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Why do runners suffer from stomach problems?

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According to research, 30-50% of runners experience lower gastrointestinal (GI) distress, or tummy troubles during long or intense runs, which can seriously hamper their training and even worse, ruin races.

But why are tummy troubles so common amongst runners, and is there anything the can be done to stop them, before they put a stop to your PB, or training altogether? Freeletics Training Specialist David Wiener has the answers.

By nature, running is an inherently intense and jarring exercise which puts pressure on the body, and all of its organs, including the stomach and colon, causing distress. This distress causes food and waste to move through the GI tract more rapidly while you’re pounding the pavements which can result in irritation and an immediate need to use the toilet. To make things worse, while you’re running, blood is diverted from the intestines to the muscles you’re using, lowering their functionality, and predisposing runners to tummy problems, and a variety of issues in the lower GI tract.

There’s mounting evidence to show that these problems are entirely avoidable if runners make small changes to their diets and lifestyle. Some of these include:

1. Staying Hydrated

Good and proper hydration is at the heart of optimum digestion because it helps break down food, allowing it to work through the system more easily. When you’re dehydrated, digestion slows down, which can lead to tummy troubles.

It’s no secret that runners sweat, and this will greatly increase your risk of dehydration which could result in tummy troubles while you’re running.

2. Pay Attention to Diet

Most runners find the cause of their tummy troubles to be diet related, and even the simplest changes, such as avoiding foods which are high in fibre, or fat in the days before a race or run can help to keep problems at bay. In their place, it is recommended to eat foods which can ‘block you up’, like white pasta, white rice and bananas.

3. Look After your Gut

70% of your immune system is located in the gut and looking after your immune function is really important to ensuring that you perform at your best. Lingering illnesses can make a comeback when you’re out running and lead to stomach troubles, so take steps to improve your immunity and gut health by taking a probiotic supplement daily. There is substantial evidence to show that probiotics can boost immunity and also help with tummy troubles, so they’re a win-win supplement for runners.

4. Avoid Caffeine

Many runners rely on caffeine to give them an energy boost before they head out to exercise, but caffeine is actually a common trigger for bowel irritation. It’s not just coffee which contains caffeine either, it can also be found in tea, soft drinks and chocolate bars, so take a good luck at what you’re drinking and eating pre-exercise to see if that could be cause of tummy troubles.

There’s nothing worse than sensing the onset of an upset stomach mid-run. Every individual is different, so it’s important to find the solution that works for you, but following these four steps is a sure-fire start to getting your tummy on track.