All about you: Digestion and your Running Routine

Why your ‘regular’ is essential for your running schedule.

The gastrointestinal system is a long and winding road housed between the mouth and the anus and when ill health arises, the gut is the first place I look for answers. Chemical reactions take place here to break down the food you eat and liquid you drink into smaller particles to be absorbed into the bloodstream to be used as energy by you.

A lot of people do not know what their bowels look like, or how often they go and this is essential to know for your overall health.

I use two charts in my clinic: the Bristol Stool Chart and the other from Paul Chek’s book Eat, Move and Be Healthy, which gives names and faces to all the potential states of the bowel and consistency of stools in outfits, with appropriate names. It is called the Poopy Policeman line up. A lot can be told from your bowels, so get brave and have a look and then ask yourself the following questions.

  • When is your first bowel movement of the day?
  • How many BM do you have / day?
  • Have your BM changed in the last year?
  • Does the consistency change on a daily basis?
  • Do you ever see blood or mucus in your stool?
  • Do you have hemorrhoids?
  • Do you have an urgency to go immediately after food?

When you eat too close to running you may find that you start to feel uncomfortable, almost nauseous. You may also feel and hear your digestive tract making noises when you are running. These noises are called borborygmus, a rumbling or gurgling sound caused by the movement of gas in the intestines. When your body has food to digest, the running motion nudges your digestive tract, making it harder to control the course your food wants to take and the longer you run for then longer digestion take a back seat. Your digestive system also requires blood to digest and if you have eaten too close to your run the blood is diverted to the muscles in your body leaving you feeling uncomfortable and in need of the toilet! As well as this there’s also an increase in those gastric hormones that help things move along. In general, the harder you run, the more these effects are amplified. Anything from a little gas and cramping on up to nausea and diarrhea can result.

To make sure these uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing moments do not happen make sure you are hydrated. Dehydration leads to even less blood flow to the digestive tract, slowing your body’s ability to empty and absorb what you put in your stomach. As a result, constipation can develop, making it more difficult to empty your bowels before heading out for a run.

Tips to avoid potential triggers for Gastro-Intestinal Distress:

  • Stay hydrated – do not drink a lite of water just before you run
  • Make sure you keep a tight schedule of the time you eat and the time you run
  • Stay clear of any intolerance in foods such as lactose intolerance as these can be exacerbated by running
  • Avoid emotional triggers such as excitement, nervousness or stress

How to avoid the runs on the run:

  • Test all the drinks, gels and snacks 2-3 time before race day
  • Surround yourself in a place of calm and leave negativity behind you
  • Test all your kit
  • Make sure your sleep the night before is rested.