Are the runs slowing your runs?

GI Issues slowing your run? Let’s get real about runner’s trots.

Let’s avoid the embarrassment and jump right in to talk about the runs that slow your run. Nobody wants to discuss it in public, but as wisdom goes, if you have never had an issue with it, you haven’t been running long enough. It’s embarrassing, but it affects us all. But why does it happen? Here’s the science.

When we exercise, the engaged muscles require an increased blood flow. The blood is therefore redistributed from other parts of the body, which reduces flow to the gastrointestinal (GI) area by up to 80%. This can result in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. Top that up with the up and down motion of running that is physically jostling our insides. [1]

And then there are those with medical issues that make it all more complicated. About 15% of the population suffers from a poorly functioning GI tract, a chronic disorder known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS). [2]If you are an athlete that suffers from IBS, you may find that these problems are exacerbated when you run.

So what can we do to avoid a crappy situation? In this case, an ounce of prevention is the best medicine.

If you have IBS, you can likely benefit from a low FODMAP diet all the time, which will definitely up your performance on race day. FODMAPs stand for the types of sugars in food that contain small-chain carbohydrate molecules that are poorly digested by people with IBS. [3]

People with IBS may find that only some categories will affect them, some may find that they all give them discomfort. The only way to fully understand triggers is to complete a FODMAP elimination process with a registered dietician. This consists of eliminating all categories of irritants and then reintroducing them singularly to identify which cause issues. The process takes some time (usually between three and six weeks to fully complete) and dedication, but will help inform a lifetime of eating choices. Most IBS sufferers find that a low FODMAP diet makes a significant difference in their quality of life, with 50-70% of people finding at least a moderate degree of symptom relief.

Preparing for race day

For the average athlete who just wants to ensure a drama-free race day, limiting high fibre and fatty foods as well as avoiding spicy foods in the days leading up to your race is important. Simple carbs and lots of hydration while reducing caffeine will all give you more confidence on race day. Toast with peanut butter and a banana can be the perfect choice on race morning: easy to digest with a good dose of protein to get you ready to race. [4]

Athletes with FODMAP sensitivity can still ensure that they get the carbohydrates they need to burn race morning by sticking to non-irritating foods like oatmeal, corn flakes or 100% spelt bread. In the days leading up to the race, ensure you are avoiding trigger foods and drinking a lot of water to keep things running smoothly.

Race morning give yourself enough time to get everything done. Eat your meal 3-4 hours before the race and allow time at home to….go…. before you head out the door.

Keep in mind while you are racing that many sports gels, chews or hydrations can include irritants, though there are many options that are still safe choices. Read the ingredients and don’t ever run with a brand new product on race day. For FODMAP sensitives, reading the ingredients and testing ahead of time are imperative. Products like Skratch Labs sports hydration drink and energy chews are made with simple ingredients without dyes.

Dealing with runner’s trots and IBS symptoms can be a challenge, especially on the race course. If you fuel properly pre-race and take care of yourself while on course you can find that yourself thinking more about your splits and less about porta-potty locations.

[1] http://www.fodmapdietetics.com/recipe/low-fodmap-pre-during-and-post-exercise-nutrition/

[2] https://www.monashfodmap.com/

[3] https://www.coach.ca/the-low-fodmap-diet-a-benefit-for-athletes–p161109

[4] https://www.runtothefinish.com/avoiding-runners-trots-stomach-issues-while-running/