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5 February 2020

Optimising the exercise experience to facilitate healthy eating

by Jackson Peos 0

I’m sure all of us can relate – at one stage or another – to the prominent urge for some tasty high-fat, high-carb delicacies after the gym.  We broke limits, went BEAST MODE, trained insane so we don’t remain the same etc etc…and now feel the self-appointed triumph deserving of a double cheeseburger or a…

I’m sure all of us can relate – at one stage or another – to the prominent urge for some tasty high-fat, high-carb delicacies after the gym. 

We broke limits, went BEAST MODE, trained insane so we don’t remain the same etc etc…and now feel the self-appointed triumph deserving of a double cheeseburger or a chocolate sundae with extra fudge. Maybe that case is a little too extreme, maybe it’s just a case of heading to the vending machine on the way out of your spin class?

On the other side of the coin, while I’m sure the above scenarios are relatable, who can think of times after exercise when they felt a sense of euphoria followed by a rousing urge to eat healthy. 

I know I’ve felt both.

My colleague from UWA, Natalya Beer recently headed a study to try and illuminate this link between exercise and post-exercise food selection.

Of course, this is an important area of research. After all, for gen pop or people struggling with obesity, inappropriate eating behaviour after exercise has the potential to negate the benefits of the exercise itself. 

The team at UWA manipulated people’s psychological approach to exercise to see how it would influence their approach to food. Specifically, they varied the sense of CHOICE that a person had in their workout. 

In one group, the participants had the ability to choose their type of exercise, the intensity, how long it went for, even the music they got to listen to.

In the other group, they did a control, but similar exercise session with no choices available.

After the sessions, the researchers monitored the quantity of food consumed at a buffet, as well as the types of foods. Participants were informed that the buffet meal was a thank you gesture for being involved with the study.

In simple terms, the participants had a number of healthy options (skim milk, whole grain bread/cereal, fruits) and unhealthy options (chocolate, muffins, lollies, biscuits) at the buffet.

Despite both groups reporting similar appetite after the sessions, the group who were not given choice in their training session chose unhealthier foods and had on average a 30% higher calorie intake than the group provided with choice.

What does this mean? As Natalya suggests, exerting self-control to complete an exercise session you don’t particularly like doing may lower the capacity to exert self-control later e.g. at the buffet meal when making food choices.

CHINESE TAKEAWAYS

  • Coaches and trainers, ensure you engage in a discussion with your client before training prescription, to ensure that the method aligns with the client’s preferences
  • Constructing a training or exercise plan that is enjoyed by the client/athlete will increase the likelihood of them making healthy choices after exercise, and reduce ad libitum calorie intake
  • Forcing people to do training that they don’t enjoy, is likely to compromise decision making and self-control after the sessions

REFERENCE

Beer et al., 2017. Providing Choice In Exercise Influences Food Intake at the Subsequent Meal. Med Sci Sports Exerc

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