It doesn't take long for new runners to discover that some of the worst physical side effects of running don't have a thing to do with their feet or legs. Instead, they're related to the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
Common GI issues include:
- Excessive gas
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Acid reflux
- Side aches
- Loose stools
- Urgent bowel movements
Marathon and long-distance runners may experience more severe problems, such as colitis, gastrointestinal bleeding and/or blood in the stool.
"[These] symptoms make it extremely uncomfortable to run at a speedy pace and can cause the runner to have to use the bathroom in areas where no toilet is available," said Sarah Koszyk, M.A., R.D., who serves as dietitian for the San Francisco Marathon.
There are three primary factors that cause "runners' trots," said Dr. David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University and runner of nearly 60 marathons. They are: decreased blood flow and oxygen to the gastrointestinal tract, which essentially shuts down the system during exercise; jarring impact of the foot strike, which can induce muscle/tissue damage and inflammation; and what athletes eat before, during and after running.
Other issues that may cause or contribute to GI distress include emotional stress, performance anxiety, a change in routine, medication, weak pelvic muscles and dehydration.
The good news is that runners can train their GI systems to minimize these unpleasant, annoying and potentially disabling problems. Get your gut in shape with these 10 tips.
Different sports, durations of activity, conditions and foods impact the body in distinctive ways. Find credible sources of reliable information, such as running websites/publications, professionally trained experts and nationally accredited organizations to learn everything you can about exercise and nutrition. Knowing what to expect can help you make smart decisions about training and maintain awareness when something isn't right.