Running with Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Stomach problems affect 60% of runners. Here is how I deal with mine.

When I was in my teenage years and had started university, I had terrible stomach cramps which would sometimes keep me awake at night.

I went to my G.P, who referred me for an ultrasound and a blood test.

The blood test showed no coeliac disease or gluten-intolerance. The scan showed nothing abnormal. So I was referred to a gastroenterology consultant.

He took my history and said he suspected that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or a motility disorder, a disorder of the stomach where it doesn’t release food when it’s supposed to.

When I first started running I tried to do what is suggested for those without IBS, not eating hours before a run so that I wouldn’t get the stitch. However, I found this impossible as the hunger would stop me running, and often I could feel the painful sensation of stomach acid slopping around. So I have found the perfect window to eat before heading out.

I eat two hours before and have something that’s easily digestible but that will still fuel my workout. That is, something with carbohydrates and protein and minimal fat. So in the morning I’ll have a bowl of muesli. Don’t have something with a high fibre content, like Weetabix, as high fibre intake is a common cause of cramps. Sometimes I’ll have a Buscopan tablet before, this is great for IBS.

If I’m doing exercise after work I’ll have a snack about an hour before I leave, something starchy like jam on toast, which I saw recommended by a pro cyclist.

Of course it helps to have starchy food like pasta the night before. But here’s the thing, I’ve found that even though I’m not gluten-intolerant, I find it hard to digest.

I know this because every time I eat lots of bread or pasta I get stomach cramps. So lately I’ve switched to “free-from” pasta made of corn. I’ve also found that bananas trigger cramps.

Make a food diary and see what triggers yours.

A rice dish is a great source of carbohydrate the night before exercising in the morning. I also find it helps if you do a preparatory jog for a couple of minutes in the house before leaving, to ensure that you don’t get any pains. If you do, grab a quick bite to eat and go running in an hour.

If cramps are disturbing your sleep, try a wheat bag that you heat up in the microwave and some herbal tea. I like Dr Stuart’s Valerian plus, I always get to sleep quickly and have a restful sleep with that. The longer you’re awake, the greater the chance of you getting hunger pains.

I find it helps to have a milk drink about an hour before bed. Milk decreases the acid content in your stomach in the short term, leading to temporary relief of most discomfort. It also has somatic (sleep-inducing) effects. However, it increases acid content in the long-term, so you need enough time to get to sleep before that happens.

I try not to drink much in the hour before a run, as it gives me the stitch. Don’t eat at least an hour after your workout. You need time for blood flow to be diverted from the legs, where it has been needed.

I hope this helps. If you or someone you know has IBS, I’d like to know about your experiences, and let me know what has helped you.


Filed under Running

2 responses to “Running with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  1. Pingback: A Cheer-ful Community Race – My First City 10K | literarylydi

  2. Pingback: My “Cancelled” First Half Marathon | literarylydi

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