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Providing Choice in Exercise Influences Food Intake at the Subsequent Meal


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 10 - p 2110–2118
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001330
Applied Sciences

The benefits of regular exercise for health are well established; however, certain behaviors after exercise, such as unhealthy or excessive food consumption, can counteract some of these benefits.

Purpose To investigate the effect of autonomy support (through the provision of choice) in exercise—relative to a no-choice condition with matched energy expenditure—on appetite and subsequent energy intake.

Methods Fifty-eight men and women (body mass index, 22.9 ± 2.3 kg·m−2; peak oxygen consumption, 52.7 ± 6.4 mL·kg−1·min−1) completed one familiarization session and one experimental trial, in which they were randomized to either a choice or no-choice exercise condition using a between-subjects yoked design. Ad libitum energy intake from a laboratory test meal was assessed after exercise, together with perceptions of mood, perceived choice, enjoyment, and value.

Results Despite similar ratings of perceived appetite across conditions (P > 0.05), energy intake was significantly higher after exercise performed under the no-choice condition (2456 ± 1410 kJ) compared with the choice condition (1668 ± 1215 kJ; P = 0.026; d = 0.60). In particular, the proportion of energy intake from unhealthy foods was significantly greater after exercise in the no-choice condition (1412 ± 1304 kJ) compared with the choice condition (790 ± 861 kJ; P = 0.037, d = 0.56). Participants in the choice condition also reported higher perceptions of choice (P < 0.001), enjoyment (P = 0.008), and value (P = 0.009) relating to the exercise session, whereas there were no between-condition differences in mood (P > 0.05).

Conclusions A lack of choice in exercise is associated with greater energy intake from “unhealthy” foods in recovery. This finding highlights the importance of facilitating an autonomy supportive environment during exercise prescription and instruction.

School of Human Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Kym Guelfi, Ph.D., School of Human Sciences (M408), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA, 6009, Australia; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2017.

Accepted for publication May 2017.

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine