A blog by runners. For runners.

Are your runs giving you the runs? Your GI problems action plan

Dealing with GI problems on the runYou’re cruising along and feeling strong when suddenly you have to “go” stat and there’s no bathroom in sight. Or worse, maybe you’re in the middle of a race, on pace to PR, when you feel that uncomfortable rumbling in your stomach.

We’ve all been there at least once. There are few things more aggravating to a runner than mid-run gastrointestinal (GI) problems. We’ve already discussed why mid-run GI problems occur, but what do you do if you keep experiencing runner’s trots despite your best efforts to get the embarrassing condition under control?

We’ve got you covered. Eliminate the following potential trigger foods from your diet, one by one, and keep a symptom journal. Give yourself a few days before making any other adjustments to your diet so you can easily identify the culprit. Sometimes it takes awhile for GI trigger to clear our systems.

  • Lactose. People who are lactose intolerant have low levels of the enzyme lactase in their small intestines. This enzyme is needed to break down foods containing lactose, which is found in dairy products and any other food made with cow’s milk. Without enough lactase, lactose cannot break down so it moves through the body unprocessed. This causes gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Many people don’t find out that they’re lactose intolerant until adulthood. Cut out all foods containing cow’s milk from your diet – carefully read ingredient labels because milk is found in many processed foods – and see how you feel on your runs after a few days.
  • High fat foods. Some people have difficulty digesting fat. Unabsorbed fat can cause the small intestine and the colon to secrete more water, causing diarrhea. So, skip the pre-run dinner of pasta covered in Alfredo sauce. Avoid foods high in fat – such as fatty cuts of meat, heavy sauces, full fat dairy products – for awhile and see how your runs go.
  • High fiber foods. Most people don’t eat enough fiber, but if you eat healthfully, you may be getting too much of it. Taking in too much fiber can cause gas in diarrhea. Try cutting back on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains in the days before a run. If this solves your issue, gradually add high fiber foods back into your diet to see how much you can tolerate. You don’t want to completely avoid these nutritious foods unless absolutely necessary.
  • Artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, found in a lot of running nutrition and sports drinks, can cause diarrhea and bloating in some people. Check nutrition labels and avoid products with “sugar alcohols”. Look at ingredient labels, too, and steer clear of foods and drinks that contain isomalt, sorbitol, malitol, xylitol, or anything else ending in “-tol”. Replace these products with ones made with real sugar.
  • Sugary nutrition products, like sports drinks, gels, and chews. On the flip side, full sugar sports nutrition products can wreak havoc on other people’s digestive systems when consumed in large quantities. In that case, try watering down your sports drinks and fuel with whole foods, like pretzels or Fig Newtons, on your runs instead.

Written by Jen Matz.