running IBS

For many, running is a way to stay fit, clear the mind, and feel a sense of accomplishment. However, for some, their routine runs can also cause some unexpected and unwelcome digestive troubles. Commonly referred to as ‘runner’s stomach’, these IBS style symptoms can be understandably worrying.

In this blog, we’ll explore what runner’s stomach is, what causes it, and how you can treat it.

What is ‘Runner’s Stomach’?

Runner’s stomach is a term that describes the digestive discomfort that runners can experience. Imagine feeling a persistent sloshing in your stomach, battling the need for emergency toilet stops, or the sensation that even a sip of water is too much for your stomach to handle.

The problem can manifest as cramps, bloating, nausea, and even vomiting or diarrhoea. It’s a common issue that affects between 30%-90% of long-distance runners, especially younger ones.

While running is the most common trigger, other activities like team sports and high-intensity workouts can also cause similar discomfort. However, there is evidence that endurance runners who experience gastrointestinal issues, many of whom have IBS, are going undiagnosed. Taking things into their own hands, many adapt their nutritional planning or use medication to ease symptoms.

Despite how common it is, the connection between exercise and digestive problems still needs more extensive research.

Why Does It Occur and How Long Will It Last?

A major cause of IBS-like symptoms in runners is the shift in blood flow during exercise. As we exert ourselves, blood prioritises muscles, lungs, and skin over the gut. In extreme cases, the gut may receive up to 80% less blood than usual, making it sluggish and resulting in feelings of nausea and stomach pain.

Then there’s the literal shake-up – running causes our internal organs to bounce around, which can interfere with digestion. Eating a big meal before your run or indulging in high-fat, protein, or fibre-rich foods can also backfire. These foods, already slow to digest, can linger in our system during a run, causing further digestive issues. Factors like dehydration and heat stress can also exacerbate the issue.

Usually, the symptoms kick in during the workout and might linger for a few hours post-exercise. Persistent symptoms, however, could be an indicator of a more serious health issue.

Treating Running Induced IBS Flare-Ups

Managing running-induced IBS symptoms is all about understanding your body and making small, strategic changes. One simple yet effective approach is to tweak your pre-run meals.

Eating easy to digest foods before your run and monitoring hydration is crucial, as this can ease digestive discomfort. Gradually increasing your running intensity rather than diving into high-intensity runs can also be beneficial, allowing your body to adapt over time. Lastly, listening to your body and recognising when to take it easy is important.

If you’re finding that these tweaks aren’t making a difference, or if your symptoms persist, it might be time to consult a professional.

Persistent digestive issues shouldn’t be overlooked. Experienced bowel and hernia surgeon, Mr. Michael Stellakis, sees many patients with IBS. He can provide valuable insights and treatments tailored to your situation. To arrange a consultation, call 01926 492969.