First things first: There are likely going to be times where you're hungry, and it isn't a bad thing. Being hungry doesn't necessarily mean you're losing muscle, or doing yourself any other harm. With that said, if you're always hungry, you're likely to make poorer food choices, and ultimately end up abandoning your nutrition plan.
From an evolutionary perspective, hunger is part of the body’s process for motivating us to seek out food, ultimately so that we can survive.
In the parts of the world where most people reading this will be, there is an abundance of food, and so, we rarely use hunger as or signal to eat. When, and how much, we eat is usually determined by things like habit, social convention, and convenience.
On the other hand, when we are aiming to lose fat, we will usually be eating slightly less than the body optimally would like, so there is a certain amount of restriction involved, which can lead to hunger.
With that said, there are a few things we can do to try to limit the amount of hunger we feel, which will likely lead to you being more likely to stick to your nutrition plan over the long term.
Hack #1: Eat Enough Food
One possible reason that you're struggling to stay on track with nutrition may be that you’re being too extreme in cutting out food, leading to a constant feeling of restriction, and constant hunger between meals.
This often comes from an impatience, and wanting to make progress as quickly as possible.
I've seen this numerous times with clients on the Gaelic Athlete Nutrition Coaching Program, and it almost always ends up with a weekend blow-out, undoing a lot of the progress from during the week, leaving them wondering why they haven’t been making progress up to this point.
When I get them eating an amount of food that allows them to make steady, predictable progress, whilst enjoying your food and not starving themselves, then that feeling of needing to eat the house down at the weekend goes away, and they make more progress than ever before!
Hack #2: Plan Your Meals
Which of the below options sounds most like you?
1. You go to bed, knowing what you're going to be eating the next day, at what times, and you know it's going to be exactly what you need to hit your body composition and performance goals.
2. You'll worry about that tomorrow, and hopefully be able to get your hands on something decent, but aren't really sure what or when.
I’m sure you’ll agree that it seems obvious which of those are going to get results.
But for so many (maybe you), number 2 is the norm.
Then what happens? You wait until you're hungry, then go grab the most convenient thing you can find, which often isn't a great choice. Or, because you feel you can't find anything "healthy", you decide you'll just get something later, or you opt for a protein bar to keep you going.
Ultimately, it's a miserable experience, and you get home and justify eating everything in sight, because you've not eaten all day, or you go out to training hungry and under-fuelled, and have a poor session.
This brings up a deeper point made famous by a former marine called Jocko Willink, and that is "discipline = freedom". It sounds silly at first, but when put into this context, someone who takes option 1 actually has more freedom to happily go about their day, knowing their nutrition is sorted, because they've been disciplined in planning ahead.
Try making a plan this evening for what you're going to eat tomorrow. It won't be perfect, but it'll put your mind at ease and you'll be more likely to make better choices. You can then adapt and change it as the days go on.
Hack #3: Alter Your Food Choices
Why are fruits, vegetables, and protein sources praised as the ultimate health foods?
Of course, there are the micronutrients from the fruit and veg, and the muscle-building and recovery benefits of the protein.
But more than that, in a world where there is an abundance of hyper-palatable (tasty), calorie-dense foods, these foods can offer more filling alternatives, which can lead to consuming fewer calories, whilst eating a higher volume of food.
For you, as a GAA player, if trying to drop some weight, these foods should be a big part of your diet. This will help keep you full and satisfied, whilst keeping the diet interesting and allow you to eat a larger volume of food.
Even if you're trying to increase your calorie intake, you should still aim for adequate intakes of these foods, for their other benefits, including muscle building, recovery, disease-risk reduction etc.
Hack #4: Keep Hydrated
If you haven't already checked out my article on hydration, get on it, check it out here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/blog/hydration
Amongst the wide range of reasons to keep hydrated is its effect on hunger.
Often, the same symptoms can be seen with underhydration as with hunger (e.g. headache, tiredness, irritability).
So what you perceive as hunger may simply be thirst! If we mistake this signal, we can end up snacking and adding to our daily food intake, when all we may have needed was a glass of water.
Aim to drink enough to have regular clear urinations through the day.
2.5-3.5L is a good place to aim for, biasing some of that to before and after training.
All fluids (apart from alcoholic drinks) contribute to hydration levels, including tea and coffee, as well as the water found in foods like fruits and vegetables, for example.
Hack #5: Get Enough Sleep
Did you know that there is an increase in road accidents on the last Sunday of March each year?
Because time 'springs forward", and we lose an hour of sleep, leading to more judgement errors by drivers. That's how important sleep is.
However, that is only one of the important factors associated with sleep.
Studies have shown that people who hadn't gotten adequate sleep were more hungry and more likely to choose higher-calorie food options.
This obviously isn't ideal for someone trying to reduce their food intake.
Even if you are trying to increase food intake in an attempt to gain muscle, please don't take this as a reason to sleep less. Studies have also shown the effects of lack of sleep on muscle gain, and the results were not positive. If you want to know more about sleep, check out the article I wrote here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/blog/sleep.
Just because you’re getting your nutrition on point doesn’t mean you should be feeling hungry all the time, and implementing some of these ‘hacks’ may help you reduce the prevalence of hunger, and therefore allow you to enjoy your food, and stay on track with your nutrition.
Conor O'Neill, Know Yourself Nutrition
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