Monday, December 17, 2007

Exercise Hyperphagia

"Exercise what?", you ask?

Hyperphagia = noun, Abnormally increased appetite for and consumption of food

In Gary Taubes new book (with which I’m completely absorbed), “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, he suggests that exercise may not be the answer for weight loss because it increases one’s appetite.

This statement is completely true. Exercise does increase your appetite. How many times have you had a totally hard workout, where you’ve almost completely lost all desire for food because you were so tired, to then feel completely famished only a few hours later? This massive desire for food sometimes just doesn’t seem to be satisfied to matter what you decide to eat. You’d like to keep on eating, but you knew that all your efforts in the gym would be negated, if they weren’t already.

This phenomenon is exactly what Gary has presented and it’s more than just the thought of one author. Here in our exercise research lab at the University of Connecticut, we’ve observed the same thing. In some of our exercise & weight loss studies, especially those involving a lot of aerobic activity, many participants have a hard time losing weight because they’re always hungry. Interestingly, this occurs more often in women than it does in men.

Now, this sexual dimorphism (i.e. difference between men and women in hunger response to exercise) may be due to the energy deficit women experience compared to their male counterparts. To explain, say you have Joe and Jane, both eating and exercising to lose weight. Joe’s body needs at least 2000 calories to maintain his metabolism (his RMR) and eats 2600 calories a day to see his abs. When he exercises, he expends 350-400 calories which leaves him about 200 calories over his RMR, but still loses weight and fat, and isn’t hungry. Now, Jane only needs 1500 calories to support her RMR, but, due to the silly weight loss advice she reads in most magazines, she’s only eating 1200 calories a day to minimize her thighs and make her waist smaller. When she exercises, she expends about 250-300 calories per session, which now puts her in a severe calorie deficit. She loses some weight and fat, but she can barely control her appetite because she’s basically starving herself. She can hardly stick to her diet plan and usually binges several times per week. Clearly, if Jane ate more, and ate foods that were more satiating, she’d have a better chance at meeting her weight and fat loss goals.

The difference between men and women may also be due to the energy conservation mechanisms that are inherent in a women’s genetic makeup. Women are traditionally the child-bearers, which is an activity that requires plenty of energy (food). When exercise is thrown into the picture, the energy lost tries to be recovered by the body through an increase in appetite.

Despite the fact that exercise can greatly increase hunger, especially in women, it’s still beneficial for body re-composition goals. When one is trying to change the way their body looks, exercise helps to diminish fat stores and increase muscle mass so the body appears firmer and more sleek. Exercise is also beneficial for the cardiovascular system, enabelling you to sustain activity for a longer period of time without feeling like someone kicked you in the lungs. Finally, it is well known for reducing risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

So, if exercise makes you so hungry that you feel like it’s not even worth it, what should you do?

Well, first, since you’re more than likely going to be hungry after you workout, have a plan in place of good things you should eat. Don’t hide cookies in your cupboard, with hopes that you won’t find them, because when your hungry strikes, you’ll reach for them for sure. Make sure you have easily accessible good protein, fat and carbohydrate foods pre-prepared, such as cooked chicken, or tuna in a can, raw nuts and avocados, and fresh fruits, vegetables and whole cooked grains like barley and brown rice. This way, when you come home after a long day and a hard workout, you won’t be tempted to order out for pizza, but instead have a healthy satisfying meal at home.

Then, always make sure you don’t wait too long after eating to engage in a serious workout. For example, if you usually workout at 4:30 pm, always make sure you eat a complete protein with some fat and/or carbohydrate no later than 2:30 pm. If you know your workout is going to be more than an hour and a half long, you should eat no later than 3:30 pm. As I’ve said before, you need this food to allow you to have an effective workout. If you’re concerned about fat loss, then just wait at least 30 minutes AFTER your workout before you eat to lengthen the fat-burning window. A good pre-workout food would be something like a scoop of whey protein, mixed with water or milk, poured over 1/3 cup Fiber One cereal + 1/3 cup Kashi Puffed Whole Grains, with 1 Tbsp of unsalted sunflower seeds.

Finally (for now), since blood sugar fluctuations are a major stimulus of hunger, prevent extreme highs and extreme lows by eating slow-digesting, low-glycemic carbohydrates (such as spouted grain bread vs. a honey bagel) with a small amount of health fat (such as almond butter) and a complete protein (such as whey protein, chicken, fish, eggs, etc). If you let your blood sugar levels spike by eating food rich in sugar or refined starch, you’ll never be able to control exercise-induced hunger when it strikes.

In my new book, the “Women’s Health Perfect Body Diet”, I write a lot more about why we’re hungry and how we can prevent it. Although the title of the book says “diet”, the book is more than just an average Jane diet plan. It comes complete with 75 original recipes that I created (that actually taste good and are easy to make) and 3 effective workout programs, that are specific to your body type. Also, in our book, "The New Rules of Lifting for Women", Lou, Alwyn and I emphasize over and over again that women have to eat quite a lot of calories or their bodies will revolt and halt their progress in the gym.

(Note, this blog didn’t start out as an advertisement. I’d been thinking about this topic for a few days and just realized that the information tied into my new book. You don’t have to buy the book. I just thought I’d pass along the word).

Happy Holidays!


Jaya said...

Don't you always pause before you write "pre-prepared" because the double suffix seems repetitive? I totally support the usage of "pre" in "pre-prepare", but just wonder if I'm the only one who feels funny writing it that way. Ok, total tangent here.. great post, as usual!

More importantly though, this phenomenon of exercise hyperphagia is incredibly interesting. I think this really speaks to the importance of developing mind-body dialogue and a strong sense of physical awareness. I'm glad you're on a myth-busting mission, Cass!

Mike T Nelson said...

Thanks for the awesome info on your blog! Excellent work!
Congrats on releasing 2 books! Whooo ha.
I have Gary's new book on my wish list, so maybe Santa will be good to me. It looks very interesting.
Take care!
Mike N

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Hey Jaya! Ha! Good point. Yes, I did feel weird writing the double suffix, but thought "what the heck". :)

Gary's books is great Mike. It's a read you'll absolutely love. Happy Holidays.

LizN said...

Hi Cassandra

Great post - wondered if I may copy and paste it and share with my readers. I'm always trying to convince my clients that eating is good for you :)

Liz N

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Hi Liz,

Yes, you may share this post. Share anything you like from my site. That's what it's here for! Thank you for reading! :)

Best, Cass

LizN said...

Thanks Cass,
I really appreciate it. I'll add you to my links and would love it if you could add me to yours.

Liz N
PS - I'm an ex phys too :)

Karl Allen said...

Cass, can you elaborate some on the difference between those two books? I've been looking forward to the NROL since hearing Lou talk about it on a podcast almost a year ago. Then yesterday I was reading your article in Women's Health about the Perfect Body Diet. So now I don't know which one is for me!

As a 35 year old mother of three that is about 30 pounds overweight (and kind of afraid of the gym, but definitely willing to learn!) which book should I read?

Thanks for everything you've done and I'm looking forward to hearing you on the Fitcast in a couple of days.


Cassandra Forsythe said...

Hi Tina

How about emailing me at I'll go into more detail with better correspondance.

Thank you so much! :)

liz said...

I have a serious case of this exercise hyperphagia, never knew it had a name. I have to make sure and eat before I exercise or I get unbearably hungry while exercising, to the point where I can't go on. Two summers ago I was training for a 3-day 60 mile breast cancer walk and had to stuff my pack with food and eat while I walked. Now I have to walk on the treadmill to restore circulation in my leg from having a blood clot this past summer and I can barely make it back home to my house to eat.