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Stomaching the Run

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that running makes them sick to their stomach. I’ve received questions on how to avoid this. I think most runners have been there and here are a few tips to help you finish your runs feeling like this…

And not like this…

First and foremost, GIVE IT TIME. I know this is the last thing that most people want to hear but it takes your body a while to adjust to the stress of running. When I first started running timed miles in high school I remember feeling like I was going to die afterwards. And when I trained for my first half marathon, all I could do after long runs was lie on the couch and feel nauseous. Now, after long or hard runs I feel totally fine and can immediately eat and continue with my day.

GRADUALLY INCREASE INTENSITY. Continuing with the “giving it time” theme, make it easier on yourself by gradually increasing the intensity and length of your runs. Don’t expect to do a hard speed workout and feel good when your body is used to slow, steady runs. In the same vein, don’t be surprised if you feel off after your first couple long runs if you start a training plan where you are running distances you aren’t accustomed to. Try to stick to the general rule of not increasing mileage more than 10 percent per week. Trust me, you will get there if you just work into it slowly.

ROUTINE IS YOUR FRIEND. Figure out what you can and can’t eat. Unfortunately, this takes some trial and error. There are several things you need to think about here.

1. Dinner the night before your run. This is especially important if you are going long. You’ll want to eat a meal that’s high in carbohydrates but avoid rich, high fiber and high fat foods. For a lot of people this is pasta, pizza or a grain-based dish. It is NOT a good idea to eat pasta with cream sauce and chocolate cake the night before a race. No matter how good it may taste. That cake is best saved for a post-run treat. Just trust me on this one. 😉

2. What you eat to fuel for a run. Find a pre-run meal or snack that works for your and stick with it. For me, that’s toast with peanut butter and banana. You’ll want to eat something that is easy for your body to stomach but that will provide fuel during the run. Again, simple carbohydrates and nothing too rich.

3. Fueling on the run. If you’re going long you need to consume calories on the run. I generally don’t take in fuel unless I’m running over 10 miles. I’ve tried a lot of fueling sources and have found that gels work best for me. Personally, I cannot stomach sports drinks but they work great for a lot of people. Some people even eat pretzels, peanut butter sandwiches, gummy bears, orange slices or dates. It’s just personal preference and finding what works best for you.

STAY HYDRATED. Believe it or not, GI distress can be heightened by dehydration. Continuously take in fluids as you run and remember that if you wait until you are thirsty,  you have waited too long. Try the time-honored test of weighing yourself before and after you run (one of the few times I will advocate stepping on the scale!). If you maintain the same weight, then you have hydrated properly. If you weigh less, then you need to examine how you can better hydrate on the run.

If you’re a morning runner, BUILD IN TIME before you run to eat breakfast, drink coffee (if that works for you) and let nature take its course. This is starting to venture into “topics that I don’t want to discuss in detail on my blog” but you know what I’m saying.

And finally, NEVER, EVER TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. EVER. Stick with what has worked for you throughout your training. Don’t try new gels or chews that you may have picked up at the expo. Eat the same exact breakfast that you’ve eaten before every run (the importance of establishing the routine). Don’t even try a new flavor or sports drinks. Most bigger races will tell you what type of sports drink they will have at the aid stations. If in doubt, carry it with you.

Race days can be STRESSFUL and ANXIETY increases your chances of experiencing GI distress but hopefully if you stick with your routine you can avoid it. Just remember that every runner has been there at some point in time and it will get better.

What are our secrets for avoiding GI distress and nausea during the run and after? Please share! I would love to hear what works for others and I know that everyone will benefit from sharing stories.

Check out the article, “It Happens” that ran in ESPN magazine’s October special The Body issue. WOW!

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • ~Jessica Zara~ October 15, 2010, 5:21 am

    I have severe IBS and stomach troubles so I can’t eat anything at all before or during runs. Even drinking anything other than water causes problems! I run pre-dawn and luckily even on 22 milers my dinner and evening snack hold me over.

