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The Workout That Will Help You Eat Less

Workout for eating less

One prevailing myth about exercise is that it makes you hungry afterward. But actually, if you work out hard enough, the intense exercise will ultimately help you to eat less, not more.

In a study conducted at the University of Western Australia, high intensity interval training or HIIT was found to suppress the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin. Having high levels of ghrelin makes you crave food – especially the high-calorie kind. In fact, excess ghrelin is a focus of several obesity studies.

Crank Up the Intensity

HIIT consists of short, intense bursts of exercise with either active recovery (like less intense exercise) or complete rest in between.

Researchers found that when men completed HIIT training 70 minutes before a meal, perceived appetite was lower, and therefore the men ate less that those who exercised only moderately.

Other researchers have studied the same phenomenon. David Stensel PhD at Loughborough University says, "Exercise may lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite in the short term, while raising levels of peptide YY, a hormone that suppresses appetite.”

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"It may be that your body needs to circulate more blood to prevent overheating," Stensel explains further. Because eating would cause blood to flow to the stomach instead to aid digestion, your body dampens your appetite to prevent that.”

Dr. Stensel also found in his own research study that cardiovascular exercise such as running on a treadmill for 60 minutes affects the release of two key appetite hormones (ghrelin and peptide YY) while weight-lifting – even at a longer 90 minute session – affects only the level of ghrelin. Therefore, aerobic exercise appears to be better at helping you eat less.

Consistency is Key

Unfortunately, the satiating effect doesn’t last forever. An hour after exercise, the body starts to crave the energy that it used up. Therefore, being consistent with a regular exercise routine helps over the long-term when it comes to appetite suppression and weight control.

"It appears to help restore sensitivity to brain neurons that control satiety," says Neil King, Ph.D., professor of human movement studies at Queensland University of Technology. In other words, the more you do it, the more in tune you become with your hunger signals, which may aid in offsetting them.

How can I get started with HIIT?
Choose an aerobic exercise—like stationary bicycling. Warm up for 5 minutes, and perform just a few alternating speed and recovery intervals; 3-4 of each should be plenty and will give you a feel for it; finish with an easy cool down. Here’s an example from the American Council on Exercise (ACE):

Time Interval Exertion Level (0-10)
5 min. Warm-up 3–4
1 min. Speed 7–9
2 min. Recovery 5–6
1 min. Speed 7–9
2 min Recovery 5–6
1 min. Speed 7–9
2 min Recovery 5–6
1 min. Speed 7–9
5 min Cool-down 3–4
22 min. Total Time
(4 min. total speed)

Journal References:
Guelfi et al. High-intensity intermittent exercise attenuates ad-libitum energy intake. Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 Mar;38(3):417-22. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.102. Epub 2013 Jun 4.
Broom et al. The influence of resistance and aerobic exercise on hunger, circulating levels of acylated ghrelin and peptide YY in healthy males. AJP Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2008; DOI:10.1152/ajpregu.90706.2008