Hangry. Many of us have been there. It’s got its own definition on Urban Dictionary, specifically: “When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both”. There’s no denying that hunger-anger is a real thing, and when you’re an endurance athlete with a high metabolism, it can be a frequent thing if you’re not careful. Case in point: 9 out of 10 skiers’ problems can be solved with food*.
*not actually a true statistic... and eating isn’t typically considered to be a healthy mechanism for coping with problems :P
Careful Andre! Looking a little too hangry!
What is it about being hungry that could cause someone to be irritable or even angry? As you may have guessed, it starts with low blood sugar, which sets in motion a number of other changes in your body. For one thing, when your blood sugar drops, the glucose counterregulatory response detects this and responds by releasing hormones such as glucagon, adrenaline, cortisol, and growth hormone in order to restore blood sugar levels (Verberne, Sabetghadam, & Korim, 2014). Adrenaline and cortisol are involved in the fight-or-flight response so I would imagine that elevated levels of these hormones could put a person on edge. There’s more to it than that though, as I found out when I asked my supervisor at school what he knew about it. He pointed out that ghrelin and leptin are other hormones that rise and fall with hunger, since these hormones stimulate and inhibit food intake, respectively. These hormones can alter the activity of a number of brain regions, including regions involved in mood and mood regulation, so changes in levels of leptin and ghrelin could affect these processes too.
Megan and Karl's daughter Leena knows what I’m talking about, as demonstrated by these pictures of her before and after lunch...
Another theory on being hangry pertains to self control. The brain uses glucose to function, and self-control is an energetically expensive task given that it involves overriding strong impulses (DeWall, Deckman, Gailliot, & Bushman, 2011). If blood glucose levels are low and self-control is impaired, you might be more likely to take part in aggressive behaviours (DeWall et al., 2011). For example, a recent study measured aggression between spouses as it related to blood glucose level (Bushman, DeWall, Pond & Hanus, 2014). Aggression was measured by having participants stick pins in voodoo dolls representing their partner. They were also given the chance to blast loud noise at their spouse through headphones. Supposedly it was all in the name of science. As it turns out, lower blood sugar levels were related to more pins being stuck in the voodoo doll as well as longer and louder noise blasts (Bushman et al., 2014). Seems like a good reason to avoid arguing on an empty stomach!
Pack the right snacks to avoid getting hangry!
Regardless of what causes hunger-induced anger, it’s something that should be avoided! Snacking on a Clif bar or using eLoad during training are great ways to maintain your blood sugar levels. I’ve also been referring to Sheila’s oatmeal bar recipe a lot lately to make a great packable snack. Try it out, stay fed, and enjoy the day :)
Bushman, B.J., DeWall, N., Pond, R.S., & Hanus, M.D. (2014). Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111: 6254–6257.
DeWall, C.N., Deckman, T., Gailliot, M.T., & Bushman, B.J. (2011). Sweetened blood cools hot tempers: Physiological self-control and aggression. Agressive Behaviour, 37:73-80.
Verberne, A.J., Sabetghadam, A., & Korim, W.S. (2014). Neural pathways that control the glucose counterregulatory response. Frontiers in Neuroscience, doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00038
Interesting Reading. . .