Exercise-Trained Men and Women: Role of Exercise and Diet on Appetite and Energy Intake

Abstract: The regulation of appetite and energy intake is influenced by numerous hormonal and neural signals, including feedback from changes in diet and exercise. Exercise can suppress subjective appetite ratings, subsequent energy intake, and alter appetite-regulating hormones, including ghrelin, peptide YY, and glucagon-like peptide 1(GLP-1) for a period of time post-exercise. Discrepancies in the degree of appetite suppression with exercise may be dependent on subject characteristics (e.g., body fatness, fitness level, age or sex) and exercise duration, intensity, type and mode. Following an acute bout of exercise, exercise-trained males experience appetite suppression, while data in exercise-trained women are limited and equivocal. Diet can also impact appetite, with low-energy dense diets eliciting a greater sense of fullness at a lower energy intake. To date, little research has examined the combined interaction of exercise and diet on appetite and energy intake. This review focuses on exercise-trained men and women and examines the impact of exercise on hormonal regulation of appetite, post-exercise energy intake, and subjective and objective measurements of appetite. The impact that low-energy dense diets have on appetite and energy intake are also addressed. Finally, the combined effects of high-intensity exercise and low-energy dense diets are examined. This research is in exercise-trained women who are often concerned with weight and body image issues and consume low-energy dense foods to keep energy intakes low. Unfortunately, these low-energy intakes can have negative health consequences when combined with high-levels of exercise. More research is needed examining the combined effect of diet and exercise on appetite regulation in fit, exercise-trained individuals.

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Alex’s Notes: Diet and exercise, two lifestyle factors that are indisputably wound together in the regulation of appetite and energy intake. We already know that the type and quantity of food intake influences appetite and energy intake, and that nutrient composition can influence hunger and fullness. Yet, despite this tightly controlled system, hedonistic factors, such as the sight and smell of food or circadian patterns (e.g., time of day), can also influence the desire to eat, effectively making food intake a result of both internal and external cues. Exercise also plays a central role, not only by regulating hormones, but also by changing appetite.

And yet all the above is subject to variation based on training status and sex. Especially with exercise, subject characteristics such as body fatness, fitness level, age, or sex determine how appetite is influenced by the type, duration, intensity, and mode of exercise. This review aims to look at the mechanisms of diet and exercise in regulating appetite and energy intake, with a focus on exercise-trained men and women.


The authors of the review point out two main types of hormones that influence energy intake – tonic hormones and episodic hormones, all of which are influenced by exercise. I summarized these in the table below.

Tonic Hormones

Indicate long-term energy status and are involved with appetite suppression


In the brain, insulin receptors are widely distributed in the hypothalamus, indicating insulin may exert a central role. Although not totally understood, insulin signaling appears to be involved with appetite suppression.


A hormone produced by adipocytes that is released into the blood in a pulsatile fashion and transported to the hypothalamus, where it has an appetite-suppressing effect. Circulating levels of leptin are proportional to total body adipose tissue and relay this information (e.g., level of stored energy) to the brain (read more).

More recently, leptin has been found to play a role in short-term regulation of food intake. In addition to adipose tissue, a small amount of leptin is also produced by the stomach and involved with satiety along with other peptides released from the gut in response to food intake.

Episodic Hormones

Involved in appetite response


Unique in that it stimulates appetite, pre-prandial increase in ghrelin correlates with hunger scores, indicating that ghrelin acts as a meal-initiation signal in the short-term regulation of appetite.


Gut peptide released from the small intestine in response to fat- or protein-rich chyme entering the duodenum. Circulating CCK acts centrally as a neurotransmitter signaling satiety.

Glucagon-Like Peptide 1

Locally, GLP-1 is involved in satiety by slowing gastric emptying, while circulating GLP-1 is a central appetite suppressor.

Peptide YY

Secreted from the small intestine, circulating levels of PYY are low during fasting and rapidly increase following a meal, causing local effects on motility and circulation reduces food intake centrally. Similar to the other gut peptides, circulating PYY rises in proportion to the level of energy consumed.

Sex Hormones

Sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, also influence appetite and food intake in women. During the late follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, estrogen is high while progesterone is low. It is during this phase that resting metabolic rate (RMR) is lowest as is energy intake. Conversely, during the late luteal phase of the cycle, progesterone is high while estrogen is low. RMR increases during this time and energy intake is at its highest.

Exercise & Appetite, with a little gut hormone to taste

The acute effects of exercise on appetite are controversial. If anything, there is simply too much inter-subject variation. For me personally, a heavy lifting session kills my appetite. Going for a long morning walk upon waking? That makes my stomach growl for food. The current review looked at 24 studies conducted with aerobic training and concluded that there is indeed a suppressive effect in men and women. Referencing a 2013 meta-analysis, exercise with greater metabolic and mechanical demand (weight-bearing exercise) showed greater appetite suppression.

Regarding resistance training, only three studies have compared the impact of acute resistance exercise on appetite-regulating hormones in exercise-trained individuals, and compared them to the effects of aerobic training. While both modes of exercise lasted from 35-90 minutes, all three studies reported little or no change in appetite-regulating hormones post-exercise in the resistance trials. The authors conclude that an acute bout of aerobic exercise may have a greater impact on circulating hormones; especially gut hormones, compared to an acute bout of resistance exercise.

A talk on exercise wouldn’t be complete without mention of intensity. One study that had men cycle at 85% or 60% of their VO2 max found greater levels of PYY after the more intense cycling session. Since they were matched for energy expenditure, it suggests that the suppressive effects were a result of intensity. The current study authors note that inconsistent results between studies can be attributed to differences in methods, gender, and level of subject training status and that it has yet to be determined the exercise intensity threshold that leads to greater appetite suppression. Also, both men and women appear to experience post-exercise appetite suppression in response to acute endurance exercise.

About those women…

Exercise can decrease subjective feelings of hunger and increase overall hormonal suppression of appetite. In exercise-trained men, most studies show a suppressive effect of exercise on appetite-regulating hormones, subjective appetite ratings, and subsequent absolute or relative energy intake. However, the authors emphasize that in exercise-trained women the data are limited and equivocal. In fact, they conclude that it is yet to be determined if males and females exhibit the same hormonal response following exercise. Why does this matter?

Put bluntly, female athletes and exercise-trained women are often preoccupied with body weight and shape, both for performance and aesthetic reasons. As a result, they commonly use dietary behaviors to control weight, such as the consumption of nutrient-dense, low energy foods (e.g. vegetables). The problem here is that this can easily spiral into problematic areas, as consuming a low-energy-density diet may not provide sufficient energy to fuel health, activities of daily living, and exercise workouts.

So in the wake of all the important and interesting information presented in this review paper, one seemingly innocuous line becomes hilarious later on. The authors state that “convenient, palatable, high-ED foods providing adequate amounts of carbohydrate and protein are important to consume post-exercise.” Why is this funny? Because there is no way not to smile when you go on to read that the authors are consultants for Clif Bars.


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