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I ran before lunch today, same breakfast and same lunch-size as always, I also lifted weights yesterday so it seems like I should be hungrier than usual. But I was too full to eat the dessert I bought with my lunch (I usually don't buy one.)

On regular days, I could easily eat a desert after lunch if I had one.

So my hypothesis is that cardio can actually decrease your appetite, has there been any studies to confirm this? Does anyone share my experience? How would this work biologically?

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Certainly there have been many studies, as Sean Duggan referenced, asserting appetite-inhibition effects of exercise. I have never seen much more than educated speculation as to the root cause (e.g., certain hormone levels). For example, according to a paper by David Stensel published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism:

The mechanisms by which acute exercise suppresses appetite are not fully understood but may involve lowered concentrations of ghrelin and increased concentrations of satiety hormones, notably peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide 1.

But as Sean says it is usually more a delay since your body will eventually need to find replacement calories to fuel it. My experience is mostly with runners, bikers, and swimmers (and mostly semi-competitive). I've found that for about a half hour to an hour after exercise those people typically don't want to eat. After that delay of course you want (and need) food. As a marathon runner, I have found that how much I eat scales like this:

  • Not Running (X)
  • First Two Months Getting Into Shape (0.8*X)
  • Steady Routine (1.5*X)
  • Running 45-75 Miles/Week (3*X + X * (Miles - 45) / 10 ).

Keep in mind that scale is personal and not a one size fits all. So I think that yes even on a whole I eat less in the first two months of running than with no exercise but after that the only appetite-inhibition seems to be the delay.

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Short answer, exercise does seem to have appetite-inhibition effects. However, the research does show that, while exercise makes you less inclined to eat in the period afterwards, it does not reduce the amount of calories that you consume (and may actually increase caloric intake if you "eat when you're hungry" past what's burned in exercise), merely delays it.

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