Appetite and Metabolism

I have a lot of variability in the people I coach.  In thinking about them over the last few days they all basically fall somewhere across two variables—appetite and metabolism—creating four quadrants.  Two quadrants are happy—your appetite matches your metabolism and activity.  Two are not—your appetite doesn’t match your metabolism and activity.  Here’s how I envision it:

Best case scenarios are when appetites match activity levels and metabolism.  If you’re one of these people, God hooked you up.  For the rest of us—we’ve got to survive on our wits and creativity to reach our daily nutrition goals.  In the coming days I’m going to cover each of the quadrants and discuss some possible tips and solutions to make life a little easier in each quadrant.  We’ll start with Big Appetite-Big Metabolism.

[Please note that I’m not a registered dietician or doctor and these approaches are based primarily on me and my experiences.  I haven’t had any medical conditions up until now, thank God.  This is just what I’ve learned from ten years of journaling what I eat, trying every fad diet, persevering through an emotional roller coaster of failure, and finally finding success at the end of it.  If you’ve got a medical condition you should be consulting with a medical professional.]

Big Appetite-Big Metabolism

You’ve been blessed with high metabolism, you’re active, and you love to eat.  I’m so jealous of you it hurts.  Your challenges are: 1) eating within your split of macronutrients (protein, carb, fat) to maximize performance and body composition goals, 2) eating levels of simple carbs consistent with your activity level, and 3) getting plenty of micronutrients through whole foods to support all the critical “behind-the-scenes” internal body processes.

Possible approach to problem #1: It’s taken me an embarrassing number of years into my flexible dieting journey to identify this, but even if you’re completely winging it each day (which is to say you haven’t planned the day, you’re just going to each your earlier meals and then shoe-horn in some weird stuff at dinner to hit your macros), it’s a lot easier if you eat a breakfast more or less in line with your macro split for the day.  If you’re on a 40/30/30 carb, fat, protein split make something like overnight oats engineered to land around that split.  This way it’s done, it can be eaten quickly, and you’ve reduced the number of macros you’re freestyling.  Smaller window in which to make a mistake.

Possible approach to problem #2:  The If it Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) community, as it relates to body composition, says, “a carb is a carb.”  In other words they’re saying, “If your nutrition plan includes eating 250 grams of carbs per day, white rice will have the same impact as brown rice.”  It’s obviously going to be different for everyone, but I believe this to be true within a defined window of low to moderate activity levels.  The evidence for this is empirical—there are tons of amateur/natural bodybuilders that get absolutely shredded for physique competitions that don’t eat exclusively “clean.”  However, these guys are generally doing something along the lines of a bro workout and some low intensity Stairmaster.  Couple this with caloric restriction, and while they may be eating candy pre-workout and making less optimal carb selections, they’re not eating an outrageous number of carbs anyway.  However, this isn’t the case for someone either doing higher activity work (competitive Crossfit, triathlon, etc.), or someone that’s eating more because they’re trying to gain weight or trying to recomposition their body at maintenance calories.  When I was a triathlete I was actually a flexible dieter and tracked all my food on MyfitnessPal.  What I eventually figured out was that my macros needed to fit my activity level, but within the energy system I was utilizing (sprints days needs are different than 4-hour easy rides).  To put it simply—if you’re doing clean and jerk triples you’re using sugar, and if you’re out for a two hour run at a slow, sustainable pace you’re using mostly fat for energy (unless you’re plying yourself with Gu, Gatorade or other sugar during your training).  There’s an energy system in between these two extremes but this is basically it.  I was frustrated that I was doing thousands of calories worth of work per week, was eating in a deficit, and was not losing weight.  I was eating too many carbs—once I started eating what I needed to sustain performance (and no more) and backfilled the remaining calories (still in a deficit) into protein and fat I started losing weight.  So yes, at lower levels, all carbs behave relatively equal specific to body recomposition, but that may not be the case for everyone once your energy requirements get greater.

So the take-away is to not blindly follow a macro calculator—take ownership of it, tinker, experiment, and find the balance between fueling your workouts, adaptation, and recovery, but seek to find your optimal macro-nutrient split.  You may be perfectly fine eating an abundance of carbs– we’re all different– but if you’re struggling, this may be something to look at.

Possible approach to problem #3: I’m a meat and potatoes guy and I’ve basically had to create life hacks for eating vegetables (when they’re not lathered in butter, cream, and parmesan).  They first thing I do is have Superfoods green powder on hand—either in my refrigerator or I have the convenient travel packets.  Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a better option than when I announced I was a grown man and was retiring from eating salads.  That’s my bare minimum—if nothing else I have a scoop every day, so I’m already better off than I was before.  The next step is if I have a blender smoothie that day.  If I do I try to get at least 3 different colors of the rainbow in the form of vegetables.  The last step is entrée salads—at least three times per week I dump every color of the rainbow into a big bowl and eat it.  I have a weekly accountability checklist on the refrigerator (hit every lift once, run once, swim once, etc.– for another blog).

I hope this offers some ideas for you lucky folks with big appetites and the matching metabolism!

Author: Asher

I worked as a CPA for 10 years before jumping into a fitness industry career. I'm Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified, a Crossfit Level 1 trainer, and an Eat-to-Perform certified nutrition coach.