We want to want the green juice, we really do
We’ve all been there: you’ve just done a big workout, you’re buzzing about your achievement, but then the hunger kicks in. You’ve just burned a whole load of calories after all, and while you know what you should be eating after the gym, that green juice just doesn’t look as appealing as a sweet treat.
Luckily, a new study confirms it’s not poor will-power that makes us overindulge after a workout, exercise genuinely increases your craving for dessert.
The study in the Journal of Health Psychology used a sample of 88 college students to test our food motives after exercise, by measuring the volunteers automatic reactions to varying stimuli.
They were given a joystick to hold as they saw items flash in front of them, with food photos interspersed with those of household items like a toaster or a lightbulb. The researchers then monitored their hand movements to see when they pulled the joystick closer towards them – indicating a positive reaction.
First there was a control test, then half the participants did a workout on a bike and the other half did some memory puzzles before they all took the test again.
And lo and behold, the exercise group were more drawn to the dessert pictures. This, the researchers assumed, was because of the calories they had lost. They may ‘be more approach oriented to the food images,’ they wrote, ‘because there is an evolutionary drive to replenish energy that has been expended.’
The important thing about the findings is that they measured unconscious urges towards food, or as they described them ‘bottom-up processes that underlie our behaviour and are not influenced by our personality differences, goals, or attitudes.’
Basically, even if you’re mind is saying ‘no’ to dessert after a workout your body is probably saying ‘yes’.
Though resistance may not be totally futile – a simple change of attitude to your workout may help curb your cravings. A further study from 2014 by Cornell Food and Brand Lab found its participants were less likely to overeat after a workout if they enjoyed it. Or to put it another way, if they didn’t see the food as a reward for ‘work.’ Sadly, we’re willing to bet that even if you enjoy your HIIT class you’d still enjoy a piece of cake, too.