You churn your legs on a run to burn calories, but then you wolf down the entire contents of your pantry a few hours later. You don't need a bunch of scientists to tell you that running and other types of high-intensity exercise can increase your appetite. Running helps improve your cardiovascular health, reduces your risk of chronic disease and strengthens the muscles of your lower body, but it isn’t a ticket to automatic weight loss.
In the immediate aftermath of a hard run, your body temperature is high so your appetite decreases. A study published in the May 2012 issue of the “Journal of Applied Physiology” showed that participants who exercised intensely experienced reduced incentive and motivation to eat immediately following their session. But as soon as your temperature returns to normal – so does your appetite. Barry Braun, PhD, professor of kinesiology and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, told “Fitness” that exercise may decrease the level of the hormones in your body that make you feel satiated and increase the ones that stimulate hunger, and this effect can be greater in women than in men.
If running is your way of keeping your weight in check, or even dropping a few pounds, you may be disappointed. A 125-pound runner who heads out for a 30-minute, 10-mile-per-hour run burns 300 calories. But, you may find yourself hungry enough later in the day that you eat an extra slice or two of pizza at dinner – adding more than the 300 calories you ran off. If these extra calories are over and beyond what it takes to maintain your body weight, you’ll gain weight.
Awareness can go a long way in preventing overeating after your run. Don’t use the fact that you exercise as an excuse to gorge on treats later – you probably didn’t burn as many calories as you think. Making smart choices when you're hungry can prevent you from downing too many calories. Stick to whole grains, leafy vegetables and lean proteins – all of which are lower in calories and higher in nutrients than a double cheese pizza from the local take out. You may find these healthy foods more satisfying and less tempting to eat in excess. Fruit and leafy greens are also less calorie dense than energy bars, chips and other snack foods, so you can eat more without adding as many calories to your overall daily intake.
Don't quit running for fear of becoming more hungry. Running, and other regular exercise, offers benefits beyond weight loss that can help you live a longer, higher quality of life, notes the Harvard School of Public Health. When running becomes part of your weekly routine, it may inspire you to make healthier dietary choices and can help you maintain weight loss spurred by dietary changes.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.