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Why High-Intensity Exercise Makes You Crave Cucumbers



Cucumber on WhiteThere is no doubt that exercise is one of the most powerful ways to “work up an appetite”.

But now, a study by Daniel Crabtree and colleagues from the University of Aberdeen, published in the American Journal of Nutrition, suggests that high-intensity exhaustive exercise may paradoxically increase the appeal of low-caloric foods.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare neural responses to visual food stimuli after intense exercise and rest in fifteen healthy male volunteers.

Compared to the rest situation, intense exercise significantly suppressed subjective appetite responses as well as ghrelin concentrations while significantly increasing the release of peptide YY (a satiety signal).

In addition, after exercise subjects showed a greater neural appetitive response (activation of the insula and putamen and reduced activity in the orbitofrontal cortex) to images of low-calorie foods (e.g. cucumbers, lettuce, etc.) but lower responses to images of high-caloric foods.

Thus is appears that an acute bout of intense exercise may act as a natural appetite suppressant that tricks the brain into finding low-calorie foods more appealing than fried chicken and pizza.

Unfortunately, the evidence that this approach may actually help you lose weight and keep it off is lacking.

As the authors point out,

“Research has shown that reductions in sensations of appetite after high-intensity exercise are short lived, and appetite responses may rebound over several hours after exercise.”

My guess is that when appetite rebounds, it does so with a vengeance, explaining why exercise alone is such a poor weight loss strategy (despite all its other proven health benefits).

If you have personally experienced intense cravings for cucumber after intense exercise, I’d certainly love to hear your story.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgCrabtree DR, Chambers ES, Hardwick RM, & Blannin AK (2014). The effects of high-intensity exercise on neural responses to images of food. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 99 (2), 258-67 PMID: 24305681

14 Comments

  1. I have noticed the appetite-suppression effect of exercise. And, although I’m not currently performing any strenuous exercise, I’ve noticed a similar effect with my current diet, which is my own variation on the Fast Diet. I fast for two days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays), which are 24-hour fasts, broken by dinner on my fast days. On the other days of the week, I eat only three times a day, for only 30 minutes, separated by at least 4-1/2 hours between meals. Other than that, I don’t restrict what I eat, letting my appetite “choose.” (However, I am a vegan, so eat only plant-based foods anyway.) I find that on the fast days, when faced with the decision on how to break my fast, I’m more likely to choose a salad or soup over higher-calorie, denser foods. On the eating days, I also usually ignore the junk foods over more nutritious fare (I have chocolate chips in my cupboard that I haven’t touched in weeks!). It seems to be working – I am losing weight – and it’s much less painful physically and psychically than any other diet I have ever followed.

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    • Since Hurricane Laurai have been stressed and very busy physically and mentally. I have been craving and eating cucumbers like a pregnant woman.

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  2. In my forties twenty years ago I did very serious natural weight training, with ten to twelve hours of exercise per week, and unusually for women I turned out to be an easy gainer (put on muscle very readily) so was very bulky but lean. What I used to consistently crave after heavy exercise, and sometimes in the middle of long bouts was high protein but low fat food so bison jerky was very, very important for me. (I can no longer do heavy lifting due to having a bleb for glaucoma, a problem that runs in my family.)

    My husband, who is naturally more aerobic, rows about 80 minutes a day, five days a week, and also walks about 2,500 miles per year. He desires nuts and 2% yogurt after a workout. His cravings also are for protein but he finds that if he goes with nonfat yogurt after a workout his hunger remains.

    Our oldest niece is an ultramarathon runner who normally runs 50 mile distances but recently completed her first 100 mile race. I will write and ask her what foods she craves after an intense workout. Her typical exercise runs are 20 mile ones.

    Of course, what is defined as “intense” varies among individuals, and I tended more toward moisture laden fruits and veggies with workouts that were far less demanding, but not with the intense ones.

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  3. Did the participants have free access to water and were they used to exercise enough to be able to properly maintain good hydration? Things like cukes are decent fluid sources for solids.

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    • Sukie, funny you should ask, because that is exactly what happened. The interest in low-caloric foods runs exactly parallel to the increase in thirst – well done!

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  4. I have not yet heard back from our niece who runs ultramarathons, but a friend who runs marathons, ski boards, and bikes also gets protein cravings both during and after intense exercise and has skyr, nuts, bread with peanut butter, chocolate milk.

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  5. Yes absolutely, I am exercising intensely four times a week and been craving cucumbers a lot, find they are rehydrating and replenish my energy. Water does it too but somehow does not have the same effect. Fruit is usually effective too but have not been craving as much, however know when I do eat it I feel a lot lot more alert and energetic.

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  6. I googled craving cucumbers, because ever since I started crossfit 2 weeks ago, I’ve been craving cucumbers so badly. I thought it must mean that I was deficient in some nutrient or mineral, because I have heard that can happen and your body tries to make you get it through cravings. This was an interesting article.

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  7. I found this page by specifically searching for reasons why I am suddenly devouring cucumbers like a velociraptor. Haha. OK, maybe not quite that sloppily, but I have gone through three fairly large cucumbers in just two days. I ate a half of one (with cayenne and some sea salt) for lunch the other day…nothing more, and I was satisfied. It’s interesting that you mention intense workouts as being a possible culprit.

    I recently restarted a workout routine of my own, and it often leaves me sweaty, shaky, and depleted. I drink water throughout it, have a part of my workout that is meant for a cool down, and then shower. My workouts are generally done around 4 or 4:30 and last an hour. I normally eat lunch around 12:30 or 1. You’d think I would be hungry by 6:30, at least. I’m not. When I work out, I don’t want food afterwards. Water, yes, but if I eat within an hour of working out, I get sick. Sometimes it is 8:30 or 9 before I am hungry for dinner, and I usually want raw vegetables, cheese, and protein.

    Why weren’t any of those tested for this female?

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  8. I just finished a workout half an hour ago– HIIT– and, as soon as I went to the dining hall, I looked around and instantly went for cucumbers. I found this weird because I don’t love cucumbers. I tolerate them. So, my initial instinct to grab a bowl of cucumbers seemed very odd to me. This prompted me to look up craving cucumbers; and, I found this article. It is very interesting to read about this. I would like to hear more about it as soon as more research is conducted regarding it.

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  9. I just started running and exercising again. And I have been pushing myself hard to make mile splits like back in high school…14yrs ago lol. Anywho I was searching on why I’m craving cucumbers lately. In 2 days I’ve had almost a dozen…talking about it now makes me want to go get my last one out the fridge lol. Very interesting article to read, thanks for the info 🙂

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  10. I’m currently an obese 42 year old woman who hasn’t had an intense workout for 2-3 years. Previously I played ice hockey 2-3 times per week. Not once did I crave cucumbers, but I would drink nearly 1L water pre game, water during my game, and 1.5L after the games.

    I am constantly craving cucumbers of late, as well as radishes and celery. I do like these vegetables, but theb cravings remind me of the similar cravings I’d get while pregnant.

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  11. I found this because I wanted to know why I was craving cucumbers – now I know. See, I have been actively trying to lose weight since early February…so 2 months. I have put 2000+ miles on my elliptical trainer in that time. Now I am dreaming about cucumber slices. It’s crazy.

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