Very Hungry After Exercise?

for the Chicago Sun-Times, mind and body, Cornell McClellan

Exercise can bulk up your frame, but new research suggests that it might also bulk up your sugar cravings.

A recent weight loss study published in the Journal of Obesity has found that exercise might lead some people to crave sugary treats. In the study, participants performed 50 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and were then shown pictures of different foods. The pictures portrayed a range of low-fat items such as rice to high-fat fare such as doughnuts.

The researchers found that several of the study participants had an increased craving for sweet treats after their cardio exercise, preferring items such as cake and chocolate over the healthy options. The individuals who did not lose any weight on the program all fell into this sweet-tooth group, which caused the researchers to wonder:

Can exercise actually derail your healthy eating plan?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Many people experience an increased appetite after a workout.

When you burn 300 calories on the treadmill, your body senses this lack and wants to make up for it right away, which is why some people leave the gym feeling ravenous.

Part of these cravings also might be mental. We have only so much willpower and mental energy to expend in a given day. A study from McMaster University found that people have a limited amount of self-regulation. The researchers found that after a hard day at work, participants were much less likely to hit the gym, preferring instead to zone out on the couch. Researchers theorize that this is because the participants used up all their willpower and self-control at the office, meaning they had nothing left at the end of the day for their own personal use.

Hence, after using your willpower to drag yourself to the gym, you might not have any willpower left to resist that candy bar or that slice of red velvet cake.

But there are many ways you boost your willpower, all while giving your body the energy and fuel it needs to complete calorie-burning exercises. Consider the following:

Use your early a.m. energy to your benefit. In the willpower study, it was found that individuals were more likely to lose control throughout the day, presumably because fatigue has an impact on our ability to make healthy choices. This might explain why so many people start out the day with a gung-ho attitude, planning to eat healthy and hit the gym after work, yet when night falls, they are on the couch with a carton of takeout.

Make sure to get enough sleep (at least six to eight hours each night), and use your early morning energy to your benefit. Hit the gym before work or on your lunch break, rather than waiting until after work when you are exhausted.

Change your way of thinking. If you view exercise as a punishment, you’re always going to have to unwillingly battle through your workouts. Find an exercise that you enjoy (swimming, walking, rock climbing).

Whenever you find yourself longing for the couch, remind yourself that your body is your single most precious belonging, and taking care of it is both your duty and your privilege.

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