As runners, we often focus a lot on pre-run fueling to ensure we have the energy and strength to have a good run without suffering any gastrointestinal distress. With long runs, we also spend a lot of care planning our fueling and hydration strategy for each chunk of miles, ensuring that our glycogen stores stay adequately stocked to avoid “bonking” or “hitting the wall.”
But what about feeling hungry after a workout? Have you ever finished a hard workout or long run and felt an insatiable hunger for the rest of the day, even if you have a sizable post-run snack?
Sometimes, no matter how much food you eat for the rest of the day, it can feel like your appetite after running or working out is disproportionately extreme.
While this could be little more than a nuisance and an uptick in the grocery bill for some runners, if you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight within a tight range, feeling hungry after a workout can be frustrating and worrisome in terms of derailing your weight loss goals.
In this guide, we will look at the causes of feeling hungry after a workout and how to best satisfy your hunger after working out to help ensure your body has the nutrition it needs to recover and support your training while not packing on the pounds.
We will look at:
- Why Am I So Hungry After Working Out?
- Hungry After A Workout? Factors That Can Affect Your Appetite After a Workout
- 7 Tips for Managing Hunger After Workouts
Let’s get started!
Why Am I So Hungry After Working Out?
The portmanteau “hangry” has entered the common vernacular in recent years to describe feeling angry or irritable because you are so hungry.
It seems like runners could easily coin their own term, “runger” to describe feeling like you have an insatiable appetite after a run.
One study noted that up to 75% of exercisers engage in compensatory eating, meaning that they increase their food intake after the workout. This study found that exercise increased the amount of food eaten and shifted food choices as well to more immediately-gratifying options.
Endurance exercise has been shown to increase ghrelin, the hunger hormone, because it appears to play a role in increasing exercise endurance and time to exhaustion. On the other hand, most studies show that exercise has little to no effect on appetite afterward.
Some runners seem to be more prone to feeling hungry after a workout, while others tend to have the opposite experience, finding exercise to suppress their appetite. For this latter group, refueling after a run can even be challenging because any kind of solid food, and even certain drinks, can be entirely unappealing.
The type of workout can potentially affect your appetite and the palatability of food after exercise.
Finally, some runners don’t feel hungry after a workout, but later in the day, their voracious appetite hits full force. After satisfying the hunger by eating a large snack or meal, hunger will quickly return.
Hungry After A Workout? Factors That Can Affect Your Appetite After a Workout
Although the degree to which you feel hungry after exercise does seem to be somewhat of an individual response, there are several factors that can influence your appetite after a workout or running, including the following:
#1: The Intensity of Your Workout
If you notice your “runger” pangs are particularly noticeable after long runs but are virtually absent after speed workouts, you’re not alone. The intensity of exercise can affect how hungry you feel after working out.
This might actually be one reason why this style of high-intensity training may be beneficial for weight loss.
If the workout itself not only burns calories and increases your metabolic rate (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)) but also reduces the number of calories you eat for the rest of the day, your caloric deficit will increase, accelerating the rate of weight loss.
It’s important to note that some studies show that long runs at a moderate intensity do not increase appetite but rather decrease appetite and relative energy intake after the workout.
#2: Your Sex
Interestingly, although the mechanisms of action have yet to be fully elucidated, it seems like your sex may influence your appetite and rebound caloric intake after exercise.
Studies show that women seem to have a greater increase in appetite-stimulating hormones after a workout and tend to consume more calories relative to the amount of energy they burn while exercising compared to men.
#3: Your Body Composition
Some evidence suggests that your body fat percentage or level of adiposity (fat tissue) can affect your sensitivity to appetite-stimulating hormones.
Some, but not all studies, show that obese individuals are typically more sensitive to appetite-stimulating hormones and may do more compensatory eating after physical activity than leaner people.
We tend to think of body fat tissue as a bunch of inert cells, but adipose tissue is metabolic- and hormonally-active tissue that communicates with the brain by releasing hormones.
In other words, if you carry more body fat, your desire to eat a disproportionately large number of calories after exercising isn’t necessarily just a psychological craving or “lack of willpower.” Rather, there may be an exaggerated physiological response of hunger hormones in people with more body fat that can trigger a biological drive to eat more.
#4: The Time of Day You Run
It may be that the time of day for your run affects your post-workout hunger and how much you end up eating over the course of the day.
