Stomach Issues When Running

One of the most common problems I get asked about with longer distance running is stomach issues and nausea.  Running tends to get the GI tract a pumping and makes things happen faster than normal.  Typically this causes things like the need to get to a bathroom immediately or nausea right after finishing a long run.  Both of these are frustrating to deal with and take some practice to figure out what helps each individual.

Generally we runners tend to do our workouts in the morning.  This means we need to figure out what breakfast will work and how to hydrate.  If you are like me, this also is an essential time to get some coffee in the system.  After spending the last 9+ months not drinking caffeine, let me be the first to say that this stuff is a wonder drug.  Not only does it give us our pep back in our step in the wee morning hours but it also can work some magic on your GI system.  Coffee is a diuretic and that means that a cup or two can actually help to flush out your system.  The key is to get to know your body and know how long it takes for it to work for you.  I personally know that I need about an hour to an hour and a half to feel that caffeine kicking in and also have the diuretic component take effect.  It would be disastrous for me to try and head out the door before then because I would immediately need to return home.


The next thing you need to figure out is what works to fuel you before a run.  I cannot emphasize enough that it is important to get something into you before a run of more than about 5-6 miles.  Personally, I need breakfast no matter how far I plan to run.  Even if I did a 3 mile run without breakfast I would feel tapped out before I finished.  The trick is to figure out what fuel will keep you going and not make your stomach rock and roll.

Before a shorter run of 7-10 miles I can handle just about any cereal or bread.  However, for a longer run of 10-22 miles I have learned that a bagel or even a bagel and a half gives me enough fuel to make it all or most of the way through without needing to refuel.  I have of course had to experiment with various foods to get to this point and believe me that you will have some “rough” runs as you figure out what works best for you.

The key is to try and find a combination of carbs, protein, and fat.  These will work together to keep you fueled for a longer time period.  Some great options are toast, English muffins, or oatmeal.  Cover your toast or other bread with peanut butter or cream cheese to get that protein in.  Keep in mind that dairy can be tough on your system so peanut butter is often a better option.  If you have trouble eating in the morning or have a queasy stomach, a great one is a full banana with peanut butter.

One of the biggest causes of stomach issues is dehydration.  While it is essential to hydrate before and during your training session, the biggest culprit is the days leading up to your long run.  It is necessary to hydrate every single day of training.  I aim for two liters of water every day and find that this keeps me going.  If you aren’t properly hydrated going into a workout, you have a recipe for disaster.

While you are running it is important to aim for even a sip of water every three miles or 30 minutes, whatever comes first for you.  However, every individual is different and some people need more water while others require less.  Remember though that once you get dehydrated it is nearly impossible to reverse the situation during a run.  If you start to find that you are not sweating, feeling chills, or beginning to feel nauseated, you need to get water in you and fast.

Finally, how you fuel after your run will also determine how your stomach cooperates.  Getting some fuel in you and especially electrolytes will help you recover faster and avoid feeling crappy, for lack of a better word.  Sometimes I reach for Powerade Zero after a hot and sweaty run.  I find at times that drinking this or even sparkling water is easier for me to down quickly than tap water after a hot and sweaty run.  Another great option is Nuun tablets which provide a touch of fizz to settle the stomach and lack those artificial sweeteners and colors that the Powerade contains.


Hydrating and fueling post run are key to getting your body ready for the next round and avoiding some of those stomach issues associated with dehydration.

What are your techniques for avoiding stomach issues and nausea?

24 thoughts on “Stomach Issues When Running

  1. I digest food very slowly. For runs under 10 miles, as long as I had a good dinner the night before, I don’t need to eat before I run. For long runs, I have a toasted English muffin with a little peanut butter and Nutella about an hour or an hour and a half before I start running. I can’t handle anything more than that. I can’t eat bananas before running. It gives me heartburn (go figure). For half marathons, I consume simple processed carbs – a croissant or a slice of cake works really well for me.

    I see what many runners eat before running and there’s no way I can consume even half of that. Which just goes to show you how individual fueling is.

    • It is so individual. I remember reading that bananas give you heartburn. Isn’t that crazy?! I feel like we all have things that set us off. It stinks to figure out what it is.

  2. I used to be really regimented about what I ate the night before and then the day of my long runs. Now, I can be a bit more relaxed, but I’m still pretty careful. Really, it comes down to experimentation. Some people eat bagels on the run (though I can’t imagine), some feel they can’t handle more than a bite of banana. But hydration for me is a huuuuuuuge part of it! A bit of salt and water throughout the week is huge.

    • Hydration is a big one for me too. If I don’t do a good job I feel it during and after. I too can be a bit more relaxed now that I have an idea of what works. Can you believe that our night before meal is burgers? Sometimes we even. Have cheese curds too. Go figure!!

  3. This was really useful. I just started getting slight nausea after running almost an hour. It goes away, but I’m going to have to figure out if I can eliminate it by drinking/eating different things and different times. Glad I’m not the only one.

  4. I definitely fast before a long run. I try to finish eating by 7PM the night before and do not intake any more solids until after my run. It’s a total pain and definitely leaves me a bit tired, but for races it gives me the needed confidence to not have to stop and use the bathroom.

  5. running definitely keeps that whole tract a-moving for me and i’ve had my fair share of tummy issues…all part and parcel! water is KEY, you’re so right. i used to take Nuun and prob should get more — love that stuff.

  6. Such a good post – excellent information and tips. I suffer from GI distress often – but it’s so strange because it’s never consistent. I can be getting out of my car chugging coffee and run fine (as long as I already went to the bathroom) but oatmeal would make me have to find a bathroom. It’s really strange. If I’m running in the AM, depending on the distance I will eat nothing (like for a recovery run) or I’ll eat a mini, plain Thomas bagel with peanut butter. Sounds so weird, but plain Thomas bagels have the lowest amount of fiber that I can find, and peanut butter has less fiber than almond butter. I mention this because normally I try to follow a Paleo diet, and neither of those things are usually part of it. If I’m running after work, I try to eat a plain sweet potato and plain grilled chicken. That might still give me some stomach problems, but they usually at least hold off until after the run!

    • How frustrating! Figuring out what messes with you can be so tricky. But if it isn’t consistent that would be terribly annoying. Peanut butter is so great for runners. We are both crossing our fingers that the little one can have peanut butter because we don’t know what we would do if she can’t!

  7. I have to time coffee and runs oh so carefully! My go to recovery drink is coconut water to replace lost fluids, potassium and magnesium (salts). If I can’t get the real deal, Zico coconut water is the next best thing!

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