Lets be frank and talk about a topic that has most likely plagued every endurance athlete out there at least once in their lifetime. Some may calling its the runner’s trots, but to account for upper and lower GI effects, let’s just call it GI distress. When we have our digestive tract mess with us it can not only affect our training, but it can also linger over into our recovery time.
So what causes us to get that rumble in our stomach that sends our minds into overdrive as we try to estimate the closest spot to, well quite honestly, unload? You know what I’m talking about. “Such and such gas station is about 1.2 miles from here, but maybe that little boutique store has guests restrooms just a block over. Or… OMG. I’m in the middle of nowhere. Is there a bush I can hide behind or can I slowly walk until I get to a restroom.” What causes these thoughts to surface begins with what is taking place inside of us. As we start to run our body starts to shunt blood flow away from our digestive tract to provide oxygen enriched blood to all of those working muscles. This inturn delays the breakdown and absorption of food as our digestive tract is no longer receiving it’s normal blood flow. Now picture a meal you ate just bouncing around in your stomach because it didn’t have time to properly digest.
Next, depending on the length of our runs we don’t necessarily always have water or fluid with us. Even a slight hint of dehydration can have an affect on our GI tract with some individuals being more affected than others. Personally speaking, if it’s cool outside or winter time, I typically don’t carry any fluid on runs less than 90 minutes. The exception being I am doing a tempo run and testing out fueling strategies for a race. I say personally speaking because I also have friends who sweat like a broken faucet and always have fluids on hand.
Third, but not least are simply the mechanics you could say. As we run our insides are getting jostled around. Mixing that with gravity can start to cause upset and irritation. This can lead to cramping, heartburn and diarrhea to name a few. So what dietary strategies can help in preventing upsetting our insides? Below are a few simple steps that may be beneficial to you:
1. If you are dealing with GI Issues now and not sure what the culprit is, do like I tell my patients, “Document! Document! Document!” Write down what you are eating, drinking and type of workouts. That way you can look back and pick out the culprit. Example: Everytime I have this included in dinner I end up having to stop and use the restroom on my morning run. Or anytime I drink this I tend to get kind of nauseated during runs/races.
2. While I always encourage fiber intake and some runners have stomachs of steel and can handle it, start to cut back on fiber the week before a race and try and avoid high fiber foods before a run. Play with different foods and see what works best for you. My go to are bananas and gel blocks when time is limited. Before races are coffee and a plain white bagel with peanut butter and banana. Nothing fancy, but it works.
3. If your stomach is super sensitive consider going to liquid foods or gels that don’t need to broken down like solid food. It took me sampling a variety of gels and blocks to finally find one that was worked for me and didn’t make me gag.
4. Speaking of liquids. Keep hydrated! Again, this takes playing around with. The most common advice is about 2 cups of water 2-3 hours before a run/race and another cup about 10-20 minutes before. This isn’t for everyone though and why it is so important to listen to your body, drink when you are thirsty and also know where fueling stations are during races. A good indicator you are properly hydrated is if you pee regularly throughout the day and your pee is a light-straw color.
5. Consider popping some tums before races or demanding runs. I am known for being the pukey runner, but since popping some alka-seltzer chews before demanding workouts I feel like a whole different person.
6. Finally, don’t go changing up or trying new things right before your big race! Make sure you are working on your fueling strategies as you train so by the time you get to the big day you know exactly what to take and when to take it. In a future post I will tell you about my journey in finding my optimal fueling strategy!
End Note: If symptoms persist despite your efforts to alleviate them I recommend seeing your PCP or a Medical Professional. While I may be a Licensed and Registered Dietitian my advice does not take the place of a Health Professional that can treat and diagnose your specific ailments.