Woman eating a healthy breakfast

How exercise influences your diet

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Could exercise be the key to a better diet? Exercise physiologist Andrew Cate examines the latest research on the role exercise plays in helping to reduce snacking.

The connection between exercise and diet

Exercise is more than just a strategy to get fit and lose body fat. It brings with it a raft of physical and psychological benefits.

Plus, it triggers behavioural changes that improve the way we eat. Research tells us that regular exercise can help to reduce kilojoules consumed, increase meal planning, reduce eating speed, reduce dietary fats and increase protein consumption. 

The relationship between exercise and snacking

A recent study has helped to expand our understanding of the connection between exercise and diet. The study on over 2000 young adults examined the changes in diet following a 15 week program of exercise. The workout routine involved cardiovascular training for 30 – 40 minutes, 3 times per week. 

One of the most interesting findings was the impact that exercise had on snacking - a crucial eating behaviour for weight control and health. 

According to the researchers, processed snack foods are usually high in sugar, salt and fats. They are also cheap, easy to access and easy to store compared to healthier options such as fruits and vegetables. 

Snacking often occurs in the absence of hunger due to external factors such as pleasure, taste, and convenience. 

The researchers found that subjects who were consistent with exercise showed a decrease in snacking following training. 

This reduced urge to snack following exercise could have a significant impact on our weight and overall health and wellbeing.
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Get in the mood to move

What seems clear is that exercise goes hand in hand with better eating habits. And it doesn’t seem to matter what type of exercise you do. 

Participants in the study mentioned above chose from a variety of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise machines, including the treadmill, elliptical trainer, stepper, and/or exercise bike. 

They were given no clear instructions on changing their diet, yet the more compliant subjects were with sticking to exercise, the more likely they were to maintain a sensible pattern of eating after exercise; which included a high intake of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat foods, and a reduced intake of fried foods, and soft drinks. 

When the intention of improving your health develops, the thought of both moving more and eating better can be daunting. It’s a double barrier that might be a bridge too far for some. 

The researchers even noted that imposing multiple goals often discourages, rather than motivates people to improve their health behaviors within a busy schedule. 

However, just starting to move more by itself could be seen as a means to not only better your health, but it might even trigger improvements in your diet without having to focus on it.

Finally, the researchers also warned that exercise in some people could trigger the opposite effect - compensatory behaviours. While they acknowledge that more research is needed, it suggests that some people might allow themselves to eat more palatable but unhealthy foods because they feel better for exercising.