    On race days, I typically eat bars (Organic Food Bars, Gluten-free Nakd Bars – a UK equivalent of a Larabar or Trek Bars – a UK equivalent of Clif Bars) and a banana. But even then I think I run faster because I’m looking for the porta potties at the end if you catch my drift.

    I do eat a HUGE breakfast when I get back from my training runs though, which more than compensates for my lack of fuelling before/during!

    Thanks for this post ~ always like to hear about how others schedule eating and their runs (no pun intended!)


  • Cyndi @ Weightless Life October 15, 2010, 7:59 am

    The big thing for me is definitely water. If I don’t take in enough liquids before/during my runs I know I’m going to be in trouble. A routine is definitely important too.

  • lauren October 15, 2010, 8:51 am

    Allowing plenty of time for nature to take its course! And sticking to the same, I’m definitely a creature of habit and don’t like to mess-up my routine.

    I often find that if i drink a bulky(banana, peanut butter, yogurt, etc) smoothie at home the night before a LONG run, my stomach feels much better during that run, not an evening’s worth of dinner sitting in the pit of it!

  • iEatDC October 15, 2010, 10:14 am

    I’ve only gotten sick (actually sick, or almost) twice from running since I started about 3 years ago. Both times I can chalk it up to dehydration. Overcompensating during or right after the run caused me to lose that water way faster than I took it in, if you know what I mean. Make sure if you’re drinking beer/wine/cocktails the night before you intend to run, add a couple glasses of water alongside it. It goes along way the next morning when you hit the trail.

  • runnerstrials October 15, 2010, 2:25 pm

    Great tips Jen. Unfortunately, I have the weakest stomach in the world and have nausea and GI problems constantly, even when I’m not running 🙁

    When I eliminated fake sugar from my diet- Splenda!- I noticed a huge improvement in my GI problems during running.

    It’s also not a good idea to try a new Thai restaurant the night before a big race. Trust me on that one 🙂

  • Amanda M. October 15, 2010, 5:11 pm

    These are great suggestions!!! I’ve tried to keep myself hydrated and watch what I’m eating before a run since we last spoke. Do you (or anyone that is reading this) have suggestions for getting sick AFTER a long run?? I feel fine after the run until I try to eat anything (seriously, anything) which is when things just go downhill for me. Spells usually last for 3-4 hours too (today’s has lasted up to this point and I ran at 8:30am)!! All I want to do after a long run is eat and refuel, but my stomach does not like that AT ALL!! I’m pretty picky with my eating so sticking to a routine is very common for me. I feel like I should coat my stomach with some Pepto after a run just to be able to consume solids?!?!

  • Debra October 16, 2010, 9:54 pm

    I agree with all of these tips! I have stomach issues in general, so after running it’s worse. Hydration is so important, and for me, not eating foods that might make me sick anyway (even if that pizza looks soooo goood…). I just had a baby 8 weeks ago, and had to stop running at 28 weeks per doctor’s orders. I continued on with the elliptical, and got back to running about 3 weeks ago. Now that I’m running again, I forgot that GI distress is definitely more prominent when your body isn’t used to it!

    For feeling sick after a run, I try to keep hydrating. Granted, when my stomach is a mess, I don’t always want to chug water, but sipping very cold water helps (helped with nausea during pregnancy, too…ICE cold water!). As for the night before a race…such as a half marathon…even if you’re good with your pasta/carbs, don’t eat off of a cheese platter and have gelato for dessert. Good.Lord. Don’t do it.

    • Jen October 18, 2010, 2:28 pm

      Debra – first of all, so awesome that you ran up to 28 weeks and were back at it 5 weeks postpartum. I love hearing stories like this because I’m hoping to run/workout through pregnancy (when that happens!). I can only imagine how tough it must be to start running again after a lengthy hiatus and after your body goes through childbirth. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and what works for you. I like the ice cold water tip.

  • nausea after eating August 23, 2011, 3:15 am

    Very Nice Thank for the help I really look forward to reading more

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