Definition: An out of control ravenous desire to eat ALL THE FOOD preceded by a long run or a period of running consistently.
Runger often occurs several hours after a tough run, but frequently occurs a day or even two after the run. If not mitigated, runger can result in weight gain for runners, even those who are crushing serious miles.
The specimen at left in this image is at high risk of experiencing serious runger. I know this because it's me (identities of other runners have been protected so their own runger risk is not called into question). I completed a tough 15-miler on hilly trails the day before completing this pictured 8 mile run (the excellent BRRC Super Bowl Trail Run), and my mileage this week cracked 40.
However, I have an effective strategy for minimizing runger:
1. Smart fueling before long runs: Carbs power hard effort and long efforts. Eat a couple hours before the long run, including a good source of carbohydrates without too much protein, fiber and fat. Protein, fiber and healthy fats are a wonderful part of a nutritious diet, but they take a long time to digest (meaning they require blood you want going to your muscles during running AND they could lead to GI issues), and they don't provide immediate fuel.
2. Fueling during long runs (runs over 75 minutes): Consuming carbohydrates during long runs can A. Allow a runner to work harder, gaining more from training, and B. Prevent especially powerful runger by providing fuel along the way. If you're training for a half marathon or longer, it's likely you'll supplement with carbs during your race, so using them during training runs also provides the opportunity to experiment to find what works well for you.
3. Fueling immediately post run: After long runs, eating a snack with plenty of carbohydrates and a bit of protein will help the body recover quickly (4:1, carb to protein is a good ratio for endurance training). Skip the post-workout snack to "save" calories, and not only do you risk slower recovery, you risk a bad case of runger. A peanut or almond butter sandwich with banana will fit the bill, as would yogurt with plenty of fruit, or a homemade smoothie with frozen fruit and almond milk. Shorter speedwork and resistance training also require a post-workout snack (2:1, carb to protein is great here). The next opportunity for a meal after the post run snack should have plenty of protein. Skip the protein powders and choose real, whole foods!
4. Hydrate often: Consuming water, herbal teas and plenty of hydrating fruits and vegetables is important for all humans, but especially for those pursuing sweaty endeavors. Signals of thirst can easily be mistaken for hunger, leading to misplaced runger.
5. Eat a healthful diet the majority of the time: The food a runner eats throughout the week will determine how much energy he or she has, as well as how speedily and how well a runner bounces back from tough workouts. Additionally, when the body is nourished, cravings are minimized. What does a healthful diet look like? It's about half vegetables and fruit (heavier on the vegetables), about a quarter quality protein, about a quarter starchy vegetables or whole grains. If you follow that model about 80-90% of the time, that leaves plenty of room for treats.
6. Plan, plan, then plan some more: Plan meals and snacks with your rational mind ahead of time so you don't have to make a food decision while gripped with runger. Keep junk food out of the house and office space so if/when runger hits, you won't be tempted to overdo it on foods that don't support your training goals. Better to overdo it on fruit than a bag of chips.
Runners who practice these strategies can minimize negative impact of runger while maximizing the benefits from your training. Happy running!
About the Author: Lauren Shafer
Lauren is a certified Health Coach who helps busy Baltimoreans articulate their health + wellness goals, and make measurable, sustainable diet and lifestyle changes for lasting transformation. Though she would never be described as athletic in her youth, Lauren started running as an adult, begrudgingly at first, until she discovered she actually enjoyed it. Now an 9-time marathoner and 3-time ultra-marathoner, you’ll frequently find Lauren running on roads and trails with her husband John and dog Osita.