“There’s a common misconception that exercise is going to make you eat more at the next meal,” says David Broom, professor in the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences at Coventry University in England.
“But in the typical person, exercise suppresses appetite for about an hour or so. And at the next meal, people tend to eat the same amount compared to days when they don’t exercise.”
Of course, there are exceptions. “We pooled the data from 17 of our studies and found that some people’s appetite will not change or may even increase after they exercise,” notes Broom.
What kind of exercise suppresses appetite?
Only vigorous exercise seems to matter.
In one study, 14 young men walked briskly for an hour or rested quietly on separate days.
“We saw no difference in appetite, the hunger hormone ghrelin, or calorie intake,” says Broom.
“In our studies, you have to get above about 60 percent of your maximal oxygen uptake for exercise to suppress appetite. That means a fast jog or cycling like you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.”
But those studies don’t tell us what happens to appetite—and food intake—in response to exercise over the long run.
The answer isn’t clear.
Do people compensate for exercise by eating more over the long run?
In one study, 35 overweight people or people with obesity exercised hard enough to burn 500 calories a day, five days a week, for 12 weeks.
On average, the group lost about eight pounds, right on par with the researchers’ predictions.
“But when you look at the range, someone lost 32 pounds and someone else gained four pounds,” Broom notes. “There was tremendous variation in weight loss.”
As for food intake, on one test day near the end of the study, people who had lost the least weight ate roughly 270 calories more—while those who had lost the most weight ate 130 calories less—than they did at the start of the study.
“Over time, many people compensate for exercise by eating more,” says Broom.
The bottom line
Exercise may briefly curb your appetite, but there are no guarantees.
The information in this post first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.
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