You've been there: You had an amazing workout with Natalie and had no problem eating healthy, well-portioned meals even after Muscles and Mimosas. But the next day, your much-deserved rest day, you're suddenly ravenous. Instead of that veggie- and lean-protein-packed salad you planned to eat, you can't stop thinking about all the other delicious things around the office or around town running errands: pizza, burgers, tacos...you get the drill. You start to feel foggy-headed and irritable. This is known as Hanger, an often comical combination of hunger and anger due to the hunger. And this is not a fun state of mind to be in. So why is it so freaking hard to stay on track on the days when you're not working out? And is it all in your head, or is something else going on?
Long story short, it is not your imagination playing tricks on you when you feel hungry on rest days. As it turns out, there are quite a few factors that could be at play. Read on for 6 reasons and 6 tips for dealing with hangry rest days.
1. Your hunger hormones are affected by exercise. When you exercise, you create an energy deficit. If you're not eating more to replace that deficit (like when you're trying to lose weight), it's only natural to feel hungry. Sometimes people may feel less hungry on days when they have heavy training loads due to blood flow being distributed away from the gut into extremities. When this is the case, your body may regulate itself in the following one to two days post-exercise to compensate for the food that wasn't eaten after exercise to make up for the energy deficit. This means you see an increase in the hormone ghrelin (which makes you feel hungry) and a decrease in the hormone leptin (which makes you feel full and satisfied).
If you don't have a specific caloric or macro goal for the day, then the solution to being hungry on a rest day is simple: Eat more. If you're someone who is trying to maintain your weight, then you should eat more to make up for the calories you burnt off after intense exercise. If not, you will lose weight unintentionally, which can hinder your athletic performance.
But if you do have a reason to limit your food intake on rest days, such as weight loss or body composition goals, here are some strategies to try:
When in doubt, there is truth in math. Have your nutrient needs calculated and plan you macros. Be sure to incorporate enough protein especially on your rest days for muscle recovery and to keep you satiated enough to truly relax and enjoy your hard earned rest days.