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Exercise aids dieting - if you eat properly afterwards

Published November 10. 2012 09:02AM

Last week's column explained how the reduction in your metabolic rate is what does in most diets and how exercise helps negate that. But that's not news to those who regularly read this column.

The following benefit of exercise during dieting, however, should be.

While exercise expends energy, meaning you burn calories, it actually reduces your urge to eat immediately afterwards, according to a study performed at Brigham Young University.

Two researchers had 35 women, about half of whom were clinically obese, perform 45 minutes of moderate-to-hard exercise and then view 120 pictures of food meals and 120 pictures of flowers while being hooked up to a machine that measured their brain patterns. Seven days later, the subjects viewed the pictures again but did not exercise beforehand.

When the researchers compared results of the brain testing, they found that all the subjects not just the obese ones recorded a decrease in brain response to the pictures of the food meals after exercise. In other words, seeing pleasing food after a workout was not as tempting.

This contradicts what you might consider common sense. After all, why wouldn't women who just worked up a significant sweat and expended around 500 calories not desire food when shown pleasing pictures of it?

The researchers have no definite answer on that, but they did discover something else seemingly contradictory: the subjects did not eat an extra 500 calories or so on the day they exercised hard. In fact, the food amounts for both days were virtually the same.

While this experiment only studied 35 women on two different days, that finding refutes what so many dieters claim: that working out intensifies hunger.

Some insight into this apparent discrepancy might be found in professor Michael Larson's comment about the study he did with the help of colleague James LeCheminant. Larson said, "The subject of food motivation and weight loss is so complex. There are many things that influence eating and exercise is just one element."

One of those influences could very well be the first meal after exercise.

At least that's what I've found through personal experience. My strongest anecdotal evidence follows.

Years ago, my mother felt I was being too restrictive with my diet, that denying myself the supposed culinary pleasures in life was somehow going to create a backlash where I would just lose my mind and eat everything I ever denied myself in excess.

A quarter century later that still hasn't happened, so we have to say good old mom was mistaken. But she was a mom, so she kept making me "healthy" treats.

One was what she called a dump cake, and it's so much better for you than a typical cake that I shared the recipe with readers years ago.

But the dump cake compared to the snacks I make myself was high in calories and especially simple carbohydrates. Because of that, I felt there was only one time when I could treat myself to it: immediately after a long weekend workout.

Then my energy stores were so depleted that they should accept just about any type of carbohydrate.

So I started eating dump cake one winter after my two, four-hour weekend rides and really didn't think much of it.

Until I compared my calorie log with the one I kept winter before.

The pattern was consistent. I consistently ate 400 to 500 more calories when I consumed the low-fat dump cake. Though the snacks I ate the year before contained nearly the same number of calories (I do weigh all my foods so I can be sure of this statement), they contained more protein and most of the carbs were complex.

As a result, my energy stores got filled quicker and I wasn't as hungry in the late afternoon and night as I was when I ate the dump cake that consisted of primarily simple carbs.

I share this because this is possibly why some people report that working out increases their hunger. But it doesn't really. It's the simple carbs they consume soon after in the first meal after the workout, the one where they feel they can loosen their diet a bit because of the workout.

But when the energy stores in muscles are low, simple carbs do not restock them as efficiently as complex carbohydrates.

Studies that John Parrillo cites in his articles about optimal refueling, for instance, consistently show that complex carbs refuel muscles quicker which keeps you from overeating later.

Whether you're dieting or not, use that knowledge to your advantage. Consume primarily complex carbs beans, baked potatoes, corn, squash, whole-grain breads and pastas with some protein after exercise rather than a treat that contains a high percentage of simple carbs. You'll find yourself eating less, not necessarily at that meal but during the meals that follow.

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