Today I’d like to talk about exercise and food. More precisely, I’d like to call bullshit on anything that suggests that exercising a lot doesn’t lead to deep, all-encompassing hunger.
To be clear : I am not talking about anything remotely adorable, or “well, I did run five miles today so I guess I can have the second pancake!” Hellllll no. I’m talking about the kind of hunger where if you see me coming in for the cereal box you’d best get your hand out of it because I’ve probably blacked out a little and might take it with me.
It was unreal the amount I ate when I was marathon training. I actually kept track of my grocery bill before and after the training started and ha, who said running was an inexpensive habit?
Then, I got hurt, and the pain kept me from eating a lot. But once the pain subsided, and I was able to resume low-impact workouts again, that not-so-cute hunger came back.
I’m not sure how to put myself through high-intensity but low-impact workouts and daintily sip a green juice and pretend that keeps me full until lunch because, okay. My doctor informed me that if I overdo it on any type of workout he’ll put me back on bed rest (an actual thing he said to me!) so I’m not getting my sweat on nearly as much as I’d like. But the days I do, I’m finally feeling strong enough to really kick my own ass.
It’s really hard to find the time to fit in a workout, a full day of work, and not depend on constant snacks to get me through the day – anyone else recognize this pattern? But I feel like my best self when I’m consistently sweating and consistently eating in a mindful, healthy manner, so I’ve learned a few tips that get me through the day. I’m not a nutritionist or a health professional (not even remotely close), so this is what works for me. It may fall flat for you! But I’d started to feel like nobody was talking about just how hard it is to balance increased appetite and remaining on track, so here I am, informing you that if I don’t do the below, I’ll eat an entire bag of SkinnyPop in one sitting.
1. Double up on protein after a workout
If I have a long day ahead of me – the kind that started with waking up at 5 a.m. to work out, and will continue well past the sun sets, I almost always grab an option for lunch that’s protein-packed. One easy option is always a salad that combines beans and a lean meat – the one below had chickpeas and turkey sausage in it, and I swear every time I had that for lunch, I was barely hungry for dinner.
I love mason-jar salads (though I usually tend to make them in Tupperwares). I just pack containers full with dressing, meat, veggies (I try to get three-four different veggies in each salad), beans and lettuce – sometimes even cheese, too – on a Sunday afternoon. That way, there’s no excuse for talking myself into Five Guys once that 11:30 a.m. post-morning workout hanger sets in.
2. Meal plan (kinda)
I’m not a huge fan of making every single meal for a week on a Sunday : I genuinely enjoy cooking, and coming home after work to make food often feels like a way to relax, not another chore.
But I always try to get my lunches made before the work week starts. I learned a long time ago not to count on “dinner leftovers” as a normal lunch staple. So every Sunday, before I go grocery shopping, I plan what I’ll have for lunches, and what I’ll make for dinners every night. I don’t always do all of the cooking, but that way I know I always have the ingredients in my fridge.
3. Eat breakfast after a morning sweat session
So I learned this one the hard way, but I always, always have to eat after I work out. I know a lot of people (my mom included) who aren’t hungry after pushing their bodies to the max, but I’m the exact opposite: approximately 15 minutes after I finished my first marathon, I started running again… to chase down a guy handing out Philly soft pretzels.
Once, I left too late on a Friday morning to fit in: a 14 mile run, a shower, a ride to work and breakfast. So, aside from an apple I grabbed on my way out the door, I didn’t eat. And then I sat through an entire morning of meetings. By the time lunch rolled around, I think I was hunger hallucinating. I was so hungry, in fact, that when I went to Cava, I ordered two salad bowls. And then I sat down in the restaurant and promptly housed both. Back-to-back. Not sure I stopped to breathe.
The guy sitting next to me at the communal table looked at me, looked at my empty bowls, and just said: “Woah.”
This is a true story. It’s also one of my friends’ favorite stories.
In order to avoid things like that happening again, I usually turn to the same tried-and-true breakfast recipes. I’m a big fan of mix-in bowls : oatmeal and greek yogurts are standouts with a little fruit, maple syrup or peanut butter, and granola crumbled in. I’ve been meaning to make a big batch of this spinach and egg bake to cut up all week. And if I have time in the morning (ha), a slice of Ezekiel bread with a runny egg and some mashed avocado, or sautéed spinach, almost always calls my name.
None of this is rocket science. But it is how I’ve found myself combating hanger, and avoiding a box of Cheese-Its for an afternoon snack.