We’ve all heard of runner’s knee and the runner’s high, but have you heard about runner’s hunger, aka “run-ger”?
“Run-ger” is the delayed, increased appetite that may affect runners a few hours or even a whole day after long runs. I’ve heard many runners describe this powerful feeling of hunger that seems to blindside them long after they complete a run. Sometimes it’s difficult to quench run-ger, and you find yourself overeating because it just won’t go away. Oftentimes run-ger makes it challenging to make good eating decisions.
Oddly enough, the run-ger phenomenon is lacking in research. In fact, studies have yet to uncover the reason why runners experience a significant increased appetite and consequent increase in food intake after exercising. Findings show participants experience minor changes in their levels of appetite-stimulating hormones, but, in the end, it didn’t impact their reported appetite levels or actual food intake.
How Exercise Impacts Appetite
Immediately after exercise, appetite-suppressing hormones are elevated, meaning you’re less likely to be hungry. Within 30 minutes though, these hormones decrease, which allows you to feel hungry. This is the point where everyone is going to feel differently. Research has found the following factors impact the intensity of appetite after exercise:
- A more intense and/or longer bout of exercise creates a greater calorie expenditure. Minimal studies have made a connection between this greater calorie burn and an increase in appetite hormones to help replenish the energy used. It could be your body’s way of signaling you to eat in order to provide the essential nutrients to repair and rebuild from a taxing workout.
- Gender seems to play a difference in appetite, but it’s still not certain exactly how. Some research suggests that women experience a greater increase in appetite-stimulating hormones in response to various situations.
- Body composition may impact a person’s response to the changes in appetite after exercise. Some research suggests that individuals with a high amount of body fat may be more sensitive to an increase in appetite-stimulating hormones than leaner individuals.
- Decreased post-exercise levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin may contribute to an individualized appetite response. A small amount of growing research has discovered that leptin levels are reduced by about 20% for the rest of the day after a high-intensity morning run. These reduced leptin levels could be one reason for an increase in appetite in runners.
Tips for Managing Run-ger
While a lot of factors contribute to your post-run appetite level, there are some key tactics you can implement to help control your hunger.
Start your run off right. Starting your runs with fuel in your tank can help prevent massive post-run calorie deficits. Try to have a snack or meal 30 minutes to 2 hours before runs.
Fuel your runs. Eating and drinking on long runs is a really good idea. Not only will it help you have a better run, but it could also help prevent run-ger. A good rule of thumb is to eat or drink something with carbs every 15–30 minutes during a run.
Use recovery nutrition. Within one hour of completing your run, eat or drink something with both carbohydrates and protein, even if you don’t necessarily feel hungry. This will begin to replenish needed calories and nutrients and hopefully prevent your body from signaling more intense hunger later in the day. (Chocolate milk is a beloved recovery drink because it has the perfect ratio of carbs and protein while tasting great.)
Note potential run-ger triggers. Since hunger responses are individualized, pay attention to factors that could contribute to an increase in your appetite like: the climate, length or intensity of your run, use or lack of fuel and hydration on your runs, choice of pre-run meal/snack and post-run nutrition. You may find that one of these factors triggers your run-ger or helps manage it better. Use this knowledge to implement strategies that set you up for success.