longer periods of time. Pounding water all day long, even if you aren't thirsty, should also help curb your cravings.
In time, your body will likely adapt to your current activity level and the cravings should subside somewhat. If you can make it over the hump, your strength training will pay off, as an increase muscle mass will allow you to consume more calories as your metabolism will be higher all day long.
Of course, everybody is different and every BODY is different so that hungry feeling might not go away entirely but there are ways to help yourself if you find that's the case. Feeling hungry is not simply a matter of an empty belly; it's the result of messages from the brain and the way your individual body responds or does not respond to certain hormones, and exercise affects each of us differently. If you are one of those people that gets more hungry signals when active than most, make sure you eat something of quality within thirty minutes of working out. Post-workout, rather than doing a protein shake immediately after and a "real" meal later, switch it up and eat a full meal; a lean protein, a vegetable and a complex carb(something like this) within 45 minutes of your workout and then do a whey protein shake (try and limit your shake to about 100 calories and you don't need to go crazy with grams of protein 18-25 grams is more than sufficient) about 90 minutes to two hours after that meal.
I hope this helps, Terry. Let me know how you progress and thanks for writing.