How to Avoid the Dreaded Runner’s Stomach
Anyone who has ever experienced an upset stomach when running understands the need to eliminate possible gut saboteurs, especially if it’s race day. Fortunately, there are several nutrition-related measures you can take to minimize the risk of getting cramps, nausea, or worse–the undesirable urge to find the nearest toilet during your race.
Running is a high-risk sport in regards to our digestive system; blood that is normally used to digest food and maintain a normal functioning gut gets diverted to muscles to supply enough oxygen to fuel continuous movement. Plus, all that jostling up and down causes agitation; add in pre-race jitters and a higher intensity race pace, and you have the perfect combination for the possibility of unwanted intestinal side effects.
If you know you have a sensitive stomach (or just want to play it safe), here are some foods you may want to avoid the day before and morning of a race:
- Fiber: Foods high in fiber like beans, fruits, whole grains, and high-fiber cereal increase fecal bulk and movement–which means you’ll need the bathroom sooner rather than later. If you don’t normally eat high fiber foods, the day before the race is not the day to start; stick to foods like white pasta, white rice, or bagels until the race is over. Do make sure to switch back to healthy high fiber foods after the race!
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts can cause gas and upset stomach.
- Lactose: If you’re lactose intolerant or lactose sensitive, dairy milk & ice cream can cause gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. You may want to switch to a non-dairy milk, like soy or rice milk. Yogurt and hard cheeses are low in lactose and are more runner friendly.
- Concentrated sweet drinks: Fruit juices and sodas have a high carbohydrate concentration which can irritate the stomach. Stick to water or sports drink prior to an event.
- Excessive protein & fat: Avoid meals high in fat and protein the evening before and day of a longer run or race. Fat and protein take longer to be digested and can increase risk of cramping if not digested before you start running.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can be an irritant to the gut and stimulate activity, so you may want to save the pot of coffee you normally drink every morning for after you finish, unless you have a gut of steel, or wake up early enough to allow it to fully leave your system.
- Sugar alcohol: Sugar alcohols like sorbitol (found in sugar-free candies and gum) can cause diarrhea.
- Dehydration: While not technically a food, moderate to severe dehydration can cause stomach cramping, so make sure you intake adequate amounts of fluid the day before and during a long run.
Everyone is different. The food that gives your running buddy the “runners’ trots” nine miles in may not give you any issues. If you’re dealing with cramping or diarrhea on longer runs, it can be helpful to keep a journal of the food you eat for 24 hours before the run. If you suspect a certain food may be the culprit, eliminate it the next time and see if the issue goes away too.
What foods do you stay away from before a long run or race?