Running And Your Digestive Tract

It may surprise you to know that many runners talk about poop. Many runners take their bathroom-related conversations as seriously as their conversations about training strategies. This is because your digestive tract can be highly affected by your running habit.

Now, your digestive tract covers far more territory than just your intestines. In fact, your digestive tract starts with your esophagus, leading to your stomach, then intestines, ending with the anus. All these organs work simultaneously to make up your digestive tract, and all are affected by your running.

Some of the digestive issues, which affect runners, can be less of a concern if you are running at home on your treadmill. However, you should still be aware how your running can impact your digestion.

Types Of Gastrointestinal Issues Runners Experience

The digestive tract is not something to be taken seriously just by runners, but by all. A study focused on gastrointestinal problems specifically in runners, investigating the various affects running had on the digestive tract. The study found a variety of ways that the digestive tract is impacted by running.

  • Esophageal Motility
    If you have tried to take a drink of water while running, but had a hard time swallowing, this is a direct result of your running. The exertion you are putting your body through causes your throat to restrict its movement.
  • Upper Gastrointestinal
    You may experience a variety of upper gastrointestinal issues when running such as nausea, gastritis, vomiting, and reflux.
  • Lower Gastrointestinal
    Long distance running has been strongly associated with running. Some issues runners may deal with are diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, side stitches, and GI cramps.     

Runners Who’s Digestive Tract Is Most Affected

Runner's digestive tract – NordicTrack

Runner’s digestive tract – NordicTrack

According to another study, there are many things to consider when it comes to dealing with gastrointestinal issues. Out of all those who engage in cardiovascular exercising, 71% of runners are likely to experience lower gastrointestinal problems. Only about 36% of runners experience upper gastrointestinal issues.

But the big question is what kind of runners are most affected? There are a few variables to consider:

  • Marathoner and Ultramarathon runners are some of the most affected by digestive issues.
  • Exertion levels increase the probability of dealing with a digestive tract-related problem.
  • Runners with a BMI of over 30 have a higher likelihood of dealing with a lower gastrointestinal issue.

For runners who already struggle with a digestive disorder like Crohn’s disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), we recommend you work with your doctor to control digestive issues as you run. Also, for increased security, we recommend confining your running to a treadmill when experiencing a flare-up of your digestive disorder.

What You Can Do To Prevent Digestive Issues When Running

There are some steps you can take to protect your digestive tract while you are running. Some of the things you can do are:

  • Do not eat at least 30 minutes before a run. Increase that to 1 hour if you are racing.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods like broccoli, beans, whole-wheat spaghetti, and lentils before you run. It can irritate your bowels, causing you to experience gas and/or diarrhea during your run.
  • Hold off on food high in fat or protein. These foods break down slower in your digestive system, which may cause cramping as you run if the food is still present in your digestive tract.
  • Stayed hydrated with small sips of water. It is unpleasant to have water sloshing around in your stomach as you run, but small amounts of water can protect your system from some digestive issues like reflux and nausea.
  • Test new foods and drinks during your regular runs and not before a race. If you find out the food or drink disagrees with you, only the exercise of that day will be affected instead of your big race.

Enjoying your running can be a delicate balance between you and your digestive tract. Be sure to track how your body responds to different foods, drinks, and exertion levels, so you can become more familiar with what your body needs to keep your digestive tract stable.