Too Much Exercise Makes You Hungry

I’ve been telling my clients for years not to control their weight with too much exercise. Most people think they have to exercise for numerous hours per week to burn the extra calories and lose weight. The popular belief for weight loss is the longer and harder the better. But my 25 years of experience has shown me a contrarian view to weight loss. Seventy-five percent of how low your body weight will be has to due with your diet. The remaining 25% is related to exercise and genetics.

The New York Times Magazine had an article last week called Weighing the Evidence on Exercise. Eric Ravussin, a professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center who‘s been studying weight loss for years, said “In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss”. What he meant by his statement is that long hard exercise sessions increases your appetite to a point where you wind up consuming more calories then you burn up by exercising. I have seen this happen to my clients for years. They want to lose weight so they start running hard for an hour, five to six days per week. They become so hungry that they start eating way more calories than they burned up running. The end result is no weight loss or weight gain and an overuse exercise injury.

In my opinion, you reach a point of diminishing returns very quickly with exercise. Exercising too much, just to burn extra calories, will ultimately make you ravenously hungry resulting in overeating. In addition, too much exercise can lead to injury, burnout and insomnia, and a host of other ailments. Learn how to control your weight with your diet. You should exercise for maximum results in a minimal amount of time.

How to Exercise Without Getting Hungry

You can strengthen your cardiovascular system for maximum results with short interval work-outs in less than 20 minutes, once or twice per week. For muscular strength and endurance,  most people need only two full-body basic strength training routines lasting no longer than 45 minutes, twice per week. Round  your weekly exercise program off by walking, hiking or biking easy for longer periods of time without putting any stress on your body.

The Fitness Contrarian way to building a healthy body and lose weight without getting hungry is short hard aerobics, moderately hard full body strength training work outs, and long and easy daily activities like walking with a perfect diet.

Let me know if exercise makes you hungry.

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Best – Mike Cola

Demystifying Fitness, Health & Nutrition

About Mike Cola

Mike Cola has well over 50,000 hours of hands-on personal training experience. He started his own personal training studio in1989, Mike Cola Fitness, which is located in New York.Connect with Mike @ Google+

21 Responses to “Too Much Exercise Makes You Hungry”

  1. Brooke Mitchell April 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Makes sense to me! Thanks for making it clear and easy to follow……. and keep the good, contrarian, information coming!

  2. Mike,

    Exercise makes me ravenous! But I still continued to listen to conventional wisdom on losing weight – exercise hard and you will get a great body. It’s just not true. I’m one of those women who can run a half marathon and gain weight! I am so happy I found your blog because it reflects my real life experience. Thank you for this post!

  3. Hi Andrenna,

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Too much exercise makes me hungry too. You really have to control your weight with your diet and exercise to be healthy.

    Best – Mike

  4. I had the same problem. I have been unemployed for so long and can’t seem to get a job so I figured I would join the gym for a month to month type thing. It has to be better than sitting around eating and watching tv all day! Well its been only 2 days and I thought I was doing amazing- burned 500 cals yesterday and then 600 today. I used some weight machines to work the flab around my triceps. Well I ended up eating WAY more calories than I usually do. Before this exercise kick I would eat about 1200 calories a day to lose weight (my BMI calculations indicated I could lose a pound or 2 a week if I cut down to 1300/1200 calories a day. I am 23, female, weigh about 153, 5’4)

    Well yesterday I had eaten more than the usual 1200. But today was a record. Seriously— ate like 1800 calories! So sure, I burned off 600. I’m thinking I am over doing it. So here’s the problem. I think there are a few problems. First, I did some reading tonight that discussed this happening to many people. The INSATIABLE hunger. Also, I could barely sleep last night. I am glad to have all this new found energy because I was lacking energy before the gym, but now I am bursting with energy where I probably won’t sleep tonight either.

    I also will be moving to another country in 2 months, hence, the month-to-month gym thing. I don’t want to go back to my natural lack of exercise (LOL) and end up eating the same way.

