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Tell Me Tuesday: The Ins and Outs of Gastrointestinal Issues while Running

 

That all too common position after a run: it either means you've been working hard or something is horribly wrong on the inside.
That all too common position after a run: it either means you've been working hard or something is horribly wrong on the inside.

Let us be blunt: Dealing with stomach issues while running can be the shits. Literally. (If you find this topic gross—or you’re eating breakfast—now is the time to head over to TMZ or NYTimes.) Yet it’s a fact of life that, for many runners, tummy troubles can cause a bevy of issues, from pain to diarrhea. Here at AMR we don’t shy away from crossing the proverbial port-a-potty threshold in search of some solutions.

 For a poop-primer, let’s start with why running can wreak havoc with your GI system. The up-and-down motion of running jostles your innards, turning the last night’s dinner into a sloshy mesh. On longer or more intense runs, your body struggles to provide your muscles with the blood they need to push you through your hill workout or past mile 14. Thus, different organ systems like your GI tract can end up with a serious deficit of oxygenated blood at any point during your workout. Short-changed on blood, your gut can revolt, which can then, well, be revolting.

Here's to crossing your fingers that your pit-stop won't be rudely interrupted.

This doesn't mean we have to succumb to suffering through split times interrupted by a pit-stops behind a bush or hours spent in the bathroom post-race. What follows is some advice from us at AMR and sage suggestions from other members in the tribe:

 

-Hydration is one of the most commonly offered-up solutions. While dehydration can certainly be adding to the problem, especially on longer, hotter, more humid runs, simply drinking more water will not always be an easy fix to the problem. Sara reminds us that, especially when talking GI issues, it’s important not to overlook electrolytes (think Nuun or Salted Caramel GU).

-Coffee is also used by many to clear the [poop] chute before a morning run. Pamela, for example, found herself without her usual arsenal of coffee at the Chicago half-marathon and says she has learned her lesson ten times over. Becky, like Pamela, finds the best results waking up half an hour to an hour early before her run to treat her body to, "a warm cup of GI start-up liquid.”

-Diet is another culprit people commonly blame as the cause of pesky stomach disturbances. While there is no one food that helps everyone, lots of mother runners have commented on Facebook about experimenting with what, how much, and when they eat in relations to their workouts. Cheryl, for example, has found eating a piece of toast or bread before her runs helps.

Amanda and Erica, conversely, found removing gluten from their diet practically eliminated GI distress “overnight.” Heather got the same result from decreasing the amount of dairy she eats. Daniela has found, regardless of each individual’s dietary needs, the best way to experiment, and hopefully finding real results, is to keep a food diary.

-Imodium is a solution many runners with GI issues end up turning to. While some of the tribe has had mixed results with it, many women have found that either taking Imodium before a run, after, or both before and after saves them the stress of mid-run pit stops. Other mother runners have experimented with TUMS and probiotic treatments. Once again, it doesn't work for every runner but worth a shot.

-Lastly, staying relaxed before and during runs can also cut down on GI problems. Although for many of us this is a doubled edged sword, since running is our de-stresser and it doesn't help when it gets interrupted by intense GI pain, creating a routine before races that keeps your mind and body calmer could potentially help. Heidi, for example, is very self-aware of her stress level going into a run and switches up her workouts to accommodate what’s been happening in her life.

Remind yourself: Each run doesn't have to be a crap shoot (ba-boom-CHA!). Start experimenting and let us know what has--or hasn't--worked for you. Any wonderful homegrown remedies out there? Comment below!

No lines for the port-a-potties?! This shot must have been taken days before a race.

14 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: The Ins and Outs of Gastrointestinal Issues while Running

  1. I usually take Imodium before long runs. However, I think it caused havoc on my body during my half marathon today. My stomach hasn’t been feeling well all week. I felt ok after my run, had lunch, and about 2.5 hours later, I was throwing up (not usual for me at all).

  2. This article really couldn’t have come at a better time!! While I feel like I may have had a small issue with this before, I feel like it’s becoming more of a problem. Thanks for the info…I was gonna try Immodium, but maybe I’ll have to try a food journal. I thought it might be the (subconscious) anxiety of going on long (15+ mi) runs and not wanting to have to stop…or maybe it’s just simply running that long 🙂

  3. I have been struggling with this problem for years (and especially the last few months when I started running again after having my 3rd child) … I was beginning to feel like I was the only person that was experiencing this … so I’m glad to hear I’m not alone and that there are different things i can try. It is so frustrating dealing with stomach issues and I feel like it is keeping me from progressing in my training. Thanks for all your comments. They are very helpful.

  4. Before long runs (usually any run longer than 8) I take immidium….. If the run is over 13 I need to take immodium during as well– in my marathons I take it the last half also, however I find in the marathon it doesn’t seem to matter I still get upset stomach

  5. Any gels create instant diarrhea for me… So it is REAL food for me to fuel during my runs. When carb loading before a race I eat lots of fiberous foods 4 days before, to get the nutrition value AND to clean out. In the last 36-48 hours before the race I eat only binding and somewhat bland foods. Apple juice, rice, Subs with meat and cheese, Pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, etc… Has worked well for my past several races.

  6. I found a liquid supplement called ‘Prev’ that has helped tremendously! I used to struggle to run a mile without stopping to use the bathroom. Now I can train for and run a half (almost) carefree. I also find that small sips of water on 8+ miles runs, starting around mile 2, is helpful.

  7. I may be the only person out there who has this problem, but in case I’m not alone — peanut butter seems to really bother my stomach before a run longer than four miles.

  8. I think it is absolutely essential to avoid alcohol the night before a long run or race. For me, alcohol the night before is a guaranteed cause of this problem. However, alcohol AFTER is just fine with me!

  9. I have found over trial and tribulations that gu / sport beans and even raisins reek havoc after a long run. The best solution that I have found for myself is applesauce. If it’s a long run, I start with a few spoon fulls and then continue to use applesauce as my energy packet. I have even gone so far as to make little packets with my food sealer that look like the plastic popsicle sleeves, fill it up with applesauce and pin it to my shorts. It looks odd, but whatever.

  10. I think schedule and routine help a ton–if I have a normal run time, my body learns to do it’s business beforehand. That being said, I like to know my options. On my last 5k I had been sick the day before but woke up feeling great. I got about a half mile in and could feel the rumbling start. Luckily there was a construction site across the street, so I took a few minutes detour. That few minutes was well worth the additional comfort for the rest of the race!

  11. I have found that during long runs that either Larabars or Stinger Waffles work much better on my tummy than GU-type products and I also agree that being hydrated (with some sort of electrolyte) is key. Taking several small sips is better than stopping for longer “chug-a-lug” breaks.

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