What Your Morning Appetite is Telling You About Your Body’s Fuel Needs

Is it normal to wake up starving? Nutritionists explain why hunger levels can fluctuate and what to do about it.

Ever had a morning when you wake up and find yourself completely ravenous? Normally you feel fine and content in the morning, but today you’re feeling so hungry. What gives? Well, it turns out the answer may lie in the way that you’re fueling your body.

The short answer is that yes, it can be completely normal to wake up feeling hungry.

“There is no scientific explanation for why we may wake up super hungry - it’s more a call to action to the body to fuel, rather than ignore,” explains Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, former sports dietician and author of The Active Calorie Diet.

Feeling ravenous in the AM? The best foods to reach for are high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Photo: Yanina Trekhleb/Unsplash

Because the body is an energy source, it doesn’t like to be in deficit, so those morning hunger pains may be the body’s way of crying for help.

“If we did not eat enough the day before, or even if we ate a lot of food too close to bedtime, or perhaps expended a lot more calories the day before, like running a marathon, but we might not have been overly hungry after, so fuel was not replaced, these can all lead to feelings of hunger the following morning,” explains Bonci.

If you are consistently waking up hungry though, it is something that you should address – though that can sometimes be hard because many factors influence hunger.

“Start by looking at your lifestyle as a whole,” explains Torey Armul, MS, RD, LD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Are you training for something? Have you been losing weight or are you hungry all day? Are you sleeping eight or more hours? These questions can help you figure out what’s going on and what’s triggering that hunger.”

If someone is chronically unintentionally under eating, waking up hungry may happen more frequently, too. Although calorie requirements are based on how active someone is, a ballpark calorie goal for women is around 16 to 22 calories per pound and for men, 20 to 30 calories per pound daily, according to Bonci.

“If you’re looking to take in more calories, reach for foods like dried fruit and nuts, yogurt with granola, and pita with hummus and cheese,” she says.

Dehydration Mistaken As Hunger

Staying hydrated daily can help whether you are truly hungry or not. Photo: Tirza Van Dijk/Unsplash

Improper hydration is another factor to consider when you wake up hungry. Often times, dehydration can make us feel hungry because the body strives for fluid balance.

“That doesn’t mean that a glass of water is a substitute for a meal, but it does mean that making sure fluid intake is adequate is an important strategy to follow every day,” explains Bonci. “Basic needs for women are 70 ounces of fluids a day and for men 100 ounces of fluid a day.”

Try things like having five servings of fruits and vegetables daily (they are 90 percent water, according to Bonci), and bookending your day with water, so you have a glass right when you get up and a glass before bed, as well as one with every meal.

How To Feed The Hunger

Try adding healthy fat and fiber to a smoothie with seeds and nut butters. Photo: Joanna Kosinska/Unsplash

If you do happen to wake up starving, it’s best to honor those feelings and eat something.

“I recommend eating something regardless of whether you’re planning on working out, going for a bike ride or run, or not,” says Armul. “Responding to those hunger cues with a small but nutritious snack can help manage your appetite the rest of the day.”

If you are planning to be active though, less is more. Too much food may lead to an upset stomach. “I recommend a small container of Greek yogurt with fruit or a little granola, a slice of whole grain bread with nut butter, a banana with nut butter or a small eight to 10-ounce smoothie made with yogurt and fruit,” says Bonci.

If you’re not planning to be active right away, you don’t have to worry about upsetting your stomach, but you should still be aware of the foods you’re taking in.

While your first instinct might be to eat a couple of the cookies sitting on the counter or scarf down a bowl of cereal, that probably isn’t the best choice because they won’t leave you feeling content.

“Opt for foods with protein, fiber and healthy fats, which are digested slowly and keep you feeling full longer,” suggests Armul. Think meats, cheeses, nuts and vegetables. Drinking fluids will also help quench hunger, so try having water as well.”

Ways to Prevent Morning Hunger

Eating your greens will stave off hunger and keep you fully hydrated, to boot. Photo: Marta Reis/Unsplash

Proper fueling throughout the day can help prevent those ravenous AM feelings before they even start.

Be sure you’re eating every four to five hours (or even three to four if you’re more active), and that you include protein in every meal.

“Include higher fiber carbohydrate sources, and some fat in your meals as well,” suggests Bonci. “And make it a point to take in enough fluids through beverages and produce.”

Some examples of extra-hydrating foods include watermelon, pears, grapes, berries, peppers, cabbage, spinach, squash, broccoli and yogurt, to name a few.

Appetite control is all about planning and making smart decisions – so that rash ones won’t have the chance to leave you feeling less than your best.

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