Knowledge Base Nutrition

Athletes and Hunger: Do we eat because we are hungry?

I caught myself considering buying a set of titanium bolts for my racing machine. You save 5 grammes – has to be worth it! At the very latest when the climb gradient reaches double figures, we curse every gramme which helps our physical enemy, gravity to make life hard for us. It is almost a meditative therapy to imagine ordering the pretty package, opening it and replacing the steel bolts in the evening in the workshop.

Dr. med. Bernhard Rinderknecht *

athletes meal

Hunger or desire?

What will make me happier, is the question I ask when considering whether I should eat a piece of cake before going to bed or not. I am certainly hungry enough – or is it just a treat? Am I simply tired after hard training or stress at work? Anyway, an inner conversation is taking place, all about my feelings. These feelings are manifold: Anticipation of the pleasure of the first bite through the thick icing clashes with questions like Am I really hungry? Will I be more content after I have eaten the cake or rather if I don’t eat it? Everyone know these feelings – especially athletes, because weight in your sporting instrument on on your body is significant.

Well, I didn’t buy the titanium bolts but this was perhaps while for me the 5 grammes are not so relevant. From 2003 to 2006, I lost 50kg body weight. That is 10,000 x 5 grammes. And on the way from 133kg colossus, to 83kg ironman, and afterwards, where I have managed to keep the weight stable, I gained so much knowledge, insight and experience, that although a saving of 5 grammes on my racing bike would be nice, there are things which are more important for my campaign against overweight.

Feeling Hungry?

One of these central questions is the many reasons for eating! If I ask my sports students to name the most important reason for eating, I regularly get the answer “hunger”. Is that right though? So I ask them “When were you last hungry?” I don’t just mean a slight superficial pang but a really strong pressing nagging hunger. Perhaps this might be the time to look at yourself more closely and to ask what your own reasons are for eating.

So what thoughts and feelings are playing along here? Is it habit, opportunity, boredom, tiredness, anger, euphoria? Or the worry that we athletes won’t be able to make the next climb without a gel? Observing oneself a day long and checking why one is eating, can help a lot. Someone who has made a career out of this is the nutritional psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink. You can experience in his fascinating book “Mindless Eating” intriguing things and read how we let ourselves be tempted to eat. More or less the opposite book is “Mindful eating” by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays. She leads us step by step as doctor and Zen-nun through exercises to more careful eating.

So have fun with your self-observation and self-awareness and with your reading!

*Dr. med. Bernhard Rinderknecht knows what he is talking about.
Dr. Rinderknecht is a medical doctor, specialist for gynaecology, and birth assistance and specialist for pathology and gynaecological cytology. He runs, as well as his practice, a medical diagnostic laboratory and advises managers in fitness and working fitness matters ( Then he is an external lecturer at the institute for sports science at Basel university (ISSW) with the accent on weight regulation in sports and influence of hormones on weight reduction in women. Bernhard is a two time ironman finisher (Nice and Zürich) and as part of an experiment on himself, improved from being a 133kg heavy couch potato, to being an 83kg ironman and racing cyclist. He is a Member of our team of experts and can be contacted via the link.