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Why Am I Hungry? 

By Dina Griffin

hungry You have likely heard or experienced this scenario before:  you are currently attempting to maintain your body weight and your nutrition habits and patterns have remained fairly constant.  But, you have noticed a recent change in appetite and are feeling hungry more often. There are many possible reasons for this; however, some may not be as obvious to you. Here are some helpful considerations if you are experiencing hunger.

  1. Training volume and intensity are increasing. This is an easy one to identify as we move from our offseason training cycle through the base season to our build cycle. This makes sense when we look at the basic “energy balance equation.” If you are expending more energy through longer and/or harder workouts and you are not replacing these energy losses with food, then you are in an energy deficit. Depending on the level of this deficit, your hunger levels have increased and you may begin to lose weight.
  2. The composition of your meals is inadequate in protein and fiber.  Have you ever eaten a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and felt hungry within an hour?  If so, that’s because the meal was lacking in protein and fiber! These two nutrition components help to stabilize your blood glucose level which means your body should be supplied a continuous level of fuel for 3-4 hours if you have chosen the right nutrients in the right amounts.
  3. Your daily nutrition plan may be too low in fat. Right now, don’t focus on a number of fat grams you should consume. Rather, examine your nutrition choices throughout the day to see what sources of dietary fat you consume.  Fat is an essential part of our diet, but it also plays an important role in providing satiety. Healthful fat sources include avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, walnut and flax oils and fatty fish such as salmon.
  4. Your “feeding plan” needs improvement.  Do you eat inadequately during the day and then feel ravished at night?  Do you work long hours, exercise after work and then get home feeling like you want to eat everything in the refrigerator?  Think about your day and make sure you are proactive with your nutrition timing and composition. For example, eat a bit more at lunch to help carry you through a long afternoon.  A smart plan will prevent the onset of uncontrollable hunger.
  5. Check in with yourself. Are you really hungry?  How do you know?  Are you grouchy or distracted?  Are you listening to your body and can you recognize the physical signs of hunger?  Often times we think we feel hungry when we are actually feeling other emotions such as loneliness, stress, boredom and fatigue. We may seek comfort in food, yet this comfort is not addressing the real issues at hand. This is a difficult situation to identify, but can be very enlightening once you figure out what is underlying your drive to eat.

These are just a few of the reasons you may feel hungry. A food journal can help you begin to make a connection between what you eat and the reasons why you eat. Once you begin to understand these associations, you have more control of your nutrition. Try it and see where it takes you!

Dina Griffin, MS, RD, is a sport dietitian for Fuel4mance, a nutrition consulting and coaching company based in Colorado. She works with a diverse range of athletes, including those who have diabetes. Learn more about her at www.fuel4mance.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.

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