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Hungry, Hungry Runner

March 10, 2009

This problem first reared its ugly head when I started upping my mileage in preparation for the marathon: I’d wake hungry, either in the middle of the night or prior to my pre-dawn runs.

Now, I don’t usually eat before my runs because I don’t do well getting through a run with a full stomach; I’ve never actually thrown up but I just hate that full-stomach feeling. Instead of experimenting with smaller things like gels or toast or bananas, which is what I use for my long runs, I decided to try smaller meals before bed, and I tried eating a bowl of cereal just before I turned in. See, dinner around here is around six to accomodate the kids’ bedtimes, so I figured a snack around eight or eight-thirty, before bedtime, would work, as long as it was easily digestible. This seemed to do the trick, and I wasn’t hungry as much anymore.

Now, once I lowered my mileage for taper, I figured the problem was over, and I shelved my later-night snacks.

Now, suddenly, I’m hungry again, either in the 3am nether regions or just before I set out for my runs. What’s up? My mileage is negligible–I ran 5 yesterday and 5 today. I haven’t cut my calorie intake, which actually shocks me because considering how I’ve cut my workouts you’d think I’d be gaining weight but I’m not.

So, wiser runners, what gives? What am I not doing well? I know I’m not giving you a lot of information here, but do you have theories?

For what it’s worth, I always eat breakfast–generally either scrambled eggs with toast and cottage cheese or, on non-run days, cereal with low fat milk. Lunch might be a roast beef sandwich.

Any input appreciated.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. run4change permalink
    March 11, 2009 10:02 am

    I am not sure but it could simply be dehydration and thirst. The cues to drink and very much or almost identical to hunger. I have felt this same way but if I drink instead it usually cures the problem. I have read that if the hunger is not an emotional/mental hunger, many times it is the cue to drink rather than eat. Just a thought. I felt this same way last night. I got up at 12:30 and drank water. Then I got up at 2:00 and had a yogurt. I think I was dehydrated because I had weigh in yesterday and don’t drink my normal amount of water usually. But how could I pass up a yummy thick and creamy yogurt with my eyes closed.

  2. the Ringmaster permalink*
    March 11, 2009 12:29 pm

    That’s a great insight; I had not once thought that might be it, but it’s brilliant. Temps have really started to climb here–back into the low 60s when I run in the early am, and I’m not drinking as much as I used to because, hey, I’m barely running 20 miles a week. I’m just *not thinking* about hydration the way I do when I’m in heavy training or running in the dead heat of summer. But it’s no big thing to drink more or even keep a glass of water handy. Thanks for the tip, J!

    Keep the ideas coming!

  3. run4change permalink
    March 11, 2009 4:25 pm

    I do have one more little thing to say about the hunger and running thing. I left it out before because I am always afraid to talk about it to tell you the truth. Everywhere I read (blogs and forumns) I hear people talking about being more hungry because they are running more and that you can’t lose weight while training for a marathon because you have to eat more, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I have believed this too, but……….

    If we are talking about our body telling us to eat more because we are burning more that is fine. If we did it perfect that would be could weight maintenance. I suppose our bodies will tell us that we need to eat more to balance it out. But if I say my body is telling me to eat more because I burn more and I eat more than I burn, I am hungry from the neck up (in my mind). I have had serious issues with this especially in training for the 100 miler. Since I was running so much, I thought that I “deserved” to basically eat as much healthy food as I wanted. Well, I gained weight. I did not account for the laws of energy balance. God made it so that when we eat more than we burn, we gain and vice/versa.

    I asked my coach about this. He has coached many people to run marathons from normal to elite record breakers. In 20 years, he has only seen one person gain weight during marathon training it is was very insignificant weight gain. He told me that research shows that exteme and intense exercise produces a suppresion of appetite normally and that this is what he had experience with his athletes. So I started to think about this with my feeling of being more hungry because I was running more. I found that it was more of a mental hunger and that if I ate properly even having a calorie deficit during my ultra marathon training, I could lose and still not feel hungry.

    Sorry for the long long comment. This is just really fresh on my mind in the last two weeks and it is something I have been testing. So far I have found that being hungry from running is more of a function of the sense that I feel like I have the ability to eat more because I exercised more rather than the basic science of calories in and out. Does that make sense?

  4. the Ringmaster permalink*
    March 12, 2009 7:53 am

    No, this is actually really good stuff, so don’t apologize for the long comment. I didn’t really gain a pound during marathon training–I lost a little at the start, then maintained, so I figured my calorie intake was adequate, though as I said in an earlier post, I know I could still be making wiser choices in the fueling department.

    I wonder a lot about this–being small, how does this impact the total amount of fuel I can take and store, especially for a long run? You know, when I started WW, my goal weight was 125 pounds. For a while, I kept weighing in just for maintenance and accountability, but after a while they told me I couldn’t keep coming b/c I’d slipped off the bottom of their target weight charts. Now, I understand. They have to make sure people don’t go loony on the weight loss, either. I think my last weigh in with them was at 113 or so.

    My ideal marathoning weight, according to some, is 105. I typically weigh in at 110. As long as I can maintain my weight between those two numbers, I’m pretty comfortable, though I’ll tell you–with what some call “vanity sizing,” it is getting harder and harder for me to find clothes that fit–I’m in a size 0 now, and my BMI is about 21–hardly underweight.

    I know, this is a long tangent off your comment, but it’s where my mind wandered from it. I, too, wondered if I’d gain weight during M training b/c so many people told me I would. Happily, I did not–though I think I probably consume a lot more calories than less active women my size. Maybe I’ll track that for a week, just for fun.

  5. March 12, 2009 9:36 pm

    I wondered, too, if your hunger might just be mental. You got used to eating just before going to bed and now your mind is telling you that you need to eat.

    As for eating before a run: I find that a banana or a half of a whole wheat bagel (lightly toasted seems to go down easier) 30-60 minutes before running does me good for the first half of a long (12-14 mile) run. I prefer 60 minutes before but don’t always get up early enough for that.

  6. the Ringmaster permalink*
    March 13, 2009 10:32 am

    I usually do a banana or peanut butter toast before a long run too, about 30 minutes before I set out, and I even did this before the 20-milers and the marathon. See, this is what I’m talking about: I probably needed more fuel before runs of that length since the marathon took me 4+ hours, the 20 milers 3+. But I’m too stupid to know what to eat and too scared to eat too much and then be sick.

    Thanks for the confirming vote that sometimes, what we think of as hunger is more of a habit. I’ve given up the late-night snacks and haven’t felt the need for them the last two nights. We’ll keep working on it!

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