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.

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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.

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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?