Discomforts of Running
By Cristina Sutter, SportMedBC RunWalk Dietitian
Eating the right foods at the right times can help you avoid two common digestive discomforts of running: the stitch and runner’s cramps.
A stitch feels like a sharp pain on your side just below the ribs, sometimes accompanied by a stabbing pain in your shoulder. The jostling of running on a full stomach can cause a stitch by creating friction, irritating the abdominal wall membrane. If we eat too much right before a run or eat foods that are slow to digest, like a high fat muffin or a greasy takeout meal, we may get a stitch. To avoid a stitch, have a light snack at least 2 hours before your run and keep it low in fat, fibre and protein. So if your run is at 6pm, have a snack around 3:30-4pm (examples: a banana with yogurt or sprouted grain toast with nut butter). Sip on small amounts of water throughout your run to avoid dehydration and the jostling of water in your stomach.
Some people are prone to getting stomach cramps during long or high tempo runs, which are commonly known as runner’s trots (the urgent need to use a bathroom during a run). Runner’s cramps are also a preventable condition through correct food timing, good hydration, and eating only low fibre, low fat and low sugar foods before a run. Ideally, try to go to the bathroom before your run. If you are prone to runner’s trots, avoid caffeine, high sugar products like soda and sport gels, and high fibre foods like green vegetables, beans, bran and berries up to five hours before a run. High protein or high fat foods like muffins, pizza or hamburgers will take 16+ hours to digest and should be avoided 24 hours before a run. For at least two hours before running, don't eat anything at all. Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day and before, during and after your runs as dehydration can also contribute to stomach cramps.
If you feel persistent stomach cramps, bloating and gas after your meals, this can suggest Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or another digestive disorder. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms to identify the cause. Working with a dietitian can help provide a diet that will improve your symptoms and allow you to enjoy your training without discomfort.
Cristina Sutter is a Private Practice Sport Dietitian at Optimal Performance Clinic in Vancouver. For more information, visit cristinasutter.ca.