You’ve been working hard to power through each of those workouts every day. You’ve been sticking to an awesome eating strategy to balance your carbs, proteins and fats properly. You eat a great breakfast, lunch and dinner and you even fit in a couple of healthy snacks. Still, as soon as you finish your workout, all you can think about is chocolate, ice cream and donuts. Is the extra work the reason you crave chocolate?
Why is it that despite your best efforts to eat right and work out, you still find yourself dreaming about the foods that are least likely to benefit your goals? As it turns out, scientific study has been finding that there’s actually a reason you crave chocolate and other sweet treats after exercising. It has nothing to do with willpower or weakness. Instead, once we exercise, our bodies have been programmed to want to reach for something sugary.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology showed that exercising makes us notably more likely to crave sugar than not exercising. This research involved splitting a group of 88 college students into two groups. The experiment was designed as an “approach avoidance task” test. This made it possible to measure the automatic responses people have to various forms of stimulus. The researchers were able to gain a measurement of the immediate, unintentional and even very subtle responses from the volunteer participants.
The participants were asked to hold onto a joystick as they were provided dessert food images to look at. These food pictures were mixed in with other neutral images including items such as a light bulb or a wall clock.
Throughout the time the participants were looking at the pictures, the researchers monitored the hand movements of the participants holding the joysticks. Drawing the joystick closer to oneself is a reaction associated with more positive feelings whereas pushing the joystick away was less positive.
Next, one group of the volunteers were required to complete a 20 minute moderate intensity workout while the other group worked at a computer on a memory task. When those were complete, they were asked to hold the joysticks again and to look at the images.
What the results found was that the participants who did the exercises found the dessert images more appealing than the group that did the computer activity. The researchers who conducted the experiment suggested that this could be an evolutionary inclination to try to replace some of the energy that was burned off through physical activity. The reason you crave chocolate is just your body ensuring that you have the energy you need to keep pushing yourself.