Managing Post-Run Hunger

By Jen Rawson, RD

Post-run hunger is real. So real in fact, there’s a term for it, “runger”. Whether it be immediately after a run, a few hours later, or even the next day, most runners will experience an uncontrollable hunger that ends with them two fists deep into the pantry. Runger is often the reason long-distance runners find themselves gaining weight even though they are exercising more. The good news is, there is a way to manage post-run hunger, fuel your recovery and feel good about your food choices. 

Plan Ahead

If you haven’t planned any food or snacks when hunger strikes, it’s likely you won’t choose the healthiest option but instead opt for quick and convenient food options which are often high in refined carbohydrates and offer limited nutritional value. These food choices also don’t keep you feeling full for very long which leads to you feeling hungry all the time. Planning is crucial to prevent becoming over-hungry and thereby allowing you to eat wholesome food choices that satisfy and keep you fuller longer.

Planning begins with post-run recovery. Recovery fuel includes a snack that includes both carbohydrate and protein within 30-minutes post run and a balanced meal 1-3 hours later. Before a run, plan what your post-run recovery snack and meal will be. It’s easier to plan balanced choices when you’re not in a hungry state. Quick items like smoothies, banana and peanut butter on toast, or a tuna salad sandwich work well.

Weekly meal planning is a great strategy for runners. Meal planning ensures you make balanced meals, have the groceries available in the house, and takes away the stress of trying to figure out what to eat at the end of the day or when you’re already hungry. If you know you get hungry quickly after a run, plan meals that are quick to prepare on run days so you don’t end up raiding the pantry while your meal is being prepared. Or take time on weekends to meal prep some prepared healthy meals such as stir-fries, burrito bowls, or pasta dishes with vegetables so that you can simply reheat and eat when hunger strikes.

Eat Frequently

Going long periods of time without eating can lead to becoming over hungry or starving which manifests as shakiness, irritability, or an inability to concentrate and can lead to making different dietary decisions that you normally would such as pulling into a drive-thru or ordering a doughnut with your coffee. While 3 meals a day may have worked for you previously, when increasing running distance, you will likely need to eat more often to regulate your hunger by incorporating snacks throughout your day. Going back to planning, if you are away from home, it’s important to pack balanced portable snacks with you so that when you feel your energy levels dipping or hunger coming on between meals you have a healthy option available.

Portable Snack Options: 

-Energy balls

-Homemade whole wheat muffins

-Trail mix

-Granola bars (look for higher protein/fibre options)

-Apple with a packet of peanut butter

-Vegetables with hummus

-Roasted chickpeas

-Egg muffin cups or hard-boiled eggs

-Flavoured canned tuna and crackers 

Aim for Fibre and Protein in Meals and Snacks

Because running can increase appetite, it’s important to make meals and snacks out of foods that give us sustained energy and keep us feeling fuller longer. While carbohydrates make great runners-fuel, they metabolize quickly which can leave us feeling hungry sooner. Choosing high-fibre carbohydrates and adding protein to meals and snacks will slow down digestion, regulate blood sugars and manage hunger.

Easy Ways to Add More Fibre to Your Diet:

-Aim for ½ plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.

-Add Beans! Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are high in fibre and can easily be added to a meal you already eat like black beans in omelettes, lentils stirred into pasta sauce, or chickpeas on top of salads. 

-Snack on nuts and seeds.

-Choose berries. All fruit is great for fibre but berries are especially high in fibre, plus they are versatile. Add them to smoothies, salads, oatmeal, or yogurt.

-Add whole grains like brown rice, quinoa or barley to your salads and soups.

-Use hummus as a sandwich spread and add vegetables.

 Simple Protein Boosts:

-Cook an egg into your morning oatmeal

-Top peanut butter toast with hemp hearts

-Add nuts or seeds to salads

-Make creamy salad dressings or pasta sauces from greek yogurt

-Puree white beans into your smoothies

-Top popcorn with nutritional yeast

-Spread ricotta cheese on crackers

Increased hunger from running is perfectly normal and you do need to consume extra energy to properly fuel your body and recover. But choosing high-quality foods, more frequently will help you feel good and energized longer rather than hungry every 15 minutes.