I was so psyched last year when I decided to train for my first half marathon. I expected to slim down and get so ripped from all that running, but to my surprise, I ended up gaining weight. Folks, I was a victim of runger.
What is runger, you ask? It's the insatiable, undeniable, monstrous feeling of hunger you get after running. It can happen hours or a day after a long run and even follow you all throughout your months while training for a race. And it sucks. Especially if you're running to lose weight. Because while running for 60 minutes at a 10-minute pace does burn 540 calories, the two pieces of pizza (544 calories) and two beers (200 calories) you feel physically compelled to inhale aftward add up to 744 calories!
So how do you deal with running-induced hunger while training for a race without gaining weight? We've enlisted the help of three experts, certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition, and Stephanie Clarke and Willow Jarosh of C&J Nutrition, registered dietitians and authors of Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook, to share some expert advice.
Start Off Right
They agree that being proactive and eating the right foods is key to keeping hunger at bay. Leslie says it's important to fuel yourself before and during your long runs. Eat something that offers easily digestible carbs and a little protein about an hour or two before your run. Nosh on whole-wheat crackers or a piece of toast with almond butter, a small fruit smoothie, regular yogurt (not Greek), or a banana with a handful of almonds.
Keep It Going
Then for every 45 to 60 minutes of exercise, Stephanie says to "consume 25 to 60 grams of carbs" plus water. Or for really long runs, go for "10 grams of carbs every 20 minutes." Play around with what works for you. You'll need to keep an energy source on hand like Gu, Shot Blocks, or Honey Stingers, or keep your water bottle filled with a healthy sports drink like Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer. This will prevent your energy levels from "bonking."
Finish With This
Leslie, Stephanie, and Willow all agree to eat a post-workout snack within 30 minutes after your run to refuel and stave off hunger later. Choose something that offers a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. A granola bar, yogurt with berries, chocolate milk, a small protein smoothie like this one made with watermelon, whole-grain toast with avocado and a hard-boiled egg, or an apple with peanut butter are great options. And be sure to hydrate to replace lost fluids. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for feeling hungry.
All Day Long
The rest of the day, a runner's diet should break down to 50 to 60 pecent carbs, 15 to 20 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fats. So if you're eating a 2,000-calories-a-day diet, that breaks down to 250 to 300 grams of carbs, 100 grams of protein, and 67 grams of fats. To ensure you get what you need, every meal should include a combo of these four things at every meal: protein such as beans, nuts, and lean meats; fiber such as fresh veggies; healthy fats like avocado, nut butters, and olive oil; and complex carbs like whole grains.
Remember that just because you're exercising a lot doesn't give you the green light to eat whatever you want, especially if weight loss is your goal. Use the hunger scale to determine when you need to eat — reach for something when you're at about a 3 (stomach starting to feel hungry) and stop at about a 7 (satisfied but not stuffed).
Throw These In
Staying ahead of your hunger before you feel famished will prevent you from wanting to eat your entire kitchen. This could mean that if you've always been a three-meals-a-day kind of gal that you start eating a couple snacks in between your meals. These should offer two out of these three macronutrients: proteins, carbs, and fats. And keep your snack to around 150 calories — this isn't a mini meal. A piece of fruit with a handful of nuts, veggies with hummus, or a few spoonfuls of avocado with sunflower seeds are healthy choices.