Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ravenous Postworkout Hunger

Ever start a new exercise program and realize that afterwards you are just ravenous?  I got an email from a family member about problems one of their coworkers is having and decided to share my response...

Question: "'L' just started working with this trainer and is doing this really hard workout session. She's ravenous every time after her work out. Do you have ideas on what she should eat or drink that would make her feel satisfied?"

Caveats: There's limited information in this question.  I am going to assume that her goal is weight loss and that she is currently eating a mixed diet without restricting particular foods/groups.  Something that I'm not likely going to make dramatic changes to via a simple email. 

Response: There's a lot of things that could be in the works physiologically here.   Psychologically, it may all be in her head.  Based on the limited info available we have a few options.  Just eating a well-balanced meal with lots of extra veggies will take up volume and reduce the amount of overeating that can be done.  On the other hand, if the body is hungry really hungry after the workout, it may be because its glycogen (stored carbohydrate) is depleted and it wants you to top off the tank.  If glycogen depletion is the goal of the workout [as it is in some cyclical ketogenic training/diet approaches] then she may just need to tuff it out and keep working on self discipline.  Other options would be to modify the exercise program to something that is less depleting to her carbohydrate stores (E.g. a a couple shorter, very intense workouts [primary carbohydrate, but not too much total burnt off because it's short], mixed with some low intensity long duration stuff [capable of preferentially burning fat for fuel assuming they're not drinking Gatorade or high carb energy snacks before or during the workout], and some total body resistance training.  Primal Blueprint Fitness is a free resource with a pretty decent intro to this minimalistic training style).  Or ... just go ahead and eat a bigger meal after the workout ... focusing on real, whole foods. And then eat a moderate breakfast and a light lunch.

It may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for her.  Order of implementation would be something like:

1) After the workout, wait till she gets home, eat a dinner with lots of veggies and healthy protein sources---with these she can eat a large volume ad libitum without counteracting her workout efforts.  If 20 minutes after the meal (the time is important) she still craves something, then go ahead and have a small/moderate portion.  This is also a good time to make sure that all the basic nutrients are being met. If she's lacking in something particular, then her body may be telling her she's hungry because it's trying to find that nutrient. It may be sodium (or iodine) from salt or sea vegetables that she needs. A particular vitamin if she's not getting enough fruits or veggies.  Or iron if she's not getting enough meats/iron rich foods.  A nutrient rich, real food diet is key.  A multivitamin MAY help but not likely if needs are being met in the diet.  Omega 3's are also generally useful.

2) If that doesn't work, try to mitigate the hunger by adding a small, protein-containing snack before or after the workout.  I'm not adamant about one being superior over the other (or required at all for recreational exercisers).  Just what make sense to you based on time, convenience, tolerance to pre/post workout snacks, etc.

3) If those don't work, then go ahead and eat a bigger post-workout meal that contains starchy carbohydrates/tubers.  Preferably real foods at home.   But then make the meals after progressively smaller. So an evening workout would be followed by a large dinner.  A moderate breakfast.  A light lunch.

4) If she's still not getting results, then consider changing up the exercise program to something that doesn't make her so hungry.  Her body may just be adjusting to the shock.  And I imagine she's already paid the trainer.  So I'd recommend sticking with it for 6 weeks before making any changes.  If after that we're not happy.  Talk to the trainer about changing things up or get a new trainer.  There's lots of ways to work smart-hard and get results while avoiding some of those hunger causing cues.  Run for two hours or do a couple aerobics classes and you're going to be hungry to put some sugars in the tank.  Period.  If you're training for a specific endurance event, this may be inevitable.  Conversely, there's documented cases of people doing low intensity exercise for years with minimal carbohydrate needs: Ketogenic Diets and Physical Performance.  The ideal approach is likely something in the middle that is challenging and enjoyable.  Some very low intensity/long stuff.  Some very short, high intensity stuff.  Some resistance training.  Lots of rest and sleep. 

Take A Hike
 Almost anything will work for a little while so it's good that she's began her program.  Now she has some options for fine tuning.  If she keeps her head in the game and is smart about things, results will come.

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