Have you ever finished a long run or hard workout and felt an insatiable hunger for the rest of the day? If so, you’re likely familiar with runger, a humorous term that describes feeling hungry after running.
But, what causes runger?
In this guide, we will look at the causes of an increased appetite after running, and how to best prevent runger by providing your body with the nutrition it needs to recover and support your training while also not gaining unwanted weight.
We will cover:
- What Is Runger?
- Why Am I So Hungry After Running?
- 5 Tips to Prevent Runger
Let’s get started!
What Is Runger?
“Runger” is not a technical term but a term coined by the running community to describe an increase in appetite after running.
Essentially, runger is a portmanteau of running and hunger, in the same way that “hangry” describes being so hungry that you are angry or irritable (hunger + angry).
The reason that runger has become a recognized term because runners often feel really hungry during their training or as a result of running, so it is a common phenomenon that almost every runner has experienced.
Why Am I So Hungry After Running?
Hunger is a natural physiological sensation the body produces to help stimulate you to eat.
In general, your body is pretty well adjusted and in tune with your energy needs, and hunger and appetite are reflective of your body requiring additional energy (calories) or other specific nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals) to sustain your activity level and carry out normal biochemical processes.
Much like our sleep-wake cycles are governed by circadian rhythm, or our biological clock, fluctuations in appetite typically follow a rather predictable pattern.
For most people, hunger and appetite signals follow a fairly predictable pattern, generally peaking in the later part of the day and dipping to an undetectable level overnight and into the early morning.
Additionally, many people feel hungry after running. Although hunger after running may not spike right away, it often sneaks up later on in the day, turning into a full-blown crazy appetite.
But why do you feel so hungry after running? What causes an increased appetite after running?
Here are some common causes of runger:
#1: You’re Not Eating Enough
The most likely reason you are experiencing runger, or a seemingly insatiable appetite after running, is that you’re just not eating enough calories to support your training along with all of your other physiological needs.
If you are not eating enough during the day and you are in a caloric deficit, you are going to be hungry after running because your body is trying to urge you to eat more calories.
If you are trying to lose weight, you do want to generate a caloric deficit, but this should not exceed 500 to 1000 calories per day.
Still, with such a significant caloric deficit, your body will signal you to eat by increasing your appetite, especially after running.
If you are not trying to lose weight and you still find that you are especially hungry after running, inadequate caloric intake during the day may still be to blame.
Check out our TDEE Daily Calorie Calculator to better understand your own daily caloric needs.
#2: You Are Not Drinking Enough
Another reason you might feel hungry after running is that you are dehydrated.
We lose a lot of fluid through sweat and exhaled water vapor when we run or work out. Even when you try to be diligent with your hydration, most runners fall short of their actual fluid needs.
Dehydration can make you feel tired and sluggish, which may have you reaching for a cookie, granola bar, handful after handful of pita chips, or a second or third serving at your meals.
Your stomach might not be rumbling, but this feeling of lethargy attributable to dehydration may have you seeking a source of quick energy. Additionally, we sometimes conflate thirst with hunger.
Similarly, even if you’re just tired and have low energy because of your training but aren’t necessarily in a caloric deficit, your fatigue might have you feeling urges to eat when all you really need is more sleep and recovery between workouts.
#3: Running Is Increasing Your Appetite
One study noted that up to 75% of exercisers engage in compensatory eating, meaning that they increase their food intake after a workout.
This study found that exercise increased the amount of food eaten and shifted food choices as well to more immediately-gratifying options.
#4: You Want to Eat
Lastly, even if we don’t have physical hunger after running, we often feel an emotional hunger or craving for a snack as a “reward” or a source of comfort.
For example, stress, whether from physical causes such as strenuous workouts or mental and emotional challenges, increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn, can stimulate appetite.
Tips to Prevent Runger
Here are a few tips to reduce or manage post-running hunger:
#1: Fuel For Your Runs
It’s important to keep your body fueled properly, especially on long runs, to prevent glycogen depletion, which can cause a voracious appetite spike later on.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ingesting 30–60 grams of carbohydrates (120-240 calories of carbohydrates) per hour during endurance exercise is ideal.
#2: Eat More Protein
Protein has been shown to increase satiety, helping you feel full and manage your appetite.
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.
Aim to have 20 to 25 g of protein per meal or snack. It is best to spread out your protein throughout the day rather than concentrated into just one or two meals and then have low-protein meals or snacks the rest of the time.
If you are struggling to get enough protein in your meals and snacks, you can add protein powder.
For example, adding protein powder to your oatmeal or overnight oats recipe is a great way to make your meal even more filling and balanced in terms of the macronutrient ratios since oats are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.
Using vanilla protein powder tends to work best, although some people like to go in a sweeter direction and use chocolate or chocolate peanut butter protein powder instead. You can also use plain protein powder, which will boost the protein content without really altering the flavor.
However, protein powder can have a bit of an aftertaste, depending on the source of protein, so you might want to add more cinnamon or sweetener if you are using plain protein powder in order to mask this protein taste.
Of course, it’s important to note that eating whole food sources of protein is better than relying on protein powder, but many busy runners find it difficult to always be able to rely just on protein-rich foods.
#3: Have a Healthy Snack Before Bed
If you are going to be training in the morning, particularly in a fasted state, or if you are only able to have a small snack when heading out the door, having a nutritious, protein-rich snack before bed can help potentially cut down on how hungry you feel after your run.
Make sure that your nighttime snack contains plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, which help slow digestion and the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
If you are going to consume a snack before bed, try to limit the total number of calories to 200, depending on your caloric needs, and opt for nutrient-dense, high-protein, low-sugar options. This can help control appetite.
#4: Eat More Frequently Throughout the Day
Especially if you are not trying to lose weight, to decrease seemingly insatiable hunger, try bumping up your calories throughout the day by adding nutritious, energy-dense snacks such as nuts, trail mix, avocados, and nut butter on whole-grain bread.
#5: Drink More Water
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your runs to prevent dehydration, which can increase your appetite.
#6: Heed Your Appetite
Your body is training hard. If you are hungry, eat more. You might be under fueling.
Use an online calculator to estimate your caloric needs to ensure you take in enough calories to support your training.
Food is fuel. Feed your body well.
For a list of some great snacks for runners, check out our very own list here!