The Surprising Impact of Exercise on Your Hunger and Cravings

A strenuous workout routine on Thanksgiving morning could be the key to avoiding a second helping of holiday favorites like stuffing and pie, according to new research.

This novel finding, derived from studies in both mice and humans examining the effects of physical activity on appetite, contradicts the commonly held notion that exercise can trigger increased hunger. The study indicates that intense exercise actually diminishes the desire to eat, at least for a brief period of time.

Research has practical implications for individuals hoping to avoid overeating on Thanksgiving. Jonathan Z. Long, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine who explores the connection between exercise and hunger, suggests that “running a Turkey Trot” or any vigorous activity might be a helpful prelude to the holiday feast.

Exercise’s impact on appetite is potent and peculiar. While exercising uses up energy, hunger helps to replenish it by driving consumption. Thus, it seems logical that physical activity would boost hunger, and in many instances, it does. Studies have shown that people who engage in moderate exercise, such as walking, often report increased hunger afterward. However, when individuals push themselves with intense exercise, the effects differ. Most individuals do not report feeling hungry after a strenuous workout.

The study delved into the molecular details involved in appetite suppression after exercising, finding a specific molecule that serves as a hunger suppressant. The compound, known as lac-phe, was discovered to be a combination of lactate, produced during intense exercise, and phenylalanine, an amino acid. Intriguingly, the study’s findings imply that intense workout routines generate higher quantities of lac-phe, which plays a pivotal role in curbing appetite.

Perusing through the study’s data, commentators began to speculate that lac-phe could potentially be purified for pharmaceutical use in suppressing appetite without the need for intense exercise. However, most researchers believe exercise impacts hunger through an array of different hormones that regulate appetite. The study also indicated that the composition of different exercise routines could influence the amounts of lac-phe produced, with intense exercise generating more appetite-suppressing molecules than lighter activities.

However, it is crucial to emphasize that exercise is not a method to “earn” food, as it burns minimal calories compared to consumption, and striving to use it to justify overindulgence in food could reduce the inherent enjoyment in both activities.

Nevertheless, for those seeking to incorporate a workout into their Thanksgiving Day, “high-intensity interval training would be the way to go,” per Tom Hazell, a kinesiology professor at Wilfried Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. The build-up of lac-phe and suppression of ghrelin levels, which play a role in hunger, were higher in studies involving high-intensity exercise.

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