You’d think that after a strenuous workout you’d be ravenous. But sometimes the opposite happens: You finish your last rep, and all you want to do is curl up in a ball and take a nap, not eat. Or you could have just finished a run, but instead of feeling like you could eat a horse, all you want to do is to drink some water and call it quits.
There are a few possible explanations for why you’re not hungry after working out. And there’s no need to worry if it happens to you occasionally; just make sure you’re eating enough throughout the day.
Let’s dive into how exercise affects your appetite, and what you can do about it.
1. Your Digestion Has Slowed Down
Digestion requires blood flow. While you’re working out, blood flow is directed to your muscles, not your digestive system. It makes sense that your digestion would slow down during and after exercise (12).
This slowdown can lead to cramps, nausea, and diarrhea (especially if you’re doing a lot of endurance training or working out in the heat). Feeling full or bloated is another common side effect.
2. You’ve Triggered Your Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is responsible for sending signals from your brain to your stomach, telling it when to start digesting food. But this nerve can also be triggered by things like stress, anxiety, and even strenuous exercise (20).
When the vagus nerve is triggered, it can slow down your digestion, which can lead to the feeling of being full or bloated. It can also cause nausea and vomiting (19).
3. You’ve Burned Off All Your Glycogen
If you’ve been working out a lot or if you’re doing high-intensity training, you may have burned off all your glycogen stores. This can lead to fatigue, low blood sugar, and the feeling of being full or bloated.
4. You’re Dehydrated
Dehydration can cause all sorts of problems, including cramps, headaches, and fatigue. It can also make you feel full or bloated (14).
When you’re dehydrated, your body holds onto the water it does have, which can lead to bloating and the feeling of being full.
5. Your Hunger Hormones Are Suppressed
Ghrelin is a hormone that signals to your brain that you’re hungry. It also stimulates appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage (10). Research has shown that long bouts of exercise can either increase or suppress ghrelin levels (11).
Peptide YY (PYY) is another hormone that’s involved in hunger and fullness. PYY is released after eating, and it signals to your brain that you’re full. Exercise can increase PYY levels, leading to the feeling of being full (8).
If you’re not hungry after working out, it could be because your ghrelin levels are suppressed or your PYY levels are increased. This is usually only a temporary effect, and your hunger will return soon enough.
6. You’re Stressed Out
Exercise “stresses” our body in a good way.
Physiologically speaking, several changes happen in our body when you’re under stress, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased respiration, and higher body temperatures – all which can all interfere with your appetite (16).
What Should You Do If You’re Not Hungry After Working Out?
If you’re not hungry after working out, there’s no need to worry. Just make sure you’re eating enough throughout the day.
You may also want to try drinking a glass of water or eating a small snack before your workout. This can help prevent dehydration and the feeling of being full or bloated.
And if you’re not hungry, there’s no need to force yourself to eat. Just listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry.
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Importance Of Post-Workout Nutrition
Proper nutrition is essential to achieving results from your workout routine. Eating the right foods after a workout can help:
Replenish Your Energy
While you work out, your body uses up stored energy in the form of glycogen. Once your glycogen is depleted, your body has to find another source of energy.
Eating carbohydrates after a workout can help replenish your glycogen stores and give you the energy you need to keep working out (15).
For your muscles to grow, they need a source of protein (5). Eating protein after a workout gives your muscles the nutrients they need to repair and build themselves up.
Drinking a shake with protein and carbohydrates can help you replenish your fluids and give your muscles the nutrients they need for recovery.
Your body loses a lot of water when you sweat, and it’s important to replace that lost fluid. Drinking water or a sports drink after a workout can help you stay hydrated and prevent cramping (13).
What Should You Eat When You’re Not Hungry After A Workout?
Here are a few ways to manage low appetite caused by heavy exercise:
When your stomach isn’t feeling great, drinking calories can be easier than eating them. Some post-workout drinks are:
- Sports drinks – these usually have a mix of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and sometimes protein to help you rehydrate and replenish your energy stores.
- Smoothies – make a smoothie with milk, yogurt, fruit, and nuts or seeds for a drink that’s high in calories and nutrients.
- Shakes – many commercially available shakes are high in proteins, or you can make your own with milk, protein powder, and healthy fats like nut butter or avocado.
- Fruit juice – 100% fruit juice is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Just be sure to limit your intake to no more than one cup per day, because it is quite high in sugar.
- Whole milk – whole milk is a good source of calories, protein, and fat. It can also help you rehydrate after a workout.
- Soup – a bowl of hearty soup can be a satisfying and nourishing meal. Just make sure it’s not too high in sodium.
When you’re feeling nauseated, it’s often best to eat bland foods that are easy on your stomach. Some options include:
- Saltine crackers
- Ginger ale
- Plain rice
- Plain chicken
- Herbal tea
What Should You Avoid Eating When You’re Not Hungry After A Workout?
There are a few things you should avoid eating when you’re not hungry after a workout:
- High-fiber foods – high-fiber foods can be hard to digest and may make your stomach feel worse (4).
- Greasy or fried foods – these can be hard to digest and may make you feel nauseated.
- Spicy foods – spicy foods can irritate your stomach and make you feel worse (2).
- Caffeine – caffeine can dehydrate you and make you feel more tired (1).
- Alcohol – alcohol can dehydrate you and interfere with your recovery (7).
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How To Increase Your Appetite After A Workout
If you’re struggling to increase your appetite after a workout, here are a few tips that may help:
Keep A Food And Exercise Diary
Keeping track of what you eat and when you exercise can help you identify patterns that may be affecting your appetite. For example, you may find that you’re more likely to be hungry after a workout if you eat a light breakfast or lunch, or if you exercise at a certain time of day.
Consume More Calories Throughout The Day
If you’re not eating enough calories during the day, you may find it harder to get hungry after a workout. Try increasing your calorie intake by eating more meals or snacks throughout the day. Also, if you’re eating enough calories and nutrients throughout the day as a whole, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t eat something immediately after your workout.
If you’re still struggling to increase your appetite, you may want to try using supplements. Creatine and whey protein are two options that can help you increase your calorie intake and promote muscle growth (3) (9).
Speak To A Doctor Or Dietitian
If you’re struggling to increase your appetite, it may be time to speak to a doctor or dietitian. They can help you identify any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your low appetite and develop a plan to help you increase your calorie intake.
The Bottom Line
Post-workout nutrition is an important part of any exercise routine. Eating the right foods after a workout can help you replenish your energy, build muscle, and prevent soreness.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Consumption of spicy foods and the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet (2021, mayoclinic.org)
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, mdpi.com)
- Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits (2019, frontiersin.org)
- Effects of a moderate intake of beer on markers of hydration after exercise in the heat: a crossover study (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of exercise on the levels of peptide YY and ghrelin (2021, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of whey protein supplementation prior to, and following, resistance exercise on body composition and training responses: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ghrelin: much more than a hunger hormone (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ghrelin Response to Acute and Chronic Exercise: Insights and Implications from a Systematic Review of the Literature (2021, link.springer.com)
- Is the gut an athletic organ? Digestion, absorption and exercise (1993, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports (2019, mdpi.com)
- Public knowledge of dehydration and fluid intake practices: variation by participants’ characteristics (2018, biomedcentral.com)
- Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stress effects on the body (2018, apa.org)
- The role of peptide YY in appetite regulation and obesity (2009, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- The Role of Skeletal Muscle Glycogen Breakdown for Regulation of Insulin Sensitivity by Exercise (2011, frontiersin.org)
- The role of vagal neurocircuits in the regulation of nausea and vomiting (2014, sciencedirect.com)
- Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders (2018, frontiersin.org)