Does Exercise Curb Your Appetite?

Hunger, appetite and exercise are complex subjects to consider, but we’ve all heard the adage that you can “work up an appetite” after engaging in physical activity. As common as this phrase might be, is there any truth to it?

According to a study by Brigham Young University that will be published in the October issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the immediate answer may be, “No.” On the contrary, exercise may actually curb appetite.

Researchers followed groups of women from various weight ranges to determine the effect of exercise on food cues. On one day, the women walked briskly on a treadmill for 45-minutes – and then had their brainwaves measured as they viewed 240 images of either food or flowers. A week later, the same experiment was conducted without the exercise.

After the exercise, lower brain responses were recorded for the food images versus no exercise. In other words, the act of exercising didn’t just burn more calories – it seemed to turn individuals off (at least in the short term) to eating. Moreover, despite the added energy expense of walking on a treadmill, individuals didn’t actually consume more calories on the exercise day.

Unfortunately, this study doesn’t examine how long the craving-busting effect lasts. And the study doesn’t look at the effect of regular, long-term exercise on the findings. For example, how would these findings differ for an individual that exercises 6x per week – and has been for several years?

Though more research is needed, the findings are particularly important for individuals that struggle with food cravings. This study seems to reinforce the idea that exercise is a great way to reduce or eliminate cravings for unhealthy foods. Craving chocolate? According to this data, going for a walk or jog could help.

Do these findings jive with your personal experience? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Christoff Kapp says:

    I find that after PT in the mornings I’m starving, I actually feel sick till I get some food in, but I don’t have a big breakfast. But I do need food after PT in the mornings.

    But I think it might be difrant for Army guys as we do PT every morning for an hour and it is intense.

  2. Your point about short-term versus long-term effects is the key, Davey.

    In the short term, exercising elevates your autonomic nervous system and gets your blood flowing. This is going to suppress your appetite in the same way that coffee does, essentially.

    More importantly, in the short term there is the psychological effect: when you are doing something, instead of sitting around, you’re less likely to just think you’re hungry because you’re bored. This is KEY. So many people in our culture today eat because they aren’t doing anything else.

    Of course, in the long term, if you burn calories you will be hungrier. But that’s where exercise discipline comes in: if you exercise regularly, and ALWAYS burn those calories, then taking in more won’t be a bad thing… it’s just the energy you burn!

  3. From purely personal experience I find a difference between cardio exercise, as performed by the test subjects, and weight training. Cardio seems to be a short term appetite suppressant, while weight training demands a meal fairly quickly.

    I do agree that I am less likely to crave junk food after exercise. The body seems to want some real nutrition.

  4. christopher says:

    usually after a workout cardio comes-it does suppress appetite-you dont eat so much-binge.

  5. Im dying for my knee to get better after a stress fracture so I can start working out again because I find on my workout days I eat alot less. Whenever I feel hungry but dont really want to eat I do a short burst of exercise or some press-ups. 4/5 times it makes me loose my appetite and helps prevent snacking between meals.

  6. Great post.