How to Prevent Runners Digestive Distress

February 6, 2020

Have you ever experienced Runners Digestive Distress on a training run or during a race? If you have you are not alone!

A study in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care found that 30-50 per cent of runners experience lower gastrointestinal (GI) distress during long or intense runs, including diarrhoea, abdominal cramping and an immediate urge to defecate, commonly described as Runners Digestive Distress. In this post we share our insights into how to prevent runners digestive distress.

I am sure most of us can remember the moment when our very own Paula Radcliffe had to ‘pull-up’ with only 5km to go from home in the women’s marathon race.

Let’s have a look at THAT DAY….. Athens, August 22, 2004

Paula Radcliffe quote

Why did Paula have to stop?

Simply put…..Runners Digestive Distress …. and what can we learn from this?

What was her nutrition like?

Paula’s pre-race nutrition was the same as it always was on race day:
Breakfast – Porridge with banana and honey
A little after 1pm (five hours before the start of the race) she eats her last meal of another big bowl of porridge with banana and some biscuits, yoghurt and a little chocolate.

How to prevent runners digestive distress – the triggers?


Paula had difficulty sleeping since arriving in Athens one week earlier.


Paula had been experiencing rapid food transit through the digestive system for approx. 6 days prior.


Paula was using anti-inflammatory medication for an injury.


It was approx. 35C-40C (39C on race day).


Due to heat and frequent loose stools.

Low GLYCOGEN stores

Paula’s last meal was 5hrs before the race. Also, limited absorption of macronutrients due to loose stools.

What can you do?

  • If you are feeling unwell DO NOT race
  • Ensure you eat something approx. 1-2hrs pre-race
  • Maintain hydration
  • Limit medication (and possibly nutritional supplements) pre-race
  • Ensure you get adequate sleep

Hints and Tips to Prevent Runners Digestive Distress

  1. Follow a training plan
  2. Introduce small amounts of PROTEIN/CARBOHYDRATE during pre-training and build up
  3. Minimise or remove fat/fibre pre/during training
  4. Limit CARBOHYDRATE intake during training (30g-60g/h)
  5. Ensure any drinks/gels contain less than 10% CARBOHYDRATE concentration
  6. Be hydrated
  7. Train in the environment in which you will be competing
  8. Remove or limit medications/supplements pre-training
  9. Limit caffeine intake pre/during training

Final words….

Paula’s nutrition was good. She did not include any new foods pre-race. She followed her usual eating regime because she knew it worked….so it was not her nutrition per se that was the trigger here, but perhaps her nutrition timing may have impacted on the severity of her symptoms….
However if you’re experiencing a symptom such as urgency to go when on a training run it may be a sign that your digestive system is not optimal so investigating further with a health professional is advisable.
Note: Information taken from Paula Radcliffe’s Autobiography ‘Paula, My Story So Far’
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