Running & Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Can You Run With IBS?

If you’re suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, it can be a frustrating and uncomfortable everyday occurrence, especially if you like to run a lot.

That’s because running puts a lot of pressure on your stomach, small intestine, and large intestines. This, of course, can worsen any existing stomach problems, causing cramps, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The condition can also mess up with your running routine, compromising your performance, and often putting a halt to your training.

Fortunately, if you’re keen on running and exercise in general, there are many measures you can take to run without making your IBS symptoms worse.

In today’s post, I’ll explain what IBS is all about, the symptoms and how to best control.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS for short, is a chronic condition that affects the large intestines that’s triggered by stress as well as eating.

The condition can be especially problematic in runners, triggering a number of symptoms, including bloating, abdominal discomfort, cramping, and gas.

The symptoms usually come and go, may persist for a few days, weeks, or months, then disappear again. The condition can also interfere with daily life—running is no exception.

Preventing Irritable Bowel Syndrome While Running

Having irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t mean that you have to avoid intense running altogether. After all, “intense” means different things to different runners.

Here are a few of the preventative measures to make your running experience pain-free and enjoyable.

Know Your Body

Learn to recognize the red flags of IBS when running, then plan your workout routines to cater to your bowel habits and needs.

Though the unifying theme is abdominal discomfort, you may also experience

  • Excessive gas
  • Loose bowel or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Constipation or hard bowel movements

Know the Terrain

Make sure your running routes are in proximity to public restrooms in case of a bowel emergency.

If you feel uneasy because you couldn’t locate any along your route, then take tissue with you in case of an emergency. Or consider running out-n-backs or circles until you reach your goal mileage.

Keep track

Keep a daily journal of your food intake and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and monitor when and how the symptoms occur and are triggered.

Once you uncover the underlying triggers, make a plan to prevent them in the future. Prevention, after all, is better than cure, as the saying goes. This way you can help keep your digestive tract issues to a minimum.

Don’t overdo it

Runners who do high-intensity interval running are more prone to the onset of IBS symptoms. You also increase the risk of experiencing similar problems when logging serious miles.

Pushing your body more than it can handle triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol and cytokines-an inflammatory compounds—both of which can cause IBS symptoms.

To prevent symptoms onset, keep your running training moderate instead of going hard and/or long. Think, “more isn’t always better” when it comes to exercising with IBS.

Give Your Stomach Time

Eat too close to your session, and you’ll risk an IBS flare-up.

Instead, avoid consuming anything at least three hours before heading out to help you reduce the risk of a full stomach triggering IBS during a run.

Stay hydrated

Another measure to help you stave off IBS symptoms is to keep your body well hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids before, during (long runs), and after running. Make it a goal to stay well hydrated throughout the day.

Avoid Trigger Foods

Bad food choices can also make your IBS symptoms worse.  As a rule, avoid the following on your hard training days or before running:

  • Cereals and breads made with refined grains
  • Processed foods such as cookies and chips
  • Refined foods such as refined cereals, white bread, brown rice, and chips.
  • Intestine-stimulating drinks like sodas, fruit juice, energy drinks, alcohol, and coffee.
  • Dairy items such as ice-cream, cheese, and yogurt.

Reduce Stress

Although stress doesn’t trigger IBS, being stressed all the time can surely exacerbate the symptoms. In fact, any stress can compromise the function of your gastrointestinal tract, making the symptoms worse. Typical stress triggers include:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Money problems
  • Your commute
  • Etc.

Do some of the following to keep your stress levels at bay:

  • Listen to music
  • Go hike in nature
  • Read
  • Sleep more
  • Improve your communication, especially with your family
  • Try hypnotherapy
  • Try therapy

Use Medication

Although there’s no known treatment for IBS, some types of medicine can help minimize the symptoms.

If you’re prone to IBS while running, keep over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrhea medication on hand. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe laxatives or probiotics for constipation or antispasmodics for diarrhea.

Fiber supplements are also helpful for runners who particularly suffer from constipation.

When to talk to a Doctor

If your IBS symptoms persist while exercising or get worse despite making the above changes visit your doctor.

In fact, you should seek medical assistance if you’re suffering from:

  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Diarrhea at night
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody stools

These red flags may signpost a more serious health condition.  If you’re diagnosed by your healthcare professional, consult them about the best exercise routine for you.

Conclusion

As previously stated, there’s no known cure for IBS as it is a multifactorial condition, meaning there’s no single culprit behind the condition.

By making a few training, diet, and lifestyle changes, you can reduce the rate and frequency of the condition, and make strides to avoid IBS symptoms.