Let’s make one thing clear: Healthy foods aren’t always the easiest-to-digest options for runners. That doesn’t mean kicking vegetables to the curb, obviously, but if you find yourself cramping, bloated, urgently needing the bathroom or just in pain during your runs, your healthy diet might be the culprit.
There are two main reasons morning runners often have the worst stomach issues. First, you’re likely heading out the door before you’ve had your morning bowel movement, and second, the healthy breakfast options tend to be either high in fiber or high in fat. Both are fine, unless you’re going out