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You’ve just logged a great weekend of running. You got the miles in. You fueled like a boss. Then, your rest day rolls around and you feel like you can’t fit the contents of your refrigerator into your stomach fast enough.
Your body knows what it’s doing.
If you underfuel on training days, you run the risk of sinking into an energy deficit. Do that for a couple of days in a row, and you could dig yourself into a pretty deep energy hole.
There a few reasons why you might be underfueling on your training days even though you think you are meeting your energy needs.
Possibility #1: Your Hunger and Fullness Hormones are Altered
When you run a lot or at higher intensities, your body experiences a decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin during exercise and an increase in peptide YY (the satiety hormone). Typically, ghrelin levels return to normal pretty quickly after exercise, but peptide YY can remain high for many hours after.
This can cause runners to struggle to get something in post-run or even for hours after their run, leading to increased risk of underfueling. Just knowing this can help you be more aware of what you’re up against, but it can’t hurt to stock plenty of fun snacks that you’re excited to munch on even when your appetite isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Possibility #2: You are Underestimating Your Caloric Needs
Running requires energy. Those energy needs vary depending on a number of factors—your age, gender, genetics, terrain you are running on, running intensity, all change your caloric needs. This is why it is hard to rely on fitness trackers to know your exact calorie needs.
Exercise type and intensity alters your post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which can increase your caloric needs for the day. EPOC is hard to quantify, but in general, the higher the intensity of exercise, the more EPOC you will experience, so accounting for extra intake on higher intensity days is essential. Basically, be sure to attack that pizza with the same vigor and intensity you brought to your tempo.
Possibility #3: You Aren’t Eating Enough Protein or Carbohydrates on Training Days
Maybe you’ve tried to cut back on carbs or you’re not getting in enough protein at your meals and snacks on training days. Eventually, your body realizes that it is missing out on some things. As a result, this can cause increased hunger and cravings for any and all foods. And while these cravings can occur on any day, they may be intensified on rest days. This is normal and is a sign that you may not be covering your nutritional bases. Check-in with yourself to see if you’ve unnecessarily cut out a food or food group that your body might be needing to recover.
Regardless of the cause of your rest day hunger, your body is telling you something. Don’t suppress it, listen to it!
Here’s a recipe that’s high-protein and geared for recovery.
Chocolate Almond Butter Smoothie Bowl
1 cup Unsweetened Cashew Milk
1/4 cup Chocolate Protein Powder
1/4 cup Frozen Cauliflower
1 Banana (divided)
2 tbsp Almond Butter
2 tbsps Cacao Powder
1 tbsp Chia Seeds
1/4 cup Raspberries (for topping)
2 tbsps Granola (for topping, optional)
#1) Add cashew milk, protein powder, cauliflower, half the banana, almond butter, cacao powder and chia seeds into a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.
#2) Pour into a bowl and top with remaining banana, raspberries and granola, if using. Serve and enjoy!
Do you have a question for our RDN? Send your trail-running-nutrition quandaries to email@example.com.
Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.