Exercise & Hunger: Does Exercise Help You Lose Weight?

There is no doubt that increasing your exercise levels, increases your energy expenditure meaning you can (if you want/need to) eat more before reaching a calorie surplus but does exercise actually make you hungrier?

A look at the research (1) shows that;

“acute bouts of moderately vigorous exercise transiently suppress appetite, and this has been termed ‘exercise-induced anorexia’.”

The primary way this happens is through the decrease in levels of Ghrelin which works to stimulate appetite and an increase in levels of Leptin which work to suppress appetite. (2, 3)

Another study (4) said;

“there is a widely held belief that physical activity is a poor strategy for losing weight since the energy expended drives up hunger and food intake to compensate for the energy deficit incurred. [However] recent studies in both normal weight and obese individuals show that substantial periods of exercise do not increase hunger and do not drive up food intake.”

The researchers concluded that;

“intake is not automatically driven up to compensate for energy expended. Reasons why physical activity often produces disappointing effects, rise from inappropriate food choices, a desire for self-reward after exercise and misjudgments about the relative rates at which energy can be expended (by exercise) or taken in (by eating).”

Additionally, several studies (5, 6, 7) found that;

“energy deficits induced by exercise do not lead to acute compensatory responses in appetite, energy intake or acylated ghrelin.”

Which means you can exercise in order to create a calorie deficit without your body responding by ‘needing’ to replace the calories.

However, the research (8) also highlights a few important points;

  1. Appetite suppression was strongest with high-intensity exercise and negligible with low-intensity exercise*

  2. The duration of appetite suppression is relatively short-lived and is based upon the duration of exercise

  3. Once the effect wears off, hunger levels return to base levels.**

*It’s worth noting that although appetite was not suppressed with low-intensity exercise it did not increase either.

**Which means although the effects are short-lived, the body does not appear to increase hunger in order to compensate.

Summing Up

Currently available research all point towards appetite suppression after performing high-intensity exercise which explains why after working out a lot of people do not initially feel hungry.

However, the research also shows that the effect is relatively short-lived, and feelings of hunger will soon return to base levels.

This is an important point because although the effect is short-lived, and hunger returns to base levels shortly after, exercise does not appear to lead the body to compensate for the increase in energy expenditure.

This reaffirms exercise as a powerful tool for weight management.

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