At this time of year people often increase their exercise routine and it’s when training begins for half and full marathons. I know many of you are starting to do just this by either ramping up your running distance, or dramatically increasing the number of gym classes you’re going to. This is all fantastic but with all this extra cardio comes the dreaded “runger”… post run and what feels like all-day-long, major munchies! So I thought I’d write a little about how to deal with this and how to fuel yourself through your training or new exercise routine. Although I’m talking about people doing “long” runs (i.e. 10 miles plus), this also applies to anyone who’s suddenly doing a lot more cardio than they were before so could also apply to people doing back to back classes for example. Those of you who are regular runners and exercisers will probably have your own strategies that work for you and that’s fab – I’m not suggesting you change it, in fact if you do have any tips that work for you then please share! These are just a few tips for those of you who are new to this and it’s a great way to start to find things that work for you.
The key is to carefully balance the amount of carbs and protein that you’re eating both before and after your long run, or massive cardio session.
#1 Prepare your body
It’s definitely wise to eat something before your run (or if you’re doing a series of 2 or more cardio classes in the morning). Try to eat a small meal before your run. If you’re running in the morning then a small breakfast is ideal. If you’re running later in the day just make sure you have some sort of snack or light meal before hand. Running on an empty stomach is likely to set you up to overeat later in the day especially if you start out with an already low blood sugar level. A great option is a piece of wholegrain toast with nut butter (peanut or almond are ideal, but any nut or seed butter would do – you’re looking for the combination of protein and fat). You could also add a few slices of banana on top. If you’re not keen on nut butters then avocado would also work well.
#2 Fuel your run sensibly
If you’re running long distances then you may well need to take on some quick release carbs during the run – things like gels, jelly beans, etc are the classic options. These are loaded with sugar and tend to cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This is needed on the run and is used to fuel your system, when this happens you may feel your blood sugar levels plummet and so you feel like you need more – level go up again and drop again and on and on through a blood sugar rollercoaster. This is ok on the run as it will get you through it, the problem is that your body gets used to this pattern of spikes. As your body recovers post run your blood sugar levels may drop further and you may find you then crave sugar for the rest of the day.
Now I’m not saying don’t use gels or sweets or whatever your go-to run fuel is – just try taking in smaller amounts, at more frequent intervals. So instead of downing a handful of jelly beans or a whole gel in one hit, try taking a sip of gel or one jelly bean every 30 mins etc. This will give you the energy you need but will help to even out any troughs and peaks, making it easier to level out your blood sugar levels at the end of your run. This was my strategy for getting through the Ride 100 Cycle ride – taking one jelly bean every 30 – 45 mins during the ride meant I didn’t end up wanting to eat the world when I finished!
#3 Re-fuel properly post-run
After your run you need re-fuel as soon as possible, with both carbs and protein. Protein is particularly important for building and repairing muscles after prolonged or intense exercise and the carbs address glycogen stores and blood sugar levels. So don’t deny your body this fuel. Try to eat something within 20 mins of finishing your run and make sure it’s a combination of carbs and protein. Now if you are unable to eat a proper meal in this time make sure you have something prepared for as soon as you get back like a post-run protein shake (recipe here) – you may find that adding LGlutamine to this will help you recover that much faster especially if you are exercising intensely the next day.
Within 2 hours of your run get a proper meal in and make sure it’s well balanced with slow-release carbs and protein e.g. brown rice or sweet potato, vegetables and lean meats, eggs or vegetable protein sources (tofu, pulses etc). Watch your portion sizes and make sure you hydrate well too.
#4 Are you sure you’re not thirsty?
If you’re doing all that and still finding you’re hungry then just double check you’re drinking enough. The brain often mistakes dehydration for hunger so ensure you are rehydrating properly after the run or exercise. Have a large glass of water before your post-run meal and if you’re feeling particularly dehydrated then have an electrolyte drink (it doesn’t need to be an expensive sports drink – a combo of a little diluted fruit juice and small amount of salt will do the trick). Then as the day goes on have a glass of water before you reach for a snack. We need to drink 2-3 litres of water a day to achieve a good level of hydration and if you are exercising intensely you are sweating more so drink up butter cup.
So please do give these tips a go and let us know how you get on!
This article is written by Dr Nancy Priston. Please remember, she isn’t a medical Dr, the information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.