I went for a run the other day. A beautiful, sunny, solo run at a moderate pace. I ran 3.75 miles, which is neither long nor short, but a perfect middle distance for me right now. It was a gorgeous morning, with just enough shade to be refreshing and the slightest breeze to cool without providing a vicious headwind.
But do you know how I felt for several hours after that run? Tired. Sluggish. And most of all– hungry. Ravenous even. And this is not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. No matter the distance or pace, whenever I run, I feel famished for the rest of the day. Now, there’s no doubt that this is partly because I’m not an avid runner. I only run one or two times per week unless I’m training for a race. My body is much more used to and efficient with weight training than it is for running, so the shift in activity is like a shock to my muscles and my metabolism every time.
But the thing is, I know I’m not alone. I have heard countless people say that they are famished after a run, especially after long runs when training for a race. Many people go into training hoping to shed a few pounds, not realizing the level of hunger they’re about to experience, which may stop any weight loss dead in it’s tracks. You see, it’s ridiculously easy to “out eat” your run. Yes, even long runs. Calories go in a lot faster and easier than they burn, and you could easily eat more than you burned with a quick peanut butter bagel following a 5k.
My run yesterday wasn’t that long. It was hilly, and I’m out of running shape so it was difficult, but to refuel after a 35 minute run doesn’t require a whole lot of food. How much food I felt like eating though, is a completely different story. I probably could have eaten continuously all day long and still felt dissatisfied. And that, my friends, iswhere many people get into trouble if they are using running as their main weight loss tool.
Many people take up running with the primary goal to lose weight. But is it the right strategy?
Unless you’re an experienced or higher level runner, it tends to make people very, very hungry. And we fall into a trap of believing that we always need some sort of recovery meal following a run, which is not necessarily always true. Say you go out for a 3 mile jog and burn 300 calories. You may very well feel famished after that effort, and consume 500 calories in a post run smoothie without even giving it a second thought. Or even if the post-run starvation doesn’t hit you, you could easily eat a little bit extra here and there throughout the day, not really keeping track because hey, youran! You deserve it, right?
Now I’m not all about counting calories or being extremely strict with macros, but the truth is that if you are trying to lose weight, being conscious of calories in vs. calories out is extremely important.
I’m not citing any studies here, I’m not showing you any research about running making people feel hungrier. I’m just talking about my own experience and accounts I’ve heard from others, because sometimes anecdotal evidence is good enough for a conversation, which is all this really is.
But whether you experience this when you run or not, it seems like many people do. And because of that, many people find their weight loss goals sabotaged by their “recovery” from all of their hard work. So what do you do if you’re famished after a run? Hydrate first, recover smartly (be aware of how many calories are in that shake you’re downing), and do everything you can to help your body move more efficiently when you are running. Keep your muscles strong through strength training, and cross train when your body is telling you that a run is just too much.
And most importantly, if your workout is leaving you feeling this way all the time, it might be time for some tweaking. You shouldn’t feel broken down or overly sore after every workout, and it certainly shouldn’t be the goal or benchmark to determine a good vs. poor workout session. Move in ways that make your body feel better and energized, not sluggish and hangry. Personally, the only time that weight lifting makes me feel a little broken down is when I do a max effort lift. Normal lifting days leave me feeling energized, strong, and ready for more, and that is precisely why I love it so much. Find something that makes your body feel better, not worse, and weight loss (if that’s your goal) might happen a whole lot easier.
Now all of this being said, I’m still going to go running once or twice per week. Because despite the extreme hunger, I do enjoy it and I value it as part of my fitness routine. So I’m not saying that you shouldn’t run, or that cardio is the devil, or that you’re wrong if running is what you love. All I’m saying is that when it comes to weight loss, running can be very misleading, and it’s very much worth it to be mindful of how you feel and what your body really needs. Running is not the magical weight loss cure that many hope for, and this is a huge reason why. But when you’re conscious of this, it becomes a whole lot easier to make a few changes to your routine that may help you reach your exercise goals and your weight loss goals all at the same time. Train smart, eat smarter!