Two months into half-marathon training, there's a topic that keeps coming up during the group runs: digestive issues. Between the four of us, there have been failed experiments with breakfasts, runs cut short, bathroom breaks, and even skipped sessions all due to an upset stomach. Come race day, none of us want to be stranded at mile nine looking for a Porta-Potty, or worse — the real-life nightmare that results from having nowhere to go!
There's already a lot of information on the right (and wrong) foods to eat before a long run, but even the best precautions can lead to digestive woes. Sports nutrition expert, trainer, and triathlete Ben Greenfield is no stranger to the scenario and has learned some solid ways to navigate a tumultuous tummy on race day.
What Can Help
Soda water: Feeling a little bloated or uncomfortable before the gun goes off? Trade your glass of still water for one with bubbles. Carbonated water acts as a natural antacid and can help reduce painful feelings of a gassy stomach.
Peppermint Tums: To ward off any stomach issues during the actual race, Ben advises carrying a small roll of Tums with you. Ben's found that these fast-acting tablets can put a quick end to most stomach issues.
Ginger tea: If an upset stomach is something you deal with often, make ginger your new morning friend. This root is widely used to treat nausea and improve overall digestive health. Ben makes his own ginger tea by boiling the root in hot water.
All-natural laxatives: If you find yourself worried about what could happen out on the course, Ben says a natural laxative is the way to go. Oxygenated magnesium (in the form of "MagO2") and Magnesium citrate (in the form of "Natural Calm") are his top choices. Ben says to take it the night before or in the very early morning. "Then simply get up, have some hot tea or coffee, and take your time waiting for things to move along."
What to Avoid
Too much food: You might be eating the right foods, but chances are, says Ben, you're eating too much. "Eat less fuel," he says. "That's the No. 1 cause of tummy aches during a run." He also suggests fueling up before a run with a smoothie, since liquids are much easier for the body to digest (and require less energy to do so). Try sticking to a meal that falls somewhere close to 300 calories. You can reward yourself with a big meal once you cross the finish line.
Watch your caffeine, sugar, and fiber intake: The day before the race, cut out fiber and any artificial sweeteners. Also, race day is not the day to indulge in three cups of coffee in the morning. Instead, aim for one small cup at least two hours before the race. Not doing so "can lead to an upset stomach and GI issues during the run," says Ben.
Skip the painkillers: Unless you've experimented before and know your body can handle it, Ben's warning is simple: "No Advil or ibuprofen. Period." Stomach issues are a common side effect from taking an NSAID; if you have any pain on race day, then reach for acetaminophen.