Exercise a lot, hungry a lot, need to lose weight.
July 28, 2008 11:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I balance exercise caused hunger with losing fat & weight?

I'm a 31 year old male. Back in high school I wore a size 34 jeans and weighed somewhere around 185 (6'1"). Soon after I went to college I gained somewhere around 20-30 lbs and went up to a 36 and then 38 jeans.

I've tried to exercise a number of times, and recently moved to Seattle. I'm now hiking, rock climbing (bouldering), and have lost around 25 lbs (back down to around 190 or so would be my guess, but I don't have a scale :) I also was proud to fit into a size 34 jeans for the first time a few weeks ago. I've exercised in the past, but I have never had great success.

Now I know how weight loss works. Eat less than you burn off. The problem that I'm encountering is that working out makes me really really hungry. Like scary "I can eat a cow" hungry.

I'll do a long hike, eating around 800-1k calories while hiking. Then I will eat 4 scrambled eggs. A quart of milk. 2 tuna sandwiches. Another 300 calorie protein bar. Etc etc. I can be stuffed, and 2 hours later my stomach is growling if I've been exercising.

Diet wise, a couple months ago I cut out Coca-cola (used to drink 2-3 per day). I cut out all high fructose corn syrup. I cut out white grains. I cut out eating out for dinner (only eat out for lunch with work). I snack for most meals instead of having a big meal to prevent over eating. I switched to high protein low carb in general (lots of tuna / milk / nuts as I mentioned above)

So it seems I've hit a plateau weight / waist wise. My diet is pretty decent, I exercise a decent amount. I generally nibble for breakfast / dinner, so I only am eating when I'm actually hungry. I think my main problem is the intense hunger I get while working out. Lets say I do a hike which burns 2k calories. I'll easily eat over 2k calories over the next 6 hours. Same with a rock climb. I'll climb for an hour, and then eat quite a few calories afterwards.

Any suggestions / comments? I think part of the problem is that I just had some pretty big gains, and I'm disappointed that the obvious gains seemed to have stopped. I want to jump start my weight loss again, but I'm not sure how to, without starving myself.
posted by ceberon to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
best 200$ i ever spent...
posted by dawdle at 11:55 PM on July 28, 2008

Online, there's this and this, and more, when I google "hunger after exercise". I'm older than you, but I try to counter that urge by a) eating less food more often and avoiding big sit-down meals, and b) eating fruit or yogurt when I feel really hungry.

And I think its pretty typical to plateau during healthy weight loss.
posted by TDIpod at 11:56 PM on July 28, 2008

Carbohydrates are not the enemy.

I eat less far carbs than most people. However, I don't eschew carbs entirely because I'm marathon/half marathon runner and I need some carbs to function. If you're planning to do a few hours of hiking, you need carbs, protein and fat to fuel the muscles. That's not to say you need to eat piles of pasta, but some nice brown rice or whole grain oatmeal is going to give you some slow burning fuel. If you deprive your body of carbs (or any nutrient) your body is smart enough to send out the hunger signal.

Then I will eat 4 scrambled eggs. A quart of milk. 2 tuna sandwiches. Another 300 calorie protein bar.

Where are the bulky, filling veggies and fruits? For half those calories, you could have had an big omelet with ham, peppers, onions, spinach and cheese and a huge bowl of fresh berries. That's protein, some fat and a fruit/vegetable carbs with lots of fiber. If I was heading out for a long run a few hours later, I'd add some some whole wheat toast with apple butter. That builds up some glycogen which I'll need to for the workout.

You can't outsmart your body. You can fuel it more consistently with small meals to stave off hunger, but if you're depleting it beyond it's ability to function your body will respond with ravenous hunger.
posted by 26.2 at 12:38 AM on July 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

26.2 speaks the truth about carbs. I am a big fan of post-run peanut butter sandwiches, personally, which seem to hit the sweet spot for me as far as protein/carb ratios. For post-workout meals, you really need carbs. Endurance workouts — like, say, long hikes — do a number on your muscles' glycogen stores, and you have to have a lot of carbohydrates to recover. Protein alone won't do it. My guess is that a lot of your cravings boil down to that right there.

