With this post I hope to relieve you of some of the anxiety over deciding what/how much/when to eat when you are exercising.
I'll use an example from my practice. A client of mine is using exercise to help reach her goal weight and physique. She is not yet at her goal body, but has lost a considerable number of inches all over in the 5 months since we started working together. Our twice weekly sessions are grueling: 25 minutes of high intensity intervals. Plus she runs on her home treadmill 3x per week as part of a training program to reach 10K by February.
Recently she expressed to me that she was feeling exhausted for a full 24 hours after our session, and that she was experiencing evening hunger that couldn't be satisfied. She was feeling guilty about eating so much and, even worse, she felt her body was taking over and she had no mental control anymore. She asked me what I thought.
As her trainer, I listened, and after our session I researched a bit and realized 2 important things: A) How much her improved metabolism had affected her appetite, and B) She was totally overdoing it!!
Working out 5 days per week may not seem extreme to advanced exercisers or athletes, but at that frequency, variety is key! This client was killing herself with cardiovascular conditioning, and feeling totally drained. Also, she was increasing her metabolic rate with HIIT routines and so her body was telling her to EAT!!!!! in order to fuel the all of this activity.
So how would someone like this regain a balance of feeling satisfied with her diet, energized, and still continue to lose weight?
We had two issues to fix: Cardio overkill, and an uncontrollable appetite.
As I said before, she was overdoing the cardio. Because she has her goal of completing a 10K in a few months, I recommended that she stick with her running program as is; however, our twice weekly sessions would change to heavy resistance training in a sets and reps format with plenty of water and rest. By packing on some lean body mass and mixing up the routine, she will still get the metabolic boost she needs to melt away fat.
What about the nighttime binge? I reminded my client what the effects are of HIIT-style training. Maximum calorie burn for up to 4 hours after a workout, and serious conditioning for the heart and lungs. Even better when you consider that immediately after the workout, appetite is suppressed for about 2 hours. It's all related to the amount of stress hormones that intense exercise produces, as if the whole body is geared for "flight". Great for weight loss, right? Well, what happens later on in the day, in the evening? The body systems return to normal levels, and appetite kicks in, big time. So the key is to preemptively strike! This means that about 30 - 1 hour after your workout eat a small meal comprised of good quality protein, fat and a small amount of slow absorbing carbs like squash or whole oats. The idea is to prevent the blood sugar crash that will have you snarfing anything in site, and that feeling of deep insatiable hunger. Take this meal into consideration with the rest of your daily calories, and eat your next meal at the usual time. Keep a food diary for a couple of days to see how your appetite affects how much you are eating, and once you feel that you are again in control of your eating, you can make calorie cuts if necessary.
Exercise certainly helps to make weight loss faster, but it must be fueled properly. My client's hunger was related to her overexercising and her "reaction" to hunger was uncontrolled eating at night. Once we reduce the stress of overexercise, and start being "proactive" with our diet, things can again come into balance.
I will update on her progress as we move into this next phase. If you have any experiences with how your exercise affected your appetite, please leave them in the comments!