High-intensity hunger control

I took some time on Monday to talk about a major pet peeve of mine. Namely, how people reward themselves with food after workouts. (And more often than not, with food they really shouldn’t be eating.)

Today, I want to talk about a scientifically proven solution to this little problem: Exercise harder.

Yes, I know I’m always praising the profound benefits of a simple walk around the block. And that advice hasn’t changed.

But if long, low-intensity workouts always seem to leave you raiding the kitchen afterwards—and leave your weight loss efforts stalled as a result—new research says you might want to step it up a notch.

I’ve mentioned the benefits of harder workouts before. Specifically, high-intensity “mini-workouts” may offer the same health benefits as longer, less vigorous exercise. In fact, this type of interval training can help to control your blood sugar as effectively as popular diabetes medications. (Join the resistance, 4/15/13)

But as this latest study shows, it could also be the key to curbing your post-workout appetite, too. And I’m guessing that’s a benefit that pretty well speaks for itself.

Some details: A team of Australian researchers recruited 17 overweight men for this investigation. All the men were relatively young—in their 20s and 30s—and otherwise healthy.

Subjects visited an exercise lab on four different days. On one day, they simply remained sedentary for 30 minutes. On another, they rode a stationary bike at a moderate pace for the same amount of time.

The third visit consisted of an interval session. Each man rode the stationary bike at full endurance capacity for one minute, followed by 4 minutes of low-intensity spinning. They continued these five-minute intervals for the full half hour.

The final session, meanwhile, was more grueling. It also consisted of intervals. But this time, the men pedaled far past their endurance capacity for 15 seconds.  Then they pedaled at just 30 percent of their maximum capacity for a minute. And so on, for the rest of the session.

Each subject had blood drawn before and after each session, which researchers used to assess levels of key appetite-regulating substances. They also gave subjects the same liquid breakfast after each session.

But the real test came 70 minutes later. The men were instructed to eat as much oatmeal as they wanted. (The researchers chose this meal for its general blandness, hoping to assess for pure hunger as opposed to other appetite-related factors, like smell and sight.)


Results showed that subjects who were sedentary or who cycled moderately for 30 minutes pigged out on the porridge. But the men who had completed the interval workouts—and the super-strenuous intervals in particular—ate significantly less.

Does this mean you have to give up leisurely exercise? Of course not. A light pace is better than no pace any day of the week. And all physical activity comes with benefits.

Just remember that it’s only really a workout if you work. And if you’re trying to drop a lot of weight—or even just a little—you might have to work a bit harder than you think.

On the bright side, shorter sessions of high-intensity interval training can deliver a lot more bang for your exercise buck. The fact that you’ll be less likely to snack all your hard work away is just a bonus.


Reynolds, Gretchen. “How exercise can help us eat less.” New York Times. 11 Sept. 2013.

“High-intensity intermittent exercise attenuates ad-libitum energy intake.” Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jun 4. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.102.