Okay, you know it happens, but here’s WHY you’re freaking starving the day after a badass leg workout!
You thrashed your legs in the gym, and usually a grueling leg workout includes at least one of two famed compound exercises: the back squat and the deadlift.
But other leg movements can also be very taxing: leg press, hack squat, front squat, weighted lunge, squat overhead press hybrid, and more.
When these exercises are done at intense levels, they drain the muscle cells of their fuel source: glycogen. Glycogen refers to the blood sugar that’s stored in muscle cells.
Muscle cells need this substance for fuel—not just to function, but to recover from a gym thrashing.
If your leg workout is punishing enough, your muscle cells will be left in such a deficit that they’ll be gulping any glycogen that comes along.
Glucose (blood sugar) is transported to the muscle cells via insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas.
The insulin shuttles glucose to the insulin receptor sites on muscle cells—where the transfer occurs, fueling the muscle cells.
If this transport service can’t keep up with the recovery demands of thrashed muscle fibers, then this means that the blood sugar levels are too low.
Low blood sugar will cause hunger.
The day after a leg workout, blood sugar levels may still be low, resulting in crazy hunger.
Athletes who suffer with this often claim that they keep eating and eating, but the hunger persists all throughout the day after their strenuous leg workout.
The supply (food) is not matching the demand (muscles starved for recovery fuel).
But why is this hunger so pronounced the day after the leg workout rather than the day OF the leg workout and leading up to bedtime?
Though some muscle-building enthusiasts report insane hunger in the hours after the leg workout on the same day, many report that their appetite becomes a bottomless pit only on the day after.
Are you eating enough carbs or is it mostly meat/fish, low carb protein shakes (hardly satisfying) and low carb produce?
When blood sugar gets too low, this causes a signal to go to your brain that translates to FEED ME! I’M STARVED!
If you’re truly cramming down a lot of food and still suffering with hunger, you’re eating the wrong foods.
Processed foods from the supermarket, fast-foods and restaurant foods are notorious for stimulating hunger.
Even if you eat a “heavy” meal of such, don’t be surprised if two hours later you’re famished.
“Fatigue, tiredness, lack of sleep can stimulate hormones that make you feel hungrier than you actually are,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND – Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association at nutritionalmagnesium.org.
Solutions to Insane Hunger Day after Leg Workout
• “Recovery from such workouts by supplementing with magnesium and other electrolytes and making sure you get enough sleep for recovery is the best remedy,” says Dr. Dean.
• Loading up on protein and low carb vegetables may fill up your stomach, but will do little to raise blood sugar; hence, you may still feel famished after two chicken breasts and a pile of steamed broccoli.
• Many muscle builders are hesitant to eat more on the day following a leg workout because they’re in a cutting phase or trying to lose excess body fat.
But depriving drained muscle fibers of needed recovery fuel will impede growth.
You must find that right balance, that sweet spot, that subdues raging hunger yet won’t cause fat gain.
• Opt for healthier high carb foods such as naturally sweetened oats, a boiled potato, barley, brown rice, quinoa or geez, even a whole grain (all natural) bagel. Have protein alongside the carb dense food.
• Plan and be logistical, rather than spontaneous and frustrated. Have a second potato and a tossed green salad and yogurt an hour later rather than mindlessly cramming down highly processed mac ‘n cheese and an ice cream bar.
• Loading up on water to kill the hunger won’t work. Drink water for its many benefits, but accept the fact that water intake won’t replace depleted blood sugar.
Face it; it’s a part of life: You will likely be crazy hungry the day after a crucifying leg workout!
Dr. Dean, in practice for 35+ years and author of “The Magnesium Miracle,” is also a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist, acupuncturist, lecturer and consultant.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and personal/cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.