Does Working Out More Really Make You Eat More?

Brittany Risher
by Brittany Risher
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Does Working Out More Really Make You Eat More?

For many years, we’ve been told exercise for weight loss is a double-edged sword. It makes reaching your goal easier if you combine it with cutting calories, but too much may make you eat more, negating any calorie burn you’ve achieved by working out. But a new small study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found high levels of exercise may not make us eat more.

THE RESEARCH

Researchers split 36 sedentary, overweight and obese men and women into two groups. Both did personalized workouts five days a week for 12 weeks, but one worked out to burn 300 calories per session while the other sweated until they burned 600 calories per session.

In the end, the group who burned 1,500 calories a week compensated by 943 calories a week, while the exercisers who burned 3,000 calories compensated by 1,007 calories. “With more exercise, they didn’t compensate more,” says lead author Kyle Flack, PhD, RD, a professor of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of Kentucky. “They ate about 1,000 calories more, regardless of how much they exercised.”

Participants’ resting metabolic rate didn’t change, and they weren’t less active overall, so researchers believe they ate more, even though their food recalls didn’t show this. “When you have a negative energy balance due to exercise, you may not realize your potions and what you are eating,” Flack explains. Changes in hormones that control hunger and the rewarding aspect of food may make you eat more, he adds.

The bottom line isn’t that you need to burn 3,000 calories a week; rather, be aware that this compensation happens and pick the best plan for you.

FIGURE OUT YOUR STYLE

“There are three types of compensators,” says Dr. Tim Church, MPH, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University and chief medical officer of ACAP Health Consulting. “A very, very small group of hypercompensators will somehow manage to gain weight. A huge group of people compensate a little bit and lose weight but not as much as you think. And a small group doesn’t compensate and loses more weight than you think.”

Figure out which you are — most of us know without much thinking — and adjust your program based on that and your goals, he says.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Flack says that if you want to lose weight, there are two options: “If you aren’t interested in changing your diet and counting calories, don’t worry about it, but you better exercise 5–6 days a week for an hour. Or, if you want to be more successful or can’t exercise that much, you better count calories and be sure you aren’t increasing your calorie compensation when you exercise.”

And, unlike the study participants who used 24-hour recalls, log your meals and snacks as you eat so you are aware of how much you are compensating in real-time. It will help you be more accurate, which will help with your weight-loss efforts.

About the Author

Brittany Risher
Brittany Risher

Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Google+.

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9 responses to “Does Working Out More Really Make You Eat More?”

  1. Avatar Debbie says:

    When I stick to my regular routine of working out at the gym 5-6 days/week, my eating automatically balances itself out. But when I couldn’t go to the gym for two weeks after surgery, I couldn’t stop overeating. And going to the gym doesn’t make me hungrier than when I take a rest day. I tend to overeat if I don’t get enough sleep though.

    • Avatar Nicolas Leighty (DutchedUp) says:

      Sounds like you fall into the “huge group of people compensate a little bit and lose weight but not as much as you think.”

  2. Avatar Nicolas Leighty (DutchedUp) says:

    What about like for gaining muscle?

    • Avatar Rob says:

      On a basic metabolic workout I took in 1600 calories per day based on my energy and activity levels to lose approximately a pound per week.

      Adding 45 minutes of weightlifting and another ~15 of stationary bike I had to bump that number up to 2300 in order to feed muscle growth while still staying negative enough to lose weight. It’s highly dependent upon your activity level, metabolism, and macronutrients. I try to keep 40/40/20 splits with carbs in the 20% and fat and protein in the 40%. Get a fatsecret or myfitnesspal account, keep records of your activity, and balance out macros while tracking calories and weigh yourself to see what’s happening on a weekly basis. Then adjust.

  3. Thanks Brittany, for clearing the doubt how daily workout enhance your diet routine. It’s one of the common question that people are wondering off. Also, as mentioned in this blog that if you want to lose weight, there are two options: “If you aren’t interested in changing your diet and counting calories, don’t worry about it, but you better exercise 5–6 days a week for an hour. Or, if you want to be more successful or can’t exercise that much, you better count calories and be sure you aren’t increasing your calorie compensation when you exercise.”

    So, now decision is yours!

  4. Avatar Tony Herman says:

    Hmm, interesting article. My trainer says doing cardio and cutting carbs (what most people think you should do) isn’t correct. We instead up calories so that metabolism increases. Basically, you need something to burn for metabolism to increase. This article seems to go against that. What do others think?

  5. Avatar Nancy Weaver says:

    Potions?

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