Monday Master Class: Never Be Hungry

What Exercise Habits Reveal About Productivity

I was a varsity athlete through high school and into my first year of college. Because of this, I’m no stranger to the gym or exercise. Indeed, since leaving formal athletic programs, I would be hard-pressed to find a span of two weeks or more, excluding times of sickness or travel, in which I didn’t exercise. Some periods, however, have been more active than others. When I look back through my old gym charts, I note that some months I’m in the gym three times a week, working hard, and making progress. Other times, I limp in maybe once a week, before letting the other days slide. What explains the difference?

After some examination, I concluded that the explanation was as unexpected as it was simple: my snacking habits. During periods in which I am careful to bring in large snacks to eat mid-morning, an hour or so before my normal workout time, I get it done. During periods in which I let coffee fuel me through the morning, I am crippled by an overwhelming urge to procrastinate. “Maybe later,” I tell myself. But rarely follow through.

The Hunger Danger

This lesson, of course, extends beyond exercise. Hunger builds the urge to procrastinate to near unconquerable levels. If you’re hungry, it’s hard to convince yourself to study. And even if you start, it’s hard to convince yourself to study well. It also makes it hard to make a schedule, follow a plan, or stay consistent with your habits and systems. I would go so far as to claim: being hungry during the day is as damaging to your productivity as being drunk or sick. It must be taken seriously! Here a few tips to help you realize this importance:

  1. Schedule snacks as top priority events
    Don’t leave these to chance. Put aside the time on your calendar. Know where you are going to go and what your are going to get. Focus on healthy. And make sure you get enough.
  2. Have energy boosters handy
    A granola bar or bowl of instant oatmeal should be on hand and ready to go should the slightest tinge of hunger arrive. Bring something to class, in case half way though the lecture you begin to feel your attention crash. Avoid trash food. No pop-tarts. No candy bars. You’re not 11 anymore.
  3. Never allow yourself to feel hungry (or full)
    You know you are eating enough if you never reach a state of true hunger. This might take some getting used to. Most young people are used to waiting until their appetite really growls, and then satiating it with a huge meal. Do the opposite. Make your meals smaller, and snack more. You’ll never feel hungry, you’ll never feel stuffed, and your energy will burn much longer.

5 thoughts on “Monday Master Class: Never Be Hungry”

  1. Since your so driven, could you let us weaklings know what your routine was ( you used charts and you keep the old ones, wow, I just go in there and use those pathetic Nautilus machines)

  2. I’m hardly a gym rat (mainly because no matter how hard I work out I will always remain tall and lanky), but I do, as you note, use charts. Typically, I do a routine for 6 – 8 weeks. Then monkey-ass around randomly for a few weeks before starting a different routine. I use a chart to make sure I’m increasing the weights I use every two weeks. If you don’t increase the weight, the workout loses effectiveness.

    In terms of routines, I jump around between a lot of different things. Sometimes from books. Sometimes from the web. Sometimes I construct them myself. What they all have in common:

    – they’re quick (usually only two sets per exercise);
    – they’re with free weights (works out the whole body);
    – they’re hard (get to failure quick)
    – they’re spaced (2 – 3 days a week, 7 days between working the same muscle)

    Not sure if this is good or bad. It won’t turn you into one of those monsters from the MTV spring break specials. But it seems to keep me healthy.

  3. Hey,

    I completely agree with you here. Being hungry reduces your vitality – I’m always up for doing harder tasks when I’m full. In general, it makes you a more positive person, and tasks seem easier when you’re full.

    I’m a new reader, and really appreciate the tips you’ve given. Most of the stuff you say is unique and different compared to other websites. Best of all, you often suggest tips which reaffirm many of the things I’ve figured out while improving my time management skills (through the hard way).

    One thing that causes me the most difficulty is actually figuring out how much time to allocate for each class/activity. Often, problem sets take *much* longer than expected or I do worse than I expect on a practice test while studying for a test and then spend *a lot* of time trying to catch up before a midterm.
    I’m all for setting a cutoff time during the day when I think I’ll be finished for work, but a lot of the time things take longer than I plan.

    How do you decide how much time things will take? I realize that my estimating skills will improve with time, but is there a specific procedure you use or do you have any tips in general? Also how do you adapt your schedule when something takes longer than expected? Adapting my schedule to things that show up during crunch time often is the thing that upsets my planning.

    Thanks for the help!

  4. Thanks for the nice comment.

    You ask a good question. As you note, some work — mainly problemsets
    — can defy attempts to be squeezed into a certain time frame. I often
    try to consolidate all of my work that can be consistently done in a
    certain amount of time. I then get this out of the way, efficiently,
    and leave, in essence problemset type work for a time where I can keep
    going if I need to. For example, working with Jake (from college
    chronicles), we shifted his schedule so he had a whole day to work on
    a tricky problem set. The hope was he wouldn’t need the whole day —
    but if he did, it was there.

  5. I agree to a point. I’ve started going Paleo (no grains and dairy) and find I can hold out much longer with a high fat meat or veggie (or handful of nuts) than the carbs. For example, if I have a solid cup of cooked chard + 1/2 cup of cooked meat, I’m good for 4 hours.

    Also, there is research that is much in favor of exercising on an empty or hungry stomach. It works for me.


Leave a Comment