How many times have you been in the middle of a great run when all of a sudden you get a stomach cramp that forces you to cut your run short?
Naturally the fitter you are the less inclined you will be to get these stomach pains, however it still happens to the best of us. The trick is to know how your body responds to what you eat and drink and then to formulate a game plan to avoid getting stomach cramps.
The two main abdominal issues facing runners are the dreaded side-stitch and diarrhea. It is difficult o conduct scientific research on side-stitches since they seem to occur at random – one day you feel great, the next day you can’t run more than 3 miles because it feels like you have a ball of needles in your side. What is known, is that it typically occurs just below the diaphragm; the muscle that separates your lungs from your intestinal organs. If you experience a side-stitch there are a couple of tips that may keep you on the road: bend forward, breathe deeply in through your nose and out your mouth while your hands are on your head, tighten your abdominal muscles, and finally, just grin and bear it.
On the other hand, mid-run you may feel the uncontrollable urge to find an outhouse, or if you’re on the trail, some secluded bushes. Diarrhea is more common than you may think, especially in long-distance runners – just consider all the jostling that occurs within your stomach and intestines. A great trick to avoid this is to take an anti-diarrhea pill (i.e. Imodium) about 30 minutes before a planned long run.
But the ideal situation is to avoid getting these pains altogether. So how do we accomplish that? Here are some tips:
1- High fiber foods are beneficial in maintaining a normal transit time for digested products, but try to avoid a heavy fiber meal at least 4-5 hours before a significant distance run.
2- Hydrate yourself properly before a run. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps the lining of your large intestines absorb water, which helps you go to the bathroom more comfortably.
3- Try to avoid eating for at least 2-3 hours before a run and avoid drinking 1 hour before a run. This gives your stomach time to digest before hitting the road.
4- Keep a food log. For a full week keep track of what you eat/drink, how long before a run you eat/drink, and what symptoms occur during running. Over time you’ll come to notice trends (i.e. if you eat a salad for lunch you’ll be good to go for a long run pre-dinner) and come to learn what your body likes and dislikes.