How to Avoid Feeling Hungry After Runs

woman taking a break from run to snack
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Many runners experience the rungries —that insatiable feeling of hunger you get after running. Perhaps it has happened to you. Either immediately after a run or hours later, you eat a meal or a substantial snack then soon after, you start to feel hungry again.

The feeling is completely normal, especially if you've recently started a new running regimen or you've increase your exercise frequency or intensity. Your body is burning more calories and it responds by craving more food. But this predicament can present a tough dilemma for runners who are trying to lose weight or stay at their current weight.

So what's a hungry runner to do? It is helpful to examine the causes of post-run hunger and then use simple tips to address the issue so that your body stays healthy and your running program stays on track.

It's normal to feel hungry after a run. Your body has just burned substantial calories and needs to replenish its stores. However, there are other reasons that you may want to eat after your workout that may have nothing to do with the need to refuel.

Causes of Post-Run Hunger

Before you can address your intense hunger after running, it is important to understand the potential causes. One or many of these scenarios may sound familiar.

Hormonal Changes

Scientists have studied the effects of running and other forms of exercise on hunger and food intake. The topic is an area of controversy for nutrition experts because some research has indicated that exercises increases the desire for food, while other studies have shown that exercise decreases food intake.

There are a number of different hormones that regulate hunger—including ghrelin leptin, and peptide YY (PYY). These hormones fluctuate in all of us and influence our desire to eat.

While you might expect that hunger-boosting hormones increase after running, at least one study has shown that they are lower after running—causing decreased food intake. However, a different study showed that hormones known to promote satiety (a feeling of fullness) also decrease after long distance runs.

Authors of one study concluded that while we know that exercise changes hormone levels, the relationships between the hormones is very complex. Additionally, many factors, including exercise duration, exercise intensity and your body fat percent may play a role in both hormone levels and how your body responds to the hormones.

The bottom line? Your hormone levels are probably impacted by your run. While your body may respond with decreased hunger you may also respond with increased hunger.

Dehydration

You are likely to finish your running workout feeling somewhat dehydrated. Even if you hydrate well during the run, most athletes finish feeling somewhat thirsty. This is more likely to be the case if you run in severe heat because you lose more fluids through sweat.

Some of us interpret thirst as hunger. While your body needs fluids, you may feel like you need food instead. The result? You finish your run and head to the refrigerator rather than the drinking fountain.

Poor Nutrition

You'll probably burn several hundred calories during your run. So, it is important that you consume enough calories prior to the workout to properly fuel the session. Running on a calorie deficit can not only affect the quality of your run but it can lead you to feel hungry both during and after your workout.

In addition, the quality of the calories you choose can make a difference. Consuming sugary and starchy foods provides a quick burst of energy but it is generally followed by a feeling of hunger—especially because your body burns those calories quickly during a run.

If you don't make good food choices before your run, your hunger may increase after your run.

Habit

Many of us—runners and non-runners alike—eat out of habit rather than in response to hunger. For example, you might head to the kitchen at lunchtime whether you need food or not.

This may happen after a run as well. It is very common to feel entitled to a big meal or an indulgent snack after completing a tough workout. Even if your run was short and you burned just a few hundred calories it is not uncommon to refuel with a beverage or a meal that contains two or three times the number of calories burned during exercise.

Coping Tips

There are a few different strategies you can use to manage the feeling of hunger after you finish your run.

Paying attention to what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat after your runs can help you to manage post-run hunger.

Spread out Your Calories

Spread out your calories by eating five to six small meals as opposed to three large ones during the day. If you wait too long for a large meal, you'll be starving and tempted to overindulge by the time you eat.

Eating more frequent, smaller meals helps keep you full and lets you stay in control. Keep some of these 100-calorie snacks on hand so you can control your calories but still satisfy your hunger when it hits.

And don't assume skipping meals, such as breakfast, will help you consume fewer calories overall. The opposite is usually true, as you end up eating more later in the day than you would have if you ate a balanced breakfast.

Eat High-Fiber Foods

Get lots of healthy, high-fiber foods in your diet throughout the day. Most high-fiber foods require more chewing, which helps to satisfy hunger. High-fiber foods are also bulky so they fill up your stomach faster and can also delay the time it takes your stomach to empty.

Also, many high-fiber foods are low in calories, so you can satisfy your hunger with fewer calories. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are great sources of fiber.

Drink Plenty of Water

In the hours after your run, drink plenty of fluids—especially water. Then if you continue to feel hungry after eating, try drinking a glass of water. This will help you to determine if you're getting a false feeling of hunger, Wait a couple of minutes and if you feel satisfied, you're probably just thirsty.

Throughout the day, make sure you're staying hydrated so you can ward off those thirst signals that feel like hunger pangs. Do a urine check to make sure that you're well-hydrated. Your urine should be a light lemonade color. If it's dark yellow, you need to drink more water. You can also drink water before and with your snacks and meals to prevent overindulging.

Slow Down When You're Eating

It takes your body about 20 minutes to realize that it's full. If you eat too quickly, you'll consume unnecessary calories while your body is figuring out whether it's hungry.

By the time your body realizes that it's full, you've already eaten more than you needed. It's especially important to slow down your eating after a hard workout or long run when it's very tempting to give into post-run cravings because you figure you earned it.

If you eat slowly, your brain will start sending signals to stop eating at the right time. This is another reason to spread your calories out during the day—you won't be starving when it's time to eat, so you'll take your time eating.

What Not to Do

There are a few common mistakes that runners make when managing their hunger after a run. Try to avoid these common blunders.

Fill Up on Junk Food

While it can be tempting to grab a bag of salty chips, candy, or other empty calorie foods, the food you choose after your run plays a key role in how well your body recovers and rebuilds.

Experts recommend refueling with a combination of high-quality carbs and protein. While you can invest in post-run supplements and other products, chocolate milk has been determined in scientific studies to be just as effective.

Overconsume Carbs

Carbo loading used to be a popular strategy before runs. But overconsuming carbohydrates after the run is a common habit among some runners as well.

For example, you might grab a big bowl of pasta as your post run meal. Or you might crave a stuffed baked potato or some other starchy comfort food. The problem is that these foods don't contain enough protein or fiber to promote a feeling a fullness.

The result is that you feel hungry again shortly after eating.

Mindlessly Eat

While enjoying some post run rest and relaxation, it can be easy to grab a bowl of snacks and mindlessly eat. Similarly if you enjoy a post-run happy hour, it can be easy to gobble up chips or pretzels without paying attention to how much you are actually consuming.

The problem with this habit is that the calories don't provide good nutrition (macro and micronutrients that promote recovery) and you're likely to overeat.

Recipes and Meal Suggestions

The key to managing hunger after a run is to plan ahead. Have foods or meals prepared in advance so that you have healthy and nutritious choices ready to go when you need them. Then when you return from your run, fill up on foods that help you to feel full and also provide your muscles with optimum nutrition for recovery.

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Article Sources

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  • Leal-Cerro, A. (1998). Serum Leptin Levels in Male Marathon Athletes before and after the Marathon Run. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 83(7), 2376–2379. doi:10.1210/jc.83.7.2376


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