If you ever finish a tough workout and feel like eating is the last thing on your mind, you’re not alone. Having a decreased appetite after exercise is clinically known as exercise-induced anorexia and is a normal phenomenon experienced by exercisers. It seems most exercises can lead to suppressed hunger after physical activity — from obese individuals to beginners to well-trained athletes. It also happens following various physical activity sessions including HIIT, short but moderately intense training and long intense sessions.
Several natural physiological adaptations during exercise are responsible for this — from high body temperatures to hormones. Physical activity stimulates a higher body temperature, and to avoid overheating, the body focuses its energy on cooling, which blunts neural receptors that typically signal hunger.
Also, some high-impact sports, such as running, create a high amount of stomach movement, causing an uncomfortable and sometimes nauseous feeling that decreases the desire to consume food. Another normal effect of exercise is blood volume and flow gets diverted away from the gut to bring more oxygen to working muscles, slowing digestion and creating a sensation of fullness. To support performance, hormones are also disrupted, including those that regulate appetite, like the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin. Depending on the individual and type of training, one or all of these factors might be to blame for your lack of desire to eat.
For athletes focused on performance and longevity in sport, consuming nutrition post-exercise is crucial. Insufficient energy intake after training is thought to impair muscle protein synthesis, promote accumulated fatigue, and reduce future capacity for training. However, many athletes skip immediately refueling due to simply not feeling hungry.
While counterintuitive, it’s important to eat after a major workout, even if you’re not hungry. Avoiding food after training due to not being hungry makes sense as we’ve been taught to respect our bodies and eat only when we are actually hungry. However, this strategy is not beneficial for competitive athletes. This select population should follow a recovery nutrition protocol regardless of hunger to promote training adaptations and the ability to perform long term.
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For those looking to reduce weight, this is also not a worthwhile strategy. Research has shown that while appetite is suppressed post-workout, it does not create an overall caloric deficit. This might be due to increased food cravings from a strong rebound appetite hours after exercise, when the body returns to a normal state. This is even more reason to plan a recovery snack so your calories go toward rebuilding your body, instead of aimlessly snacking later when you begin to feel famished.
While not every workout needs to be immediately replenished, efforts leading into key race prep, are longer than 90 minutes, are high intensity, and take place within 24 hours of each other should include recovery nutrition. This promotes ongoing performance gains, lean tissue building, good health and injury prevention.
Endurance athletes should opt for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein while strength athletes, and those looking to improve body composition, should aim for a 2:1–3:1 combination. Professional athletes refuel with a simple mix of water, carbohydrate sports drink and a scoop of protein powder. It isn’t delicious, but it is efficient. Chocolate milk, eggs with jam and toast, Greek yogurt with fruit, or a simple turkey sandwich are all good recovery options. In the end, executing recovery nutrition with a small snack after key training sessions helps you maintain your health and fitness goals.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.