What’s With the Post-Long-Run Munchies?

Years ago, a legendary ultrarunner – I’ve forgotten his name – told how his wife eventually refused to go to dinner parties with him because he always made such a spectacle of himself, eating and eating while the other guests grew silent and watched in amazement.

Pete Sampras, in his interesting autobiography, A Champion’s Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis, recalls how he was preparing for a major tournament when he was struck by an attack of the munchies. For years, he’d been very disciplined about his diet, and he refused to give in to the devil that was urging him to eat pizza, hot dogs, and burgers. But, as the event started, he felt depleted, with low energy, poor concentration, and sagging spirits. He realized that his body really had needed something in those greasy fast foods.

I’ve been puzzled, over the years, by my own weird food cravings, and what they’ve tried to tell me. In particular, after a long run I’ve had a weird urge to eat and eat and eat – far beyond what logic and reason and science tell me my body actually needs.

Well, I thought, surely I can figure it out, if I gear-up my rational mind and conduct an objective experiement.

And so I did all the recommended things after a long run – I drank a high-carb, high-protein Recoverite drink immediately after the long run, then 1-2 hours later, I made a second smoothie with buttermilk, pineapple, and another packet of Recoverite.

Later in the day, I made  a huge salad with wonderful ingredients – Romaine, shredded carrot, beet, and zucchini, pecans, peas, and a dressing of mashed avocado and frozen pineapple juice, etc.

I was eating everything that science said my body needed. My post-run diet was simply exploding with nutrient density. Yet still the munchies continued. I had the same uncontrollable urge to return to the fridge over and over, in search of that wonderful “perfect” food that would satisfy my body.

But, no dice.

Finally, I did what always seems to work when my rational mind simply runs out of data. I prayed for the answer. In my running career, I’ve found that God is far from being the remote, impractical, angry father-figure that the fundamentalists make Him out to be. In fact, I find that He’s always lovingly eager to help, if I ask with intensity and from the heart, with complete sincerity.

Anyway, the thought occurred that maybe I needed some full-fat dairy food. (The buttermilk in my post-run smoothie was low-fat.) I tried eating a half-pint of full-fat cottage cheese, a half-hour after the smoothie – I made a dip and ate it with celery. And that was it – the munchies vanished.

I discovered I could get the same effect by eating pizza, except that I had to eat a lot more, and I didn’t feel all that great afterward, possibly because the cheese and vegetables and crust had been heated to 400 for 12 minutes, destroying many nutrients.

Whenever this kind of thing happens, I’m as delighted by the process as by finding the “practical” answers. It confirms for me that the spiritual path is the most practical life imaginable – a truth I’ve now experienced daily for 40-plus years.