One small study found that morning exercise increased total energy intake during the entire day by about 200 calories over baseline, whereas evening exercise seemed to reduce total daily caloric intake by about 20 calories compared to baseline.
#5: Your Overall Energy Balance
If you aren’t eating enough calories, you will be hungry. The body is programmed to survive, which means it doesn’t want to be in a negative energy balance (losing weight).
When your caloric intake is insufficient to support your training and overall physical activity and energy needs, your body starts burning its own muscle tissue for energy.
This is particularly likely if you try to run on a carbohydrate-restricted diet. When glycogen stores are low, the body turns to muscle protein to supply a greater percentage of energy for exercise.
Catabolizing muscle is deleterious to your athletic performance and also reduces your metabolic rate.
Moreover, perhaps unsurprisingly, research indicates that the desire for food—both healthy food and unhealthy foods—increases with a loss of fat-free mass (muscle tissue), indicating the importance of preserving lean tissue even if you are losing weight.
Resistance training can play an important role in helping maintain muscle mass while running and/or dieting, both of which have catabolic effects on the body.
7 Tips for Managing Hunger After Workouts
Feeling hungry after a workout is a normal, healthy biological response. Your body just burned a lot of calories, so the drive to replace them is an important survival response.
Refueling after running helps ensure your body has the necessary nutrients to repair and rebuild any microscopic tissue damage. This not only helps prevent injuries but also allows your body to adapt positively to your training and get stronger.
However, if you’d like to satisfy your hunger and prevent a day of mindless eating and constant grazing, here are a few tips to reduce or manage post-workout hunger:
#1: Eat As Soon As You Can
Even if you are trying to lose weight, it’s important not to starve yourself or withhold calories after running.
Most nutritionists recommend a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein in your post-workout meal or snack. It is ideal to aim for at least 75 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein.
Many runners delay the post-run snack, especially if they have lost their appetite, but this can end up causing an exaggerated rebound hunger response later in the day. Having a snack right away can help keep hunger levels reasonable.
#2: Fuel Your Runs
Particularly on long runs, it’s important to keep your body well-fueled to prevent glycogen depletion, which can cause a voracious appetite later on.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ingesting 30–60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during endurance exercise is ideal.
This equates to 120-240 calories of carbohydrates per hour. These carbohydrates can come from sports beverages, energy gels or chews, or foods such as dried fruit, pretzels, bananas, or honey packets.
#3: Eat More Protein
Protein has been found to increase satiety, so make sure your overall diet has enough protein to support your training.
Protein may increase hunger-satiety hormones. For example, one study found that eating eggs for breakfast increased feelings of fullness compared to eating breakfast cereal, even if the total caloric intake was the same.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume at least 1.2–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, a runner weighing 154 pounds (70 kg) should consume at least 84-140 grams of protein daily to meet their physiological needs.
#4: Load On Up Fiber
Like protein, fiber increases satiety and adds bulk or volume to your food without adding many calories. Fiber takes longer to digest, so meals and snacks high in fiber can provide more lasting satiety.
Healthy high-fiber foods include most vegetables, legumes like beans and lentils, avocados, seeds, nuts, and fruits.
One word of caution: limit your fiber intake before your workout, as fiber can cause digestive distress when you are running.
#5: Eat Your Calories
When you finish a hard workout and have no appetite, a smoothie, protein shake, or another form of recovery drink can be a great way to get in your calories because liquids can be more palatable when you’re not hungry.
In this way, you can somewhat mindlessly slurp down the calories your body needs.
The same principles apply in reverse: It’s easy to take in a lot of calories through juices, milk, sports drinks, smoothies, etc., without your body really registering that you’re “eating” or taking in calories.
Therefore, if you’re trying to watch your caloric intake or lose weight, try to eat your calories in solid foods rather than drink them.
Studies even show that the more chewing the food requires—crunchy foods versus soft, puréed foods—the more satiety the food seems to bring. The brain may register chewing as an indication of fullness, or the actual practice of chewing may increase the secretion of satiety hormones.
#6: Drink More Water
Dehydration is often confused with hunger, and you lose more fluids from sweating than you might think. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your runs to maintain normal hydration status.
Listen to your body. If you are hungry after a workout, or in general, eat. Sometimes, depriving yourself just leads to more overeating later on.
So, if you are hungry after a workout, use these tips to help satiate that “runger”! Also, if you are looking for a diet to keep you healthy and strong for your running, check out our diets for runners.