If you’ve been exercising consistently or recently increased the duration or intensity of your workouts, you may have noticed your appetite has a mind of its own. Hunger may strike at inopportune times or you may even feel ravenous all day long. The solution is to make meals and snacks good nutritional investments so you can increase satiety without filling up on empty calories.
Follow these rules to avoid an empty stomach and ensure you’ll have plenty of energy throughout the day.
1. Eat Real Food
Hunger is a side effect of low blood sugar. Eating and digesting food helps your body produce insulin to regulate blood sugar. Boxed, packaged and fast food causes the body to produce too much insulin, a fat-storage hormone, which is then used up by the body really quickly. Blood sugar drops and you feel hungry soon after. Elevated insulin levels prevent fat burning. So instead of burning fat as fuel, the body hangs onto it.
Wholesome foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean proteins don’t spike blood sugar nearly as much. Instead, insulin is slowly released into the blood stream. All foods have a glycemic load (i.e. the extent to which they spike blood sugar). Leafy greens tend to be low on the glycemic index while white rice is higher. Being mindful of a food’s glycemic load is important when building your plate. Here's a table showing the glycemic load for over 100 popular foods.
2. Increase Fiber
If you’re eating wholesome, unprocessed foods, particularly plant foods, you’re simultaneously increasing fiber. Fiber is the un-digestible part of plant foods. Fiber-less foods cause your blood sugar to spike and crash quickly with too much insulin. Fiber-rich foods control how fast sugar and fat enter your bloodstream so you get a steady supply of energy from your meal. Because fiber absorbs water, it keeps you feeling satisfied longer after you’ve eaten your meal, and since fiber-rich foods are relatively low in fat and calories, you can pile your plate with them.
3. Add Protein
Pair your fiber-rich foods with lean proteins like certain meats, poultry, fish and eggs, which studies show can keep you feeling full and satisfied. If you’re feeling hungry often, it could be a protein deficiency. Try adding more protein, especially at breakfast to help control appetite throughout the day.
4. Eat Breakfast
Speaking of breakfast, make sure you eat it because it really is the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast will set you up to feel energized and capable of making better food choices, and also help control cravings and appetite.
5. Limit Sugar
Sugar is highly addictive and behaves like processed food in the body. If major sugar cravings come along with your hunger pangs, it’s usually a sign that your body needs energy. While sugar gives it a fast fix, it will just as quickly crash your blood sugar leaving you with an increased appetite and cravings for more sugary foods. A sugar addiction can have long-term effects on your mood and overall health, too. Satisfy those sugar cravings and give yourself a real energy fix with healthier alternatives and real foods like sweet root vegetables and whole grains.
Don’t discount the power of water. Most hunger is actually dehydration in disguise. In fact, the majority Americans are chronically dehydrated and don’t even know it. The next time you’re feeling hungry and it isn’t mealtime, drink a glass of water and wait ten minutes. Sometimes the hunger will subside. Make a habit of drinking water consistently throughout the day to stay properly hydrated and keep appetite and cravings in check.
Brian Maher is a personal trainer in Center City Philadelphia who specializes in weight loss and nutritional counseling. He is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a company offering convenient in-home personal training packages to busy individuals looking to improve their fitness levels. To learn more about Brian and his services, visit www.phillypersonaltraining.com. Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.