Honoring Hunger After Exercise

by Kelly Scott, MS, RDN, LD

I don’t know about you, but after a tough workout, I’m either ridiculously hungry or I don’t want to see anything food-related at all! Both responses are completely normal and we can thank our hunger hormones for them.  Although both situations seem completely different, we actually need to treat our bodies the same. Whether you’re super hungry or not hungry at all following a workout, you need to be able to tune into your body and honor what it needs. This can be a very difficult concept to understand, and I contribute that to diet culture. Diet culture tells us that we need to restrict foods and mistrust our bodies to achieve weight loss. While I could go on and on about how incredibly negative that is, I’ll save that for another day.

Hunger can present itself in many ways. If you’re not feeling super hungry after a workout, I want you to first make sure that you’re listening to all of your hunger cues. Hunger is not only presented in the body as a rumbling or empty feeling in the stomach. Signs of hunger also include: nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, migraines, irritability, and a lack of concentration. While I’m sure this seems obvious, these symptoms can be easily overlooked in the moment. “I ate a big lunch today so I shouldn’t eat that.” “I’m starving but my body could handle to lose a few.” “I’m hungry but I know I went over my calories today.” “I’m not going to ruin my exercise by eating that.” These thoughts are all too common.

If you’re hungry, you should honor that hunger. Not only because your body is actually really good at telling you what it needs, but also because if you restrict food, you’re more likely to binge later. So, if you’re not feeling super hungry after a workout, I want you to first make sure you’re truly observing all of your body’s hunger cues. It’s amazing how much our bodies can tell us as long as we are willing to listen. If you realize that you’re really not hungry, then that’s perfectly okay. I do suggest having a little snack comprised of protein and carbohydrates to help restore the body and balance out the hunger that may hit later. And yes, it’s okay to eat when you’re not super hungry.

If you’re on the other side of the spectrum and you’re ravenous after a workout, then please honor that hunger! Eat something that’s going to fuel your body in a way that satisfies you. If one day that means having a huge salad with a bunch of greens and lean protein and another day that means having a bowl of ice cream with your meal then that’s totally fine. If you’re still hungry after your post-workout meal, then it’s okay to have more. If you’re feeling like you want to eat anything and everything in sight after a workout, then let’s check into how the rest of your day looked. Did you eat enough during the day? Did you eat foods that would provide lasting energy? Did you eat frequently enough? Did you drink enough water? Did you eat something sustainable before your workout? There are so many factors that can contribute to this extreme hunger, and it’s important to assess all of them. But most importantly, if you’re feeling hungry, then don’t ignore that feeling. Your body needs that fuel for replenishment and you deserve to give your body what it needs.


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