    I haven’t been eating donuts or anything really fun… I am vegan and have been eating tons of veggies, soy milk, good cereal, gardein chikn strips, kale, rice, bananas, oh,…and that 10pm fat-ass PB & J on sprouted bread…which is kind of my donut with at least more protein.

    Any suggestions?!

  5. Oh yeah..
    Another problem is that I really like this intense exercise thing. It makes me feel REALLY good! I MUST be releasing endorphins or something.

  6. Hi Moriah,

    You can try eating right after you workout. Make your post workout meal the biggest of the day. When you workout hard you are depleting your carb stores so fill them up right after your workout with some protein too and I think it will suppress your hunger later.

    Thanks for the comment and let me know if this helps.

    Best – Mike

  7. This post sure is true. Your body burns calories for a host of other activities such as digesting food, and even when your body is healing itself. It is good to incorporate some type of water activity so that your body gets a rest from the pounding involved with exercise.

  8. Yes, this is true. However, people that lose weight through diet alone will not be in good shape. They still will have too much body fat. That is called skinny-fat. Exercise tones and makes people in shape. Many thin people who eat a lot do not exercise and they have too much body fat, but they can hide it because of their build.

  9. Hi Mike!

    Here’s my issue: I’m 26 (will be 27 in about a month), female, 5’3.5″, and between 143-146lbs depending on the day (this is after starting to workout again and losing about 6lbs). I’m also insulin resistant and have to be careful with my carb, and even my protein, intake. I’m a nurse and work 3 12 hour shifts a week (usually more like 13-14 hour shifts). During those shifts I walk enough to burn about 400+ calories, am too tired to eat breakfast when I wake up, rarely have time to eat lunch, and am typically too tired to eat when I get home, let alone cook anything healthy. I don’t have a steady weekly work schedule and I work different days from week to week, but work at least 2-3 days in a row and spend the day after exhausted on the couch eating all kinds of bad things. So when I do go to the gym I spend 30-60 minutes on the elliptical, then about 30 minutes lifting weights (I concentrate on my core and arms, which I know is terribly limited and not at all correct, but I’m heavy chested and am hoping building my core will relieve some back pain)… After these workout and 10 minutes in the steam room I end up feeling, to quote an earlier post, ravenous… I’m not 100% sure if it’s pure hunger or also thirst due to my water depletion in the steam room… I’m not sure how to balance my exercise routine with my unstable and exhausting work schedule or how to make sure I’m eating good, healthy, but quick and satisfying meals while at work. I’m sure my poor body is becoming ridiculously confused, and my non routine routine is counterproductive to steady, healthy weight loss… Any tips you may have would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance for taking time to read this novel, lol, and for any advice you may have to give,

  10. Hi Kari,

    Thanks for leaving such a detailed and interesting comment… it seems like you’re really a hard worker and helping a lot of people.

    You seem to have a good understanding of nutrition being a nurse…. what I think you have to do is sit down and map out a exercise and diet program that fits into your lifestyle…. put it on paper and stick to it… you know what to do… experiment

    let me know what you come up with…. it’s time to start taking care of yourself

    Best – Mike

  11. Thanks for this article! Every winter I start hitting the gym hard (because I can’t take my usual 2-3 hour walks outdoors) and I start gaining weight because I’m constantly starving. I’ve been working out at the gym 4-5 days a week for a month now and I’ve gained 5 pounds. (It’s not muscle weight) Same thing happened last winter. I’m hungry 24/7.. and it’s ravaging! I wake up starving, go to bed starving. Nothing fills me up. It seems like when I don’t go to the gym, I eat much less and my weight is maintained at 125. I’m quitting the gym for a few weeks and focusing on diet. Maybe once I’m back to my 125, I’ll do light weight training (for toning) and walk on the treadmill instead of high intensity cardio. It’s so annoying.

