There are many things that influence our physical feeling of hunger, everything from timing of meals to what the meal is comprised of. Let’s examine what true hunger means, what can influence hunger and what foods you can choose to extend fullness and fuel all different levels of activity.

Hunger is defined by Merriam Webster as “a craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient; an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food; a weakened condition brought about by prolonged lack of food.” Take note of the underlined words. This can give us a glimpse as to why you might be hungry following a workout. Have you recently eliminated a specific nutrient (carbs, protein, fat) or food group? Have you restricted portions to the point of creating an extreme caloric deficit? Are you not fueling appropriately by going too long without food? What does this produce? A weakened condition that doesn’t support athletic
performance, muscle building or proper recovery and repair.

To further explore hunger, we must look at how specific nutrients influence it. Carbohydrates are our body’s fastest energy source. Breakdown of carbohydrates can begin as early as when food begins mixing with saliva in the mouth before even getting to the stomach. Fiber rich carbohydrates, those found in fruits, starchy vegetables (peas, dried beans, lentils, butternut squash) and whole grains, will have a slower digestion (think longer feeling of fullness) than a more processed or sugar rich carbohydrate such as, white bread, white pasta, white rice, pretzels, cookies, cakes, candy, crackers, etc. Healthful fats, such as nuts, nut butters, avocados, and olive oil, and protein both have a slower digestion/breakdown than carbohydrates. Therefore, when a meal is created from a lean protein, healthful fat, and fiber rich carbohydrate sources, you will experience extended satiety, or an extended feeling of fullness, to its maximum capacity.

Meal ideas that would comprise of these nutrients are:

  •  Quinoa salad with skinless chicken, cherry tomatoes, yellow peppers, green
    onions atop mixed arugula and kale and drizzled with lemon olive oil
  • Whole grain waffles with peanut or almond butter and sliced banana
  • 2% plain Greek yogurt with mixed berries and drizzle of honey
  • Lean sirloin with brown rice and black beans
  • Mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, boiled eggs, chickpeas,
    and avocado with fruit salad on side
  •  Protein shake with plain 2% Greek yogurt, ½ c fruit of choice, 2-3 oz. milk for
    thinning, and drizzle of honey
  • 2 reduced fat cheese sticks rolled up with low sodium turkey breast slices
    and an orange
  • Salmon filet with butternut squash puree and asparagus

It’s suggested to consume this type of meal or equivalent preferably within 1 hour, but not longer than 2 hours following the workout. This should allow for sufficient muscle recovery and repair, along with, replenishment of glycogen (liver and muscle carbohydrate) stores that have been exhausted during the run or workout. If you are an early morning exerciser and plan to participate in moderate to high intensity exercise for 60 minutes or longer, you might consider a mini meal within 1 hour of starting the training session.

Suggestions include:

  • 1 cup chocolate milk + 1 banana
  • 1-6 oz. Greek flavored yogurt
  • ½ turkey breast sandwich with low fat cheese
  • Bar with 15-20 g carbohydrate and approx. 10 g protein
  • Whole grain unsweetened cereal with low fat milk

*The most important part of this pre-workout meal is deciding what your GI tract can tolerate. Lower fat, lower fiber meals may be a good option for faster digestion and improved GI tolerance. Always test pre-race or competition meals on non-competition days to know what you can and can’t tolerate.

Going into a workout with a semi-filled tank can set you up for extreme hunger following the workout, or worse, low energy levels during the workout leading to poor performance. Carefully choose your pre- and post-training meals to adequately fuel the training session. If you are feeling lost and don’t know what you should choose, reach out to a dietitian who can customize a meal plan specific to your needs and goals.

Fuel Right, Acadiana!

Kate H. Rountree, LDN, RDN
Lafayette General Health