Personally, I also find that drinking electrolyte replacement drinks instead of plain water — or just eating some salty food — helps me cut down a lot on the post-workout cravings, so maybe that's something to try, too. (Your cravings mean your body isn't getting enough of something, but it took me at least a few tries to figure out what that something was, in my case.)
posted by adiabat at 12:54 AM on July 29, 2008

My case is very different, I'm 5-4 and 115lbs whether I exercise or not. But I like to eat less when I need to focus on some project because it keeps my head clearer and it's easier to concentrate, etc. One thing I noticed about hunger is that even if it's very strong, it does not last long. One minute I can swear that if I don't eat something, I'll feel hungry for the next 10 hours or until I do eat. Three minutes later and hunger's gone completely. Then it can come back in a couple hours and go away again in a few minutes. I drink water and white or green tea (high grade because low grade white/green teas taste like crap). I don't drink black/oolong tea to avoid hunger because they help for a bit but then cause more hunger. One other thing I noticed is that you can get used to hunger. If you try to eat less one day and weather it out, next day it's still bad but in a few more days it's almost like the body learns that hunger does not get it treats and stops asking. Very often I can go the whole day without eating and then only eat some milk, nuts and dried fruit in the evening, even if I had nothing for breakfast. Frees up a lot of time, too. However that's only when I don't exercise hard.
posted by rainy at 1:54 AM on July 29, 2008

BTW hunger in itself, when you get used to it, isn't uncomfortable. It even creates a pleasant tingling in the stomack. I imagine that's how a wolf feels running through the forest, always slightly hungry, all senses tuned and sharp, etc.
posted by rainy at 1:56 AM on July 29, 2008

Don't eat when you're hungry, eat all day long. You need never feel hungry while dieting. You should be filling up all day on fruit, vegetables and lean meat. Try 6 small meals a day rather than 3 bigger ones.
posted by fire&wings at 2:26 AM on July 29, 2008


I would try eating more for breakfast. Having a big, healthy breakfast can help control hunger for the rest of the day. Also, it sounds as if you are doing some endurance sports, and for that, you need carbs. The high protein, reduced carb ratio that is advocated on a lot of weight loss sites can be good, but often will assume that you are weight training, with less cardio and/or only high intensity interval training. If you are doing much in the way of endurance training, your body will probably want more carbs. Carbs are energy.

Alternatively, you might want to look into carb cycling, and have a "re-feed day" (this is NOT a cheat meal) once a week, where you eat at maintenance level with a higher ratio of carbohydrates.

You may also want to investigate proper post-workout nutrition. For example, I frequently see people advocating, a ratio of about 2:1 carbs to protein for a post-workout meal (and this should be eaten within an hour of the end of the workout). This will often include some form of simple carbohydrate. For endurance sports, you might want to change that up a bit, but if you do some research you'll probably find a lot of (conflicting) opinions, and you'll need to find what works for you.

(I don't think there's anything wrong with the higher protein, lower carb diet, unless you mean less than 20 carbs or something like that; but, you need to tailor your method to your goal.)
posted by synecdoche at 4:29 AM on July 29, 2008

Shangri-La Diet
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 5:12 AM on July 29, 2008

Two things you can do:
1) switch to a *lot* more fruit in your diet. Nothing stops my appetite cold than a Red Delicious apple. Along with this, drink a lot of water, some of it spiked with Propel packets or the like to keep your electrolytes in balance.
2) Start working out more than once a day. I ate like a pig, but managed to go from 194 to 163 in the first half of this year by swimming in the morning, running at lunch, and riding at night. (not all three all the time, mind you.) Your metabolism ramps up every time you wrok out, and tails off after you're done, so if you work out two thirty minute periods each day instead of one hour-long workout, you get that tail-off metabolism boost *twice*. For the two weeks that I did all three workouts every day of the work week (bless my fiance for putting up with me), the weight fairly melted off.

I did notice that post-workout hunger is less with riding and running, whereas when I swim, I just about want to eat the stuffing in my car seats.
posted by notsnot at 5:42 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Less protein. More complex carbs. More good fats (salmon, raw nuts, avocado...) More fiber (veggies / berries / etc.) You want long-burning fuel, not fast energy sources that run out in a few hours. You are also an omnivore, so don't neglect that side of your physiology by eating primarily protein.

I went from ~225 to 185, wear smaller pants size now than I did in high school 16 years ago, and only get a moderate amount of exercise these days (biking 8-10 miles or so, occasional 5k runs, two to three times a week). Even with my current slacker attitude towards the workouts, I've kept the weight off for several years.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:10 AM on July 29, 2008

I tend to have this problem with lunch and dinner, wanting to just eat loads. I force myself to eat a smaller meal, telling myself If I am hungry in an hour, I can eat a healthy snack (nuts, fruit, etc..). On the days when I don't manage to force myself, and have a large meal, I have paradoxically found I am hungrier one hour after eating than when I eat the small meal.

So my strategy would be - eat 2 scrambled eggs. If still hungry in 1 hour, have a tuna sandwich. If still hungry in an hour, eat 2 scrambled eggs. In practice I am not quite this religious, but I can always tell myself I am allowed to eat again in an hour or 2.
posted by timmow at 7:17 AM on July 29, 2008

I don't know where it fits into the weightloss side of things - but a nice, big steak will kill that hunger dead.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:20 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. I imagine the key for me will be to eat more carbs before and after workouts. I forget sometimes that I need to suspend my low carb normal food when I'm going to need more energy.

I've never been a huge fan of fruits, but it sounds like I should work on that. I imagine after a 6hr hike, any fruit would taste great :) "Bonking" after a hike happens too often and perhaps that is causing part of my problems. Thanks everyone!
posted by ceberon at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2008

Eating some slow-burn carbs will help, but it sounds like you really need more veggies and fruit. If you hate veggies and fruit, it means you just haven't found the veggies and fruit you actually like. For example, you might despise carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. Instead of giving up on veggies, try fennel, leek, spaghetti squash, and vidalia onions. By the way, veggies definitely taste better sauted with olive oil or steamed than they do boiled.

There are tons of fruits out there, too. Don't forget about figs, pineapple, melon, raspberries, and kiwi fruits. Mmmm... kiwi.
posted by LightStruk at 10:17 AM on July 29, 2008

I think part of the issue may be that you need a routine. Do you have set eating times?you might want to put yourself on a schedule of 3 full meals+ 3 snacks each day. Plan them out ahead of time and try to eat at the same times every day. That way, if you get out of a workout and eat an omelette but are still hungry, you know you've got another mini-meal coming up in, say, 2 hours. It's about conditioning your body - right now it expects to get a big meal at any time and your hunger signals reflect that.
posted by lunasol at 5:54 AM on July 30, 2008

Weight loss isn't something you really want to do on a backpacking trip. I exercise regularly (every day during the work week) and watch my diet, but when I go on a weekend or 3-day backpacking trip or cycling tour, I eat like a horse. I really don't want to mess around with low blood sugar fatigue in the Catskills. Sure, they're no Sierra Nevadas, but they're still mountains and they'll kill or injure me if I'm careless. Like many of the other commenters have suggested, I load up on complex carbs and a mix of fats and proteins for energy while on trips.

In fact, one of the things I like most about cycling tours and backpacking trips is that I can eat whatever I damn well please, because I'm burning four thousand calories in a day. The post-trip cheeseburger is so much better than they were when I used to just run out and get them for a quick lunch during the week.

Otherwise, your diet sounds similar to mine, high protein, low fat, moderate carbs. I stick to that when I'm not doing anything other than my desk job and going out with my friends after work.

With this methodology of treating my normal every day diet differently from my hiking/cycling diet, I've had good success losing weight so far this year. In fact, I'm not sure how much further I really want to take my weight loss. :)

Good luck!
posted by YellowRex at 1:06 PM on July 30, 2008

You need to have a large carb-heavy breakfast, and then for the next 3 hours after your work out try to stick with large amounts of protein and little to no carbs and fat. This way, your body will primarily pack muscle as opposed to fat.
posted by RKaushik at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2008

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