How to Prevent Runners Belly

The last thing you want whilst competing is to have to stop to use the toilet- especially if there aren’t any! But, all runners, even elite ones, can suffer with GI problems, and most do at some point in their running career.

Being vegetarian or vegan can put your GI tract under more stress and can increase the risk of GI complications because of the high fiber intake- which is unavoidable due to caloric demands of training. To offset this issue and to make sure that the GI tract is cleaned out before the gun goes off!

This is also true for all athletes- so make sure that breakfast is finished at least 2 1/2 hours before your race start time. This means that even if it means that you have to get up at 4 a.m. for a 7am race! When you have to get up that early for your pre race breakfast you will need to prepare your GI tract for it so, make sure that both the night before and two days before the race, you have a 10 hour transit time between dinner and breakfast. In other words, finish eating by 6 p.m. on both nights if you are getting up to eat at 4 on race day. Even though you may not be getting up in the middle of the night two days prior to the race, this will allow your dinner to properly digest and eliminate early the next morning.

There are a number of foods you should avoid in order to help reduce the risk of GI distress whilst racing. Ensure you cut out, or at least cut back on fatty, fibrous and processed foods because these will come back to haunt you mid-race! Ensure you avoid these items in the 24 hours before the gun goes off:

  • Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  • High-fat cheese
  • Bran cereals
  • Sugar-free or “diet” snacks and beverages which contain lots of sweeteners that can play havoc with your stomach
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Fatty meats e.g. lamb

GI problem prevention meal plan for a 5-10km race (but the same guidelines apply for longer races- just be sure to up your calorie intake):

Higher intensity short races can increase the risk of GI problems. To avoid GI distress, reach for a breakfast that’s easy on your belly- so your pre-race meal should be low in protein and fat and include low-fiber carbs.

After the race, make sure to eat in order to recover- opt for a combination of carbohydrates and protein with a small amount of fat- orange slices, bananas, bagels and chocolate milk are all great options.

  • Lunch (20 hours pre-race): Turkey sandwich with avocado (or vegetarian alternative e.g. cheese or tofu), carrots dipped in hummus, a small apple and water
  • Snack (16 hours pre-race): Trail mix and water
  • Dinner (12 hours pre-race): Grilled white fish (or vegetarian alternative e.g. veggie burger), brown rice or sweet potato wedges, steamed vegetables and water
  • Snack (10 hours pre-race): Air-popped popcorn or a small bowl of cereal
  • Breakfast (90 minutes pre-race): Banana with 1/2 tbsp. nut butter or a smoothie and 16 oz. water or sports drink

Key pre-race points to prevent GI distress: 

  • Reduce high fiber food intake like legumes and bean the day before the race.
  • On race morning, do not eat granola or a large amount of nuts which are high in fat and protein and so are hard to digest.
  • Do not drink more than your normal amount of coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
  • Do not drink extra fluid replacement drink the day before the race- it usually contains sweeteners which can affect your gut. Your body will retain the necessary electrolytes from your normal daily diet and a reduction in your training.