Always hungry? Here are 5 reasons why

Here are the top five reasons why you might be feeling more hungry than usual and steps to combat it

Coming into the autumn months it is natural to find yourself reaching for comfort food because you feel even more hungry after cycling. Cycling can regularly leave you with a ferocious appetite; fighting off hunger pangs, especially if you are trying to lose weight can be miserable. We take a look at the five key reasons why you might be feeling so hungry, and how you can fight it.

Appetite delay

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Hunger is your body’s signal that it wants more food. The most simplistic and obvious reason for feeling hungry is that you aren’t eating enough calories to replace the calories you have been burning.

Riding hard can suppress your appetite so hunger doesn’t always follow immediately; sometimes it is the day after a long ride when the hunger hits and you can be in calorie deficit 24-48 hours after you finish a particularly challenging ride.

>>> Prevent muscle pain with good cycling nutrition

If you struggle to eat immediately after a long ride or hard session then using a recovery drink can help make sure you are getting in the nutrients you need to repair your body and help fend off the urge to raid the biscuit tin later on in the day.

Not eating frequently enough

You may have been brought up with the idea of three square meals a day and feel that snacking is ‘bad’. But for regular exercisers grazing – eating five to seven small meals a day – is a better way of keeping energy levels balanced and hunger pangs at bay. This is particularly important if you exercise more than once a day, if you commute by bike for example, as you will need a small snack before your exercise to fuel it and another afterwards.

If you are exercising in the morning and not eating again until lunchtime you are limiting your recovery as well as feeling uncomfortably hungry. The important thing is to split the same amount of food you normally eat across several small meals; this will enable you to maintain your weight. Make sure each snack contains both carbohydrate and protein.

You are eating too little protein

Eggs: a great source of protein

Eggs: a great source of protein

It’s very easy to focus on carbohydrate in your snacks to the exclusion of protein. Protein increases your feeling of satiety, keeping you feeling fuller for longer; it also provides the building blocks you need for muscular repair post-exercise.

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Endurance athletes such as cyclists tend to focus on getting in the right amount of carbs before and after exercise but protein is just as critical and shouldn’t be overlooked. To help keep your hunger locked down add some protein to your meals; for example a little bit of cheese or some raw nuts alongside fruit makes a healthy and well-balanced snack between meals.

You are not sleeping enough

Researchers have found that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of hunger. There is also a clear link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. It has been hypothesised that the reason may be hormonal. The hormone leptin decreases hunger, so people do not feel hungry when leptin levels are high. Ghrelin increases hunger, so people feel hungry when ghrelin levels are high.

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One study found that after limited sleep, leptin levels decreased and ghrelin levels increased. The subjects reported increased hunger, especially for foods with high carbohydrate content. If you are feeling tired you may be more inclined to reach for a high-carb snack to boost your energy. One step to alleviate hunger and carb cravings could be to get more sleep.

You aren’t paying attention to the glycaemic load

Refuelling is an essential part of recovery

You may have heard of the glycaemic index (GI). Foods that have a high GI break down quickly, rapidly releasing glucose into the bloodstream. A lower GI indicates a slower rate of digestion and absorption of the food’s carbohydrates which will give us a more even release of energy and help us feel fuller for longer.

However, GI isn’t based on the portion sizes we actually eat. A high GI food consumed in small quantities will give the same effect as larger quantities of a low GI food on your blood sugar. The glycaemic load of a meal is a more useful measure as it shows the effect the amount of food you actually eat has on your blood sugar levels.

To calculate glycaemic load in a typical serving of food, divide the GI of that food by 100 and multiply this by the useable carbohydrate content (in grams) in the serving size. Don’t forget, the glycaemic load of a food is its GI value per serving, and the GI value of a food is the definitive guide to its effect on glucose metabolism and thus blood sugar levels.

High GI foods are appropriate during and after exercise but to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable we should be aiming for meals to have a low glycaemic load.

Top tips

  • Eat immediately after a long ride or hard session to stop you reaching for the biscuits later on
  • Getting more sleep can reduce your cravings for high-carb snacks
  • High GI foods are appropriate during and after exercise but to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable aim for meals with a low glycaemic index