Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Susan Paul
I am training for my first marathon. My long run this past weekend was 18 miles. Everything is going pretty well with my training except after the long runs I find I am so hungry that I eat everything in sight all day long! What gives? Anything I can do to prevent this?
It is very easy to eat all day after a long run and feel totally justified about it! I think all marathoners have done that at one time or another! Unfortunately, it is way too easy to out eat our running, even when you’re training for a marathon. But yes, there are some things you can do to help curb your post-run appetite.
First, consider what and when you are eating after your run. Your post-run recovery meals and snacks should consist of carbohydrates and plenty of protein. It’s important to include both protein- and carbohydrate-loaded foods like whole grain breads or cereals, fruits, vegetables, eggs, lean meats, or a vegetable protein in your post-run meals. Also, eat as soon as you can after finishing your run, preferably within 20 minutes but don’t wait longer than 2 hours. If you feel like you just can’t eat after a run, try drinking your nutrition with a protein shake.
Your body is designed to extract much-needed nutrients from your food quickly and efficiently after a long run, so don’t deny it! Protein is important post-run because it’s necessary for building and repairing muscles. Long runs can cause micro-tears in muscle tissue which must be repaired, hence the need for protein.
Carbohydrates are essential for re-fueling glycogen stores that become depleted on long runs. Long runs call for supplements, like Gu’s or gels, which are loaded with sugar. They cause a spike in our blood sugar, which we need on the run, but what goes up must come down. As blood sugar levels plummet, we take another supplement and the up, down, up, down creates a blood sugar roller coaster. It gets us through the long miles but it’s important to stabilize blood sugar levels as soon as you can. Eating the proper nutrition helps you gain control over your blood sugar. A long run affects your blood sugar for some time afterwards because your body remains in high gear for several hours post-run, causing blood sugar levels to continue to drop even though you are not exercising.
Another strategy for leveling out blood sugar levels is to try taking smaller amounts of your run nutrition at more frequent intervals on your long runs. For example, take a half or one third of a packet at a time rather than the entire packet. This will give you the energy you need but smaller doses may help you avoid big spikes or falls in your blood sugar, making it easier for you to level out when you finish your run.
You may be mistaking hunger for thirst too. Our brain can mislead us sometimes by interpreting dehydration as hunger, leading us to eat more than we really should. Instead of eating, we should be drinking water or a sports drink. Try drinking a large glass of water or have a cup of herbal tea before you eat. Add some electrolytes to the mix too, make certain you are not washing them out with additional fluids or sweat.
Eating a small meal before your long run may help you avoid overeating later in the day too. Blood sugar levels are at their lowest in the morning after fasting all night, so a long run on top of already low blood sugar levels can get you in trouble. Top off your glycogen stores before your run to help prevent them from dipping too low by eating a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter or almond butter, an energy bar, or some whole grain cereal.
In summary, here’s your strategy to take charge of your post-run hunger:
- Eat a small pre-run breakfast.
- Ingest a smaller amount of run nutrition more frequently.
- Drink plenty of water. Have a large glass of water before eating anything every time you feel hungry.
- Have a protein shake or low-fat chocolate milk ready to drink within 20 minutes of finishing your run.
- Plan small nutritious post-run snacks and meals loaded with carbohydrates and protein.
Here are some good post-run food options that include both protein and carbs:
- Greek yogurt, banana, and berries or a Smoothie
- Low-fat chocolate milk and some fruit
- A protein shake with fruit
- Cereal and milk
- Bagel with protein, like an egg, and a latté
- Pretzels and hummus (the salt tastes so good!)
- Baked potato with cottage cheese
- Turkey sub
- Pasta and meatballs
All the best to you!
Susan S. Paul, MS