Okay, real talk time. I worked with a client who told me a familiar tale. She would eat exactly how she felt she should all day long - maybe a bowl of oats for breakfast, or a green smoothie. A nice salad for lunch. Salmon and green beans for dinner. And then, like clockwork, she'd start getting a crazy craving for sugary sweets in the evenings. She didn't want to keep cookies or ice cream in the house because she knew she'd binge on them at night. When she did have something around, she'd end up overeating, sneaking an extra piece of cake from the fridge or wolfing down 5-6 cookies instead of the 1-2 she'd intended to eat. Her sugar habit was derailing her goals, and she was so frustrated!
She figured she was probably just addicted to sugar. She'd heard that could happen. That's why she wouldn't let herself have any - because she knew she'd overeat.
Maybe you can relate?
Here's what I told my client, and it's true for you, too: You're not addicted to sugar.
The more likely scenario is this: you're not eating enough carbs (or possibly overall energy) during the day, and by the time you get to the evening, your body is really missing those nutrients! And what's the easiest
way to get carbs into your bloodstream? With simple, easily digestible sugars like the ones found in brownies, cupcakes, and ice cream.
Want to know how to kick that craving? It's simple, and counterintuitive: eat more carbs.
Carbs are the body's preferred source of energy. It's the only source of energy our brain can really use (the rest of the body can also convert fat into fuel sources for us when at rest). Most people should be getting at least 45-65% of their overall energy intake from carbohydrates, and this is especially important for endurance athletes, who need the energy from carbs to fuel their physical activity. When we miss out on carbs, we can experience symptoms like constipation, headaches, fatigue, and yep, nighttime cravings f
Here's what you can do to address those cravings without becoming a sugar monster.
Incorporate high-quality carbs regularly throughout the day. If you are an athlete, you should be including a source of carbs with every meal (and likely with most of your snacks, too). The complex carbs that are found in whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, corn, quinoa, barley, etc), starchy vegetables, and legumes break down more slowly in our gut and help keep our blood sugar more stable.
Fuel up for your workouts. This is a great place to utilize more simple sugars (like fruit, juice, sports drinks or white toast) because these carbs are easily absorbed and provide a quick source of energy for your workout. I do not recommend fasted training in general, so if it's been more than a few hours since you last ate, have some crackers or a bagel before you head out on your run.
Don't restrict yourself from the foods you really love. If you like brownies or cookies, you are allowed to enjoy them! We often think that these are "bad" foods and that we must resist them, but usually trying to cut these foods out completely can make cravings worse and lead to overindulgence when you eventually succumb. Consider planning to enjoy these foods on purpose. And if you do really want a cookie - just eat the cookie and move on, rather than trying to distract yourself with "healthier" options.
Meet your overall energy needs. Athletes in serious training need serious fuel. If you aren't getting enough nutrition overall, your body will be on high alert to take in the easiest fuel available - which is often the sugary snacks you think you should avoid. By fueling properly with regular meals and snacks throughout the day, those cravings will become less loud.
Feel like you need more assistance? Download my free fueling workbook for female athletes to get yourself on the right track to meet your nutrition needs. Or sign up for my course, Fast + Fueled, to get an in-depth guide to fueling as an endurance athlete.