  12. good advice Mike. I help people with weight loss too. I am a registered nurse for 25 years, recently semi-retired. I teach yoga 2 days a week, still work part time at the psych center as a group therapist (where I retired from) and write my blog on how to stay healthy and well. I too have sabotaged myself with too many intensive workouts. Now I do short spurts- about 20 minutes. I also love yoga, and do that just 2 day a week. I cut the gym down to 2 days a week, and do a lot of long meditative walking- not for the exercise, but for my mind and spirit. I do something everyday, I am active, but it is not necessarily hard work. I love exercise! And I love staying thin. At 58 I am 125 pounds, I have not been there since my teens. But it is all about the eating- not so much about the exercise, and I learned that about 4 years ago when I retired and had more time to concentrate on me! I am now vegan! And it is a great thing for me.

  13. Hi Mike, I’ve just started resistance training and find myself not sleeping much and waking up at all hours feeling hungry. My workouts go for about an hour, 5 times a week. I don’t feel it’s from too much exercise considering i not working. I’ve been slowly loosing weight,my set point weight is usually 65kilos, 170cm tall, athletic build. I’m trying to change my weight to 60kgs as a new set point. I read your body fights this new set point unless you maintain it for a 6 month period. Maybe that’s why im getting woken up by my growling stomach at night?

  14. Hi Tiffany,

    I was never a big believer in the set point theory….You have to keep working on your diet to lose weight.

    Five days of resistance training per week is too much…it could be affecting your sleep and make you hungry. Mix in some aerobics and cut back on the resistance work.

    Best – Mike

  15. Hi Mike
    A very interesting read! This has just started happening with me! I mountain bike two/three times a week and run twice, I also do yoga once a week and walk my dog for 30 minutes once a day, I am loving the energy buzz but I have put on 4lbs!! I am 5’1″ petite frame and 118lbs which now means I have a tight waistband! I exercise because I love being active and outside and dislike gyms! Should I try to cut down on my carb intake?
    Many thanks Vashti

  16. Hi Vashti,

    Yes…..cut back on your car intake if you want to lose weight….

    Checkout this post –

    Best – Mike

  17. Thank you for validating what I thought. I have been exercising so hard but then in 5 minutes I can consume all the calories I just worked so hard to burn….and I am so famished! My question is: to train for a marathon – how does one do that with your proposed exercise limits (how to exercise without getting hungry?? is it possible to get your weekly distance in for training and not be ravenous? Thank you for your honest practical information!

  18. sorry, I forgot to mention my other question…I have read that the theory of the extreme hunger post-workout is that it means our metabolism is working to burn off calories and fat (it means the internal furnace is burning). What are your thoughts on that theory?
    Also, another theory is that the body has a set weight that it prefers and too much exercise means that your body will create hunger to ensure that we don’t starve and maintain that set healthy weight?

  19. I really love this post. For about 6 months now i have been getting a bit excessive with my exercise, doing 3-4 RPM classes per week along with 2-3 7km runs as well as a body pump class, all in between full time uni and working 2 jobs. I knew that my excessive exercise was what was causing me to over-eat, but my solution was always to just exercise more to burn it off. And it made me feel great so how could it be bad for me? A never ending cycle! I also suffered insomnia but i wasn’t sure if it was due to the exercise or stress, and seeing as it is so commonly noted that exercise is supposed to help you sleep – i blamed it on stress. Now i know the real culprit!

    But the REAL reason why i love this post is because it talks about how you gain no weight loss benefits from excessive exercise, just overuse injuries… i currently am suffering from an overuse injury to my piriformis and my sciatic nerve, and now i can barely walk. I’m so glad that i’m not the only one who’s gone though this, i just wish i found this article a lot sooner! I learnt this lesson the hard way.

    Thank Mike for an awesome website. My outlook on training and diet is so similar. I am definitely looking forward to reading more!

  20. Wow! That is so accurate! I used to maintain at 116ish (I’m 5’2) by working a manual labor job AND running 25 miles a week. When I got pregnant I couldn’t run so I walked a lot and tried to eat healthy. After baby I didn’t have time to run so I did 8 min abs daily and watched my calories and the weight melted off! Now I pretty much eat what I want and do 8 min abs 3 x week and I maintain a healthy 110. I wish I would have learned this years ago… It would have saved me so much money in gym membership and hundreds of hours of time… I still run once in awhile to make sure I still can, but I don’t use it for weight loss or weight maintenance.


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