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 and I would make strange indigestion noises.

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 one hour and a half before and have something that’s easily digestible but something that contains carbohydrates. So in the morning I’ll have a medium 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 a sandwich. 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. Rice is also 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, eat and go in another hour and a half. 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 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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