Feeling irritable as a result of not eating has become a common occurrence in our modern-day lifestyles. Back-toback meetings, working lunches and evening school runs can all make it difficult to schedule in time for consuming healthy meals.
This can leave you stressed, tired and emotional, not to mention less than eager to hit the treadmill. While it’s easy to blame your mood swings on your growing to-do list, you may be side-lining the real source of the problem: a lack of glucose. When you eat, your food is converted into glucose – your body’s preferred source of energy. If you go without food for a prolonged period of time, the glucose in your bloodstream will drop and if it falls far enough, your brain will identify this as a lifethreatening situation. The reaction to this is that you can find it hard to concentrate or become a little clumsy as well as feeling snappy and irritated.
Research also suggests that certain brain chemicals can contribute to your food-deprived anger. When nutrient levels drop and the body gets hungry your brain releases a chemical called neuropeptide. This chemical increases appetite but is also thought to have a similar effect on aggression, hence your irrational hanger.
Eating regularly is the best way to avoid bouts of hanger. It’s a good idea to keep snacks on hand if you know you have a busy day planned and might not get the chance to eat. Try opting for foods and snacks that have a good combination of protein, fibre and good fats as this will have less impact on blood sugar levels and can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Eggs are a great start to the day and grain-based salads can help stave of mid-afternoon hanger. If you need to snack, then try dried fruit and nuts or my favourite snack at the moment is Ryvita crispbreads with peanut butter and banana.
Again it’s all about take the time to eat something. If you’re already inflicted with hanger, however, you’ll need to focus on finding something nourishing that will raise your blood sugar levels up again. It can be tempting to reach for sugary snacks when you feel ravenous, but try to stick to the fibre-protein-fat combo to keep your energy levels steady. Instant gratification from sugar will soon wear off, exacerbating your hanger even further.
The fit bit
Interestingly, there has been a huge surge in the trend of exercising on an empty stomach. Experts are very much split on the topic, however. The fasted-cardio camp believe that if the body is depleted of glucose, the body will turn to fat as a source of energy but there is little evidence to back this up.
In reality, the body can store glucose as glycogen for up to 12-16 hours before it must be replenished, so, unless you’re fasting for extremely long stints (not recommended), it’s more than likely that you’ll have a little left for training. If there is not enough, however, and you don’t supply the body with glucose, then it is likely to breakdown muscle as a source of quick energy. If there is any glycogen present in the body, it will not choose to burn fat.
While it won’t kill you to workout without eating anything, it certainly won’t help you either. In order to have a kick-ass workout, the body needs to be fuelled and we know that the most efficient source is glucose. Without the correct nutrition, you run the risk of a lethargic exercise session where you fail to train to your fullest potential.
If you take it a step further and choose to workout whilst hangry as opposed to just hungry, the risks are even higher. By the time hanger sets in, your blood sugar levels have already been severely affected. You are likely to be feeling fuzzy and irritable and further exertion in this state could lead to light headedness, dizzy spells and nausea. You don’t need to tuck into a full-on meal before a workout but something small to refuel can make all the difference. Try a homemade fruit smoothie, banana with yoghurt or oats about 30 minutes before your workout.