Do you find you eat more after you’ve worked out?
I know I often do. I justify it pretty easily in my mind — I figure that I need the extra calories, especially if I’ve worked up a real sweat.
It turns out that those of us who do eat heartily after a workout are far from alone. Research shows both low-intensity and high-intensity physical activity increases post-exercise food intake.1
Unfortunately, scarfing down a bunch of extra calories pretty much negates all the calorie-burning effects of your workout.
For example, walking briskly on the treadmill for 30 minutes only burns about 130 calories, while 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream contain 260 calories.
But it’s tough NOT to want to binge after a tough workout.
How to control post-workout hunger
Luckily, I may have found some tricks you can use to prevent overeating after a workout.
They are based on 2 surprising studies about the subject.2
Researchers led 56 women on a medium-length walk around a small lake and told some of the participants 1 thing and some of them another. Then the participants served themselves lunch.
Group #1 ate 35% more chocolate pudding than Group #2.
Forty-six women and men took a similar walk and also were told different things. Afterwards they were given access to M&Ms.
Group #1 ate 124% more M&Ms than Group #2.
So, what was Group #2 told to make them eat less after their walk?
How to fool yourself into eating less post-workout
In both studies, researchers told Group #2 that their walk would be a scenic stroll, while Group #1 was told they were walking for exercise.
Fascinating! And it makes sense, doesn’t it? When you think you’ve exercised, you’re more likely to want to “reward” yourself with food. After all, you deserve it, right?
Another bonus for Group #2: When they viewed exercise as a scenic stroll, they were happier and less tired afterward.
So the moral of the story: Make fitness fun!
Or, more specifically, do anything to prevent your mind from believing you deserve or have “earned” more calories.
And with that goal in mind, I’ve gathered some ideas to make exercise more entertaining:
Play a team sport. Whether it’s tennis, racquetball, softball or golf, participating in a sport — particularly one you play with someone else — makes it more fun.
Try something new. There are so many innovative fitness classes available these days. Anti-gravity yoga, trampoline class … even pole dancing for the really daring!
Make it child’s play. Try kickball, tag, throw a Frisbee or start a game of Gaga. And while you’re playing a kid’s game, ask your kids to join in. When the whole family’s involved, you’re more likely to stick with it.
Add some electronics. Working out while watching a really mindless television show, listening to some rowdy music or listening to an audio book can make the time seem like more fun. Think about it … when else do you have the time to watch Real Housewives of New Jersey?
Do it with a partner. Making fitness a social sport can be the ticket to getting you to the gym. Catch up with a friend while you walk around the block, take the dog for a run or meet your spouse for a quick hike after work.
Now, I’ve got to step away from the computer and play some tag with my kids! What are you going to do?
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1 Bilski J, Mańko G, Brzozowski T, et al. Effects of exercise of different intensity on gut peptides, energy intake and appetite in young males. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2013;20(4):787-93. PMID: 24364454