Not Hungry After a Workout? It’s Common—But Proper Fueling Is Still Important

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You’ve just finished a killer workout: You showed up, gave it your all, and now you’re spent. As in, you can “barely take off your sports bra” spent. Given your effort, you should be ravenously hungry … but the last thing you want is to eat. If you’re not hungry after a workout, there may be a good reason food isn't appealing.

While exercising, your body depends on stored fuel to get through each rep or mile. That fuel comes from the food you eat. Your post-workout meal replenishes your energy stores so you power through your next workout. Simply put: Eat. Workout. Repeat. So why doesn’t your appetite always follow suit?

Experts In This Article

Ahead, sports dietitians tell us how exercise impacts appetite. Turns out it’s pretty normal, and here’s what you can do about it.

Why you’re not hungry after a workout

First, let’s talk about why you don’t feel hungry. Non-existent hunger after a workout is a thing—it’s quite normal and even cited in research as “exercise-induced appetite suppression.” Appetite regulation is highly complex and there are several factors at play.

Appetite hormones

According to Angie Asche MS, RD, CSSD, sports dietitian and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition, exercise impacts our hunger hormones. “When we exercise, we experience a decrease in ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, and an increase in peptide YY, the hormone responsible for suppressing the appetite and making us feel satiated,” she says.

This change in appetite hormones may be related to lactate1. When you work out, your muscles demand energy. That energy comes from glucose, ideally broken down in the presence of plentiful oxygen.

As your intensity ramps up or after you’ve been exercising a while, your body doesn’t have the oxygen supply needed to break down glucose without creating a waste product. That waste product is lactate. It can build up and cause fatigue, and potentially leave you uninterested in food.

Exercise intensity

The harder you grind, the more likely you’ll suppress your appetite—a walk, while it has a ton of benefits, may not elicit a hunger-blocking effect, says sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS.

"Studies reveal2 that high-intensity exercise appears to blunt your appetite while longer, slow-duration exercise has no effect on appetite," she says.

Asche explains that endurance athletes may also experience a more noticeable a dip in post-workout hunger: “This is especially common immediately after cardiovascular exercise, such as running.”

Meal timing

The timing of your pre-workout meal may make3 a difference too, according to research: If you eat a whole meal before your workout, you may be less hungry afterward.

That’s not to say you should skip the pre-workout fuel. It’s just a potential cause of your diminished appetite, because your body is attempting to keep energy intake and output balanced.

While balance is good, it can make proper fueling tricky. “If you’re someone who experiences a poor appetite post-workout, it may be challenging to consume adequate carbohydrates and protein for your body to recover," Asche says.

What happens when you don’t eat?

In an ideal world, you could just pay attention to your hunger cues and eat accordingly. But when it comes to exercise-induced appetite suppression, if you wait until you feel hungry, you may be missing an opportunity to fuel your body.

“While you definitely don’t need to force yourself to eat immediately post-workout, if you’re trying to support muscular growth and recovery, it is a good idea to consume something at least within an hour or so," says Asche. "I tell my athletes the sooner the better, even if it’s something small, so you don’t end up starving or in a large calorie deficit heading into dinner."

"If you’re trying to support muscular growth and recovery, it is a good idea to consume something at least within an hour or so."—Angie Asche, MS, RD

To understand the importance of a post-workout snack, you have to know how your body stores energy.

Your body uses glucose as a primary fuel during a workout. If you’re exercising for over 30 or 45 minutes, you’ll be tapping into your stored glucose or glycogen. That glycogen is there from the last meal (or meals) you ate. Proper fuel (i.e., carbs) is needed to replenish that glycogen so you’re ready to go for the next workout.

Spano explains when skipping your post-workout meal becomes a problem: “If you workout twice in one day and you skip your post-workout meal or snack after each session, you will likely feel more tired during your next training session.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m rarely putting in two workouts a day (ahem, never). But in the 30 to 40 minutes after you work out, your body is primed4 to rapidly synthesize glycogen. Likewise, isn’t there an urgent need to eat protein after you lift to build muscle?

So do you need to stress about eating immediately after a workout?

If you have a light workout and you don't train again until tomorrow, “skipping your post-workout meal or snack probably won't make much of a difference in your energy levels," says Spano. Your glycogen will eventually be replenished, even if you miss that window.

While eating protein during the short “anabolic window” (an hour after resistance exercise) is widely recommended for muscle growth, the research isn’t convincing5. Your overall nutrient intake is far more important6 than the timing. You benefit most from immediate refueling if you are exercising in a fasted state. Still—it never harms your performance to prioritize post-workout nutrition.

Tips for eating when you’re not hungry

While skipping the occasional post-workout meal isn’t the end of the world, you want to make sure you’re eating nutrient-rich foods that will help you perform better.

Asche suggests whipping up a quick post-workout smoothie when you’re not feeling really hungry.

“I think smoothies are always a great option, so you can sip on it and not feel overwhelmed sitting at a large plate of food," she says. "It also helps to rehydrate you at the same time. I recommend using a simple combination of whole food, nutrient-dense ingredients like almonds or almond butter, Greek yogurt, frozen berries, and a banana.”

Another way to get in those much-needed nutrients is to keep your snack small and nutrient-dense.

“Almonds make a great post-workout food, providing 6 grams of protein, 20 percent your daily value of magnesium, and 50 percent of your daily vitamin E in just 23 almonds," says Asche. "Almonds may also help with exercise recovery and pairing them with a source of carbohydrates, such as a banana or an orange, makes for a simple snack that’s not too heavy when you lack an appetite."

Finally, keep it simple. Have a small bowl of oatmeal or Greek yogurt with some dried fruit. Eat a slice of toast with avocado and cottage cheese. A recovery drink is easy to consume when you’re not in the mood for food. Likewise, a glass of milk can be downed while the shower heats up, and it’s a great source of carbs and protein.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. McCarthy SF, Islam H, Hazell TJ. The emerging role of lactate as a mediator of exercise-induced appetite suppression. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2020;319(4):E814-E819. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00256.2020
  2. Vatansever-Ozen S, Tiryaki-Sonmez G, Bugdayci G, Ozen G. The effects of exercise on food intake and hunger: relationship with acylated ghrelin and leptin. J Sports Sci Med. 2011;10(2):283-291. Published 2011 Jun 1.
  3. Nasr L, Sacre Y, Attieh R, Mannan H. Association between the Timing of Pre-Workout Macronutrient Intake and Rated Appetite among Resistance-Trained Adults in Jbeil, Lebanon. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023;20(3):2399. Published 2023 Jan 29. doi:10.3390/ijerph20032399
  4. Murray B, Rosenbloom C. Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutr Rev. 2018;76(4):243-259. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuy001
  5. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon A, Wilborn C, Urbina SL, Hayward SE, Krieger J. Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations [published correction appears in PeerJ. 2017 Aug 1;5:]. PeerJ. 2017;5:e2825. Published 2017 Jan 3. doi:10.7717/peerj.2825
  6. Arent SM, Cintineo HP, McFadden BA, Chandler AJ, Arent MA. Nutrient Timing: A Garage Door of Opportunity?. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):1948. Published 2020 Jun 30. doi:10.3390/nu12071948

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