Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not a particularly glamorous subject to discuss but, unfortunately, it's a fact of life for some runners.
Up to 60% of runners may suffer with stomach problems, and only a small handful actually suffer from IBS. It's a chronic disorder characterized by abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits and bloating. When you run your body redirects blood from your intestines to your working muscles and organs, which starves the intestines of oxygen, explaining why some people may experience cramping.
Many athletes find this condition to be challenging, since the pain can interfere with training and race performance. There is no single medication, diet or holistic remedy that can cure this condition, but you can learn how to control it. The nerves of your gut are simply more sensitive than they should be, and can be agitated by certain foods, or by psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. It's important for people experiencing abdominal pain and diarrhoea to stay hydrated.
Symptoms of IBS can range from mild to severe
Pain or cramping in the abdomen
Gas and bloating
A feeling of fullness
Loose or watery stools
Difficulty controlling bowel movement
Foods to Avoid
• Refined foods like white bread, refined cereals, chips as well as brown rice.
• Drinks that stimulate the intestines like: coffee, tea, alcohol, sodas and energy drinks.
• Dairy products like cheese, ice-cream, yoghurt (milk can lead to issues with bloating and diarrhoea).
The foods listed above are only a general guide of what could be avoided. However, there is no specific diet for IBS since it can vary from person to person. The body in general can't digest dairy foods very well and the combination of that, the lactic acid build-up when you exercise, and the motion of running on a hard surface is what causes the tummy upset in sensitive people.
Tips to help ease your discomfort
- Maintain a daily journal of your food intake and the symptoms of IBS and track when the symptoms occur, in order to establish a pattern.
- Track how many times a specific food causes any symptoms. The best treatment for IBS is identifying trigger foods and eliminating them from your diet.
- Experiment with removing dairy from your diet for two weeks to see if symptoms improve. Or choose dairy products carefully, especially in cases of lactose intolerance.
- Eating foods high in protein and high in fat shortly before exercise can cause IBS problems.
- Avoid food at least two hours before running – this will help minimize the risk of a full stomach triggering the condition during the run.
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before and after running – this is an effective approach to staving off symptoms. Drink plenty of water each day.
- Stress can also affect the bowels, making them more sensitive and less tolerant of food. Episodes of stress, depression and anxiety may act as IBS triggers. If you fall into this category it would be useful to find de-stress techniques that help you to unwind and reduce the stress you are going through.
- Common foods to avoid with IBS include: caffeine, chocolate, nuts and dairy for some people.
- Simple alterations to your lifestyle may provide much needed relief of the symptoms.
When preparing for a race it's important to increase your carbohydrate and protein intake. However, if suffering with IBS you need to pay a bit more attention to ensuring you run comfortably. A week before the event is the best time to start to carbo-load. Rather than taking carbs in large quantities it's best if you take small quantities spread over the duration of the day. Avoid eating a large quantity of carbohydrates the day before race day and on race day.
Overall it's important to work with a nutrition plan and to experiment with eliminating one food source at a time to take control of your bowels. However, seek medical advice if you are experiencing a lot of pain.
This is health information that we found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not health specialists. The health information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or sports nutrition.