What is the solution to stomach problems during long runs?

By kind permission of Nancy Clark www.nancyclarkrd.com 30-Sept-2012


Q. Help! What’s the solution to intestinal problems during long runs?


A. Upset stomachs, nausea, cramping, and urgency to take a pit stop are common problems among long distance runners. Because each person has his or her personal response to long runs, I can only ask you lots of questions, but perhaps they will help you find an answer. Here goes…


• Are you running too far, too fast too soon and your body is telling you it isn’t ready for that distance?

• Are you stressed and anxious on long-run days, and your nerves are creating the problem?

• Do you eat too much food the night before? If so, try having your big meal at brunch the day before and eat lighter at night.

• Do you eat too much breakfast before the long run? Try eating part of the breakfast the night before, at bedtime, so you’ll be less hungry in the morning.

• Do you eat fatty, heavy foods (like a sausage, egg ‘n cheese biscuit) before the long run?

• Do you drink too much pre-run coffee?

• What do you use for fuel during the long runs? Gels sometimes cause GI problems. So can commercial sports drinks or candies with the wrong kind of sugar for your gut.

• Are you chewing sugarless gum? The sweetener (sorbitol) can cause GI distress such as gas and diarrhea.

• Do you eat yogurt, kefir, or take probiotics? They can help resolve bowel issues.

• Do you get dehydrated? Lack of fluids contributes to diarrhea.

• Do you eat a high fiber diet? “Healthy” diets with abundant whole grains, fruits and veggies can become problematic for some runners.

• Is the problem limited to during runs or do you have intestinal issues at other times of the day? Perhaps you have latent Irritable Bowel Syndrome that gets aggravated during long runs?

• Do other people in your family have intestinal issues, like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or colon cancer? Perhaps you have problems digesting gluten (a genetic tendency) and should be tested to see if you have Celiac Disease?

• Have you kept food logs to track potential culprits so you can pinpoint, or at least narrow down, the problem?


Good luck being a food detective! And don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if all of the above suggestions fail to find a solution. A consultation with a local sports dietitian for a nutrition check-up can be very helpful! 


Please let us know if you have found a solution not mentioned above!