Advice For Runners With Stomach Issues and Heartburn

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Advice For Runners With Stomach Issues and Heartburn

As a runner who’s struggled on and off with stomach cramping, digestive issues and acid reflux, I admit fixing all of your gastrointestinal woes can be a moving target. One day, you might wake up with ‘sour stomach,’ while the next might involve an urgent race to find a port-a-potty along your run route.

There are a few top tips to incorporate if you’re constantly suffering from heartburn-like symptoms on the run.



In general, it’s recommended people suffering from heartburn or acid reflux avoid heavy meals high in fat, oversized portions and drinks like red wine and coffee. Coffee can be one of the major culprits for runners, especially morning ones who head out the door immediately after downing a shot of espresso. Save the coffee for post-run and sip on water instead. Think of foods that will be soothing and easy on your system, like a small bowl of oatmeal before you head out the door. You can always have coffee and eggs when you return. Leave yourself more time — think 2–3 hours — between a meal and your run. (If you’re heading out for a hard effort, have a small snack 30 minutes before leaving.)



Melanie Sakowski, a British Columbia-based kinesiologist, recommends diaphragm work to prevent that valve from opening when you aren’t belly-breathing. But that’s not something to start trying mid-run when disaster strikes. First, slow down to a walk and try to slow your breathing to a natural pace and style. Once your heart rate has dropped, take a few deep belly breaths, focusing on expanding your stomach as much as possible, then letting all the air out.



“Relaxation was huge for me,” says Sakowski. “Metaphysically, when body feels threatened — which happens from any stressor, even positive ones — digestion halts. The remedy: Get into parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode.” It’s not always easy, she admits: “People are addicted to stress,” she adds. Look at the heartburn or stomach distress as a form of information — your body is telling you that there’s a problem and you need to slow down and deal with it. If you’re finding every run is painful, you may need to destress before you run. Consider adding meditation to your day to regulate your breath and calm everything down, which you can then apply while you’re running.



Skip sipping with straws or chewing gum in the hours before you run. Then, when you do drink on the run, try to avoid swallowing a ton of air as you swallow water. This can be challenging when using a hydration pack, so follow this pro tip: When you fill your hydration bladder, flip it upside down so the hose is at the top, and just has air going into it. Carefully suck the air out, creating a vacuum effect so there aren’t any air bubbles left. (Do this at least 20 minutes before you leave so you don’t accidentally swallow air while doing this.)



The easiest way to avoid gastric distress on a run is to have solutions to problems. Rest easy by picking a route where you know where all the bathrooms are, just in case. If you don’t have a lot of options near your house, make a route that has a short loop or an out-and-back that lands you at your own doorstop at the time you usually need to hit the port-a-potty (commonly fairly early in the run). Last tip: Don’t be shy if you’re gassy when you run. If you’re with friends and embarrassed, drop back to ‘tie your shoe’ and let it out: Holding in gas while running is wildly uncomfortable and can make matters worse.



You may need to chill out when eating and drinking on your run. Slow to a walk to sip or snack, and see if that helps. You might find the ability to eat slower, chew more and skip air bubbles helps avoid =stomach gurgling. Also, for every snack you have, follow it with plenty of water so you actually can digest it. During the day, slow down your eating as well — take time to carefully chew at every meal, and avoid eating massive meals, which can exacerbate virtually every type of stomach issue.



You may only have reactions to certain types of foods but not realize it. One runner told me that, as a child, he was diagnosed with acid reflux and treated it for a decade, only to find out from another doctor he was actually lactose intolerant. Keep a food/training/feeling diary for a couple of weeks — including the times that you eat, train and experience stomach issues. After two weeks, patterns should start emerging, and you might notice if you eat a big dinner, or have melon for dessert, you’re struggling on the run the next morning. Those are simple things to fix!.



If you’re feeling nauseous, experiencing painful cramping or gas or enduring a sour stomach every time you run, it might be time to talk to a doctor. He or she can rule out other more serious medical issues as well as prescribing medications to treat symptoms if absolutely necessary.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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