Q: I have been working out consistently since January and have went down one size. I work out for an hour (cardio and strength training) at least 5-6 times a week. But here lately, my hunger has increased alot. I don’t know if it harmones or what. Is this normal? Should I eat more?
A: You have to think about what you’re doing when you take in food and when you execute an activity.
Food isn’t about all this emotional, lovey dovey stuff that we evolved humans have attached to it. I mean sure, food can have emotional attachment (like a positive – or negative – memory) but that’s not what it’s for. It’s our primary source of both energy as well as nourishment. Plain and simple.
When you eat, you take in energy. Ever heard of calories? A calorie is a standard measurement of energy – chemistry classes told me something about kilocalories and kilojoules… but if I admitted that then I’d also be admitting that my teachers were right in telling me I’d need this information some day and that would just be… disastrous. Anyway.. I’m off track a little bit, here.
A calorie is a standard measurement of energy. In order to get through your entire day, your body burns energy (read: calories) in order to maintain your daily functions. We’ll call this the Basal Metabolic Rate, the rate at which your body burns energy without any extra activity at all.
This puts food intake in a whole new perspective. When you eat 100 calories of broccoli – mmm, broccoli – you’re ingesting 100 calories worth of fuel that the body stores for later use – actually… let me put that in a different perspective – when you eat 600 calories worth of french fries, you’re ingesting 600 calories worth of fuel that the body stores for later use. If your body only burns 1500 calories a day without you engaging in any extra activity, then you just ate half of your intake for the day…. and anything that you eat beyond that 1500 calories is stored as fat.
That being said, its just as important to fuel any extra activity as it is to fuel your basic daily functions. If you’re trying to starve yourself, your body will catch on sooner or later and your metabolism will slow down – not simply because there’s no food coming in to burn, but more specifically because the body recognizes that there’s not enough energy coming in to fuel the activity you’re engaging in… thereby causing your body to work against your efforts to burn fat.
There was an article in Time Magazine a few years back titled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” that brought up this issue… saying that exercise doesn’t work because it increases your appetite.
Um, it’s supposed to increase your appetite!
If you’re burning a ton of energy at any given time, the body is going to notice that! It’s going to outright demand that you stuff your face with something to replenish the energy you’ve burned! Of course it will! It only makes sense. It doesn’t want to starrrrrrve, it doesn’t want to be limited in energy. It wants to have a balanced supply of energy in preparation for the next famine. It’s going to try to compel you to take in more energy. That’s its job.
The reality is that as you engage in more cardiovascular activity, the body is going to realize this and its going to trigger ghrelin – the hunger hormone – to act a complete fool. No, seriously. I’ve come home and felt that ravenous feeling before… and felt further justified in eating “half of what I burned” because “I burned so much.”
So…. if that’s the problem, what is the solution?
Let’s think, here. If you simply decide to go into cardio and not eat afterwards… as in, go straight to bed after cardio, you’re going to wake up pretty groggy. Double negative points if you decide to skip breakfast, as well.
Clearly, you have a death wish… or an overeating wish. Same diff.
What do I do? I simply go ahead and eat afterwards. Why the hell wouldn’t I? Suffering through hunger pangs isn’t a badge of honor. If you decide to eat something before a cardio session, you’ve got the energy you’ll need to dive head first into your workout. When you crash in your blaze of glory, you’ll need to replenish what you’ve lost… and that demands that you eat.
This is why eating clean and keeping your calories under control throughout the day is so important. You simply cannot unnecessarily gorge out during the day because “I’m working out later… its cardio day” only to be shocked and confused about what to do when you experience actual hunger pangs. That kind of mentality might work for when you’re trying to maintain your weight, but as far as losing weight? No, you won’t be successful that way.
It’s an extremely delicate dance, and there’s no simple answer in here anywhere. You’ll have to find out what works best for your height and weight combination, but realize that even that takes time. I’d try to play with keeping up my regular intake every few hours, but focus the bulk of my daily caloric intake around my cardio sessions. That requires planning – heaven forbid – but weight loss requires a conscious and concerted effort… and your body will, without question, thank you for it in the end!
For more info, check out Is There Such Thing as Too Much Cardio For Weight Loss?