Avoiding the runners tummy.

At some time or other, most of us have experienced an unfortunate bout of gastrointestinal stress. This could be heartburn, bloating, nausea or stomach cramps, and will often occur just when you are pushing yourself hard either in training or at a crucial point in a race.

These symptoms can cause havoc on an athlete’s performance on race day and their subsequent recovery.

This trauma is often seen in runners as increased abdominal pressure caused by repetitive bouncing of the gut, which leads to possible irritation and damage to the intestinal epithelium, combined with the lack of oxygen to the gut, drinking and increased breathing rate it leads to distress in the gut.

Foods which can exacerbate this problem include high fibre, high fat, and high protein. Fructose, milk and highly concentrated carbohydrate drinks are also associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal distress.

Consuming too much food before a race or an important training session is likely to cause a delay in the stomach contents emptying, and then lead to symptoms such as intestinal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, flatulence. How to avoid this really difficult to deal with situation:

Stay away from the worst offenders such as:

  • Grains: cereals, (especially bran flakes,) and wheat products;
  • Vegetables; pulses, garlic, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, sweetcorn, beetroot (not the juice);
  • Fruits: apples, mango, pears, watermelon, peaches, plums;
  • Dairy: cows milk, yoghurt, soft cheese, ice cream, custard, cream.

These foods may only be a problem if they are eaten within a few hours of intense exercise.  Look closely at the concentration of your carbohydrate drinks, they need to be below 8%, and preferably 6%. They should also include a combination of glucose/fructose. Fluid replacement drinks that are more concentrated than this can lead to slowing down of gastric emptying, which can lead to dehydration during exercise and stomach distress.

It’s best to consume easy to eat foods before hard training and racing, such as:

  • Dairy: lactose free milk, lactose free yoghurts or dairy free such as dairy free milks and yoghurts i.e, coconut, soya, almond.
  • Grains: sourdough breads (because they are fermented they are easier to digest), rice, quinoa, gluten free pasta.
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, green beans, pak choi, aubergine, carrots, courgettes, red/green/yellow peppers, tomatoes, mange tout, fennel.
  • Fruits: bananas, oranges, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, melon, grapefruit. Be careful with fruit as too much can upset the gut and cause intestinal hurry!

Test out different foods during training – don’t wait until race day!

For any athlete’s individual training programme, it is important to find out the best way to nourish yourself, bearing in mind the gut is under repetitive stress and may be more prone to upset.  If you are unsure then find a nutritionist near you to get a bespoke plan or find out if you have food intolerance’s.

Tip of the Month:

  • Super-filling protein packed almond nut butter smoothie.

150ml kefir (or coconut kefir if dairy sensitive), 45g good quality plain whey isolate or pea or rice protein powder, 2 heaped tbsp of unsweetened almond nut butter (can use peanut butter if preferred), 1 tbsp honey, 1 large banana, 1tbsp cacao powder; 8 blocks of ice cubes (depending on how thick you like your smoothie), 1 tsp of either; cacao nibs, spirilina, maca or super food powder of your choice.

Combine all the ingredients and blend in a power blender, if you have a very sensitive stomach do half water half kefir.

Sheila Illingworth BSc (Hons) Dip I.O.N. mBANT mCNHC is a registered Nutritionist, based in North Yorkshire.

If you would like a consultation with Sheila she can be contacted on 07947 716679 or you can email her on sheila.boyde@gmail.com

Sheila Illingworth

BSc (Hons) Dip I.O.N. mBANT mCNHC is a Registered Nutritionist

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