Physical activity should help you lose weight and maintain it, right? A new study suggests that exercise might not have the desired impact on your eating habits. Researchers from Technical University of Munich and the University of Nebraska investigated how people behave around food after finishing a ride.

Is food a reward after a hard ride?

“In the sports context, we have the phenomenon of people overeating after physical activity. People want to reward themselves and their bodies for being active. So, we use a hypothetical experiment to find out why people eat more after exercise compared to when they don’t exercise,” said Prof. Karsten Köhler from the Technical University of Munich.

Cycling
People tend to overeat after physical activity. © Profimedia

The experiment included 23 women and 18 men (aged 19-29) that were randomly assigned to two groups. During their first test one group completed a 45-minute cycling session and the other was assigned a rest period of equal duration. Later, during a second test they swapped the assignments.

Both groups had to answered a questionnaire before the 45-minute period of cycling or rest. The point was to assess how they perceived of hunger, satiety, and how much food they wanted. They were asked to list their desired portion size for a meal that would immediately follow the 45-minute session and for a meal that would come 4 hours after that. All participants completed the questionnaire again immediately after the 45-minute session. And they completed it a third time about 30-minutes after that.

Exercises makes you want more food asap

Compared to the group that rested for 45 minutes, the exercise group chose much larger portions both immediately after exercise and 30 minutes afterwards. Cycling also resulted in a greater increase in preference for immediate food consumption.

Friends cycling
Do you feel that urge to eat right after your ride? © Profimedia

Decide what to eat after your ride before you go cycling

The researchers summarised that exercise does change how we think about food and that this change is not helpful when you are trying to lose weight. If you want exercise to help you with weight management, the authors of the study suggest you should plan your recovery meals before you even leave the house.

“The actual results suggest that physical exertion can entice those who do sport to eat larger amounts of food more quickly after the training session. Since weight loss is a main motivation for exercising for many, and failure to achieve the desired weight loss makes it likely to quit exercising, it could be a good strategy to think about what you want to eat afterwards before you start to exercise,” commented Prof. Köhler.