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While training for my first marathon, I had the honor of making my very first trip to a gastroenterologist.
During the second month of training, I developed some severe stomach issues. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll say that they were scary enough that I booked an appointment ASAP. The pain and discomfort started to interfere with my training runs, and I was nervous my first marathon finish was in jeopardy. After the initial appointment, the doctor diagnosed me with ischemic colitis brought on by a mixture of taking too many Advil while running 50+ miles a week and not staying adequately hydrated. I stopped the Advil, loaded up on water, and haven’t had any issues since!
Unfortunately, the majority of runners will experience GI issues at some point. Here are the top causes, as well as some advice to make running enjoyable again!
Ischemic Colitis occurs when blood flow to the colon is reduced or narrowed. When running, your body will start to send more blood to the muscles in your legs, where it’s usually diverted from the intestinal system. The condition is most commonly seen in people over 60, but some studies find that 20%+ of long-distance runners develop ischemic colitis. Symptoms include:
All very un-sexy and, unfortunately, all very common to anyone who’s had to find the nearest port-a-potty in the long run.
Now that we know blood is diverted away from the GI system when running, imagine compounding that issue with even mild dehydration. When dehydrated, a runner’s GI system can be overloaded so, even when fluids are consumed, they may not be properly digested and sent back up, or quickly down. Remember that you need to start hydrating for a long run days before the run and not the morning of.
Avoiding meat, high-fiber foods, and concentrated sports drinks/gels before runs may help alleviate GI issues mid-run. Also, consider limiting dairy products, as the protein in dairy takes a while to digest.
One study found that, when athletes were dehydrated and running in the heat, their stomachs emptied significantly slower. The majority of these runners also reported GI issues. If you must run in the heat, as I do in Florida, here are some tips:
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