Experiencing a late-afternoon energy crash, feeling ravenous hours after a hard workout or snacking into the night are all signs you may be too hungry. Feeling too hungry too often can lead to overeating and a seemingly never-ending battle with weight, satiety and energy levels. Instead of being tired, hangry or stuffed and bloated, work to prevent the cause of these outcomes for balanced moods, energy, weight control and better athletic performances.
Part of living a healthful lifestyle and eating nutritiously requires us to be in tune with our hunger levels. Being able to distinguish feeling starved, feeling full, and the entire spectrum in between, is vital to fueling your body well. Here are a few common reasons people are always hungry and suggestions to find better balance:
Research shows eating more earlier in the day, known as ‘front-loading’ calories promotes satiety and long-term weight maintenance. By fueling our bodies in the morning, we are putting gas in the tank for a full day of mileage. If you tend to skip breakfast, it is very likely your body eventually catches up to feeling this lack of fuel. Unfortunately, your body signals this realization in a big way; meaning you don’t just feel a little hungry and reach for an apple, but rather you feel starved and reach for everything in sight.
Many common morning foods are high in carbohydrates: granola, cereal, pancakes, fruit, etc. These are great for ramping up energy before a major workout, but if you’re headed into the office, they’re likely to leave you with a mid-morning energy crash due to spiking and falling insulin levels. Adding protein first thing in the morning helps refuel muscles after a night’s fast and fat adds a slow-digesting satiety factor.
A balanced meal is more likely to promote the hormone leptin, which works to decrease appetite, limit cravings and promote long-term insulin control; both of which work to stabilize long-term weight control and energy levels. Aim to get 20–30 grams of protein at this meal along with fats and carbohydrates for a macronutrient balanced meal. Examples of balanced breakfasts are: granola, fruit and full-fat Greek yogurt or whole-grain toast topped with avocado and eggs.
Athletes who skip or under-consume fuel during workouts set themselves up for disaster. First, you’re limiting the performance output your body can produce. Second, training suppresses ghrelin, the hunger-signaling hormone, and when this effect wears off hours post-workout, you’re suddenly starving! Third, you’re putting yourself into a huge calorie deficit which may lead to excessive cravings and a tendency to eat the wrong thing later. Instead of downing a whole pizza three hours after a long run or ride, eat more during the workout. You’ll be amazed at how much better your performance is and how easily you can transition into balanced, appropriately sized meals later in the day.
Some athletes either cannot tolerate much fuel during their workouts or expend so many calories that replacing enough is impossible. Along with being in a calorie hole, your body is most susceptible to absorbing calories and nutrients needed to replenish and rebuild immediately after exercise. By skipping this small but very important recovery snack, your body is left craving nourishment and not only will your long-term recovery suffer, but you’re also much more likely to overeat later.
Typical schedules allow for an 8 a.m. breakfast, noon lunch and 7 p.m. dinner. Most of us can easily go from breakfast to lunch (provided we’re eating an adequate breakfast), however that long lunch-to-dinner stretch is too much to handle. This prolonged gap in fuel causes a ravenous appetite by the time dinner comes around, which frequently leads to large dinner portions and evening snacking on less healthful options. To overcome this, plan for a late-afternoon snack. Pack an apple, nut butter, protein bar, hard-boiled eggs or other combination of protein and complex carbohydrate bite to tide you over.
If your difficulties with hunger and energy are preventing you from achieving the results you’re after, try these solutions or enlist a registered dietitian to help.