Individual Variation in Hunger, Energy Intake, and Ghrelin Responses to Acute Exercise

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This study aimed to characterize the immediate and extended effect of acute exercise on hunger, energy intake, and circulating acylated ghrelin concentrations using a large data set of homogenous experimental trials and to describe the variation in responses between individuals.


Data from 17 of our group's experimental crossover trials were aggregated yielding a total sample of 192 young, healthy males. In these studies, single bouts of moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercise (69% ± 5% V˙O2 peak; mean ± SD) were completed with detailed participant assessments occurring during and for several hours postexercise. Mean hunger ratings were determined during (n = 178) and after (n = 118) exercise from visual analog scales completed at 30-min intervals, whereas ad libitum energy intake was measured within the first hour after exercise (n = 60) and at multiple meals (n = 128) during the remainder of trials. Venous concentrations of acylated ghrelin were determined at strategic time points during (n = 118) and after (n = 89) exercise.


At group level, exercise transiently suppressed hunger (P < 0.010, Cohen's d = 0.77) but did not affect energy intake. Acylated ghrelin was suppressed during exercise (P < 0.001, Cohen's d = 0.10) and remained significantly lower than control (no exercise) afterward (P < 0.024, Cohen's d = 0.61). Between participants, there were notable differences in responses; however, a large proportion of this spread lay within the boundaries of normal variation associated with biological and technical assessment error.


In young men, acute exercise suppresses hunger and circulating acylated ghrelin concentrations with notable diversity between individuals. Care must be taken to distinguish true interindividual variation from random differences within normal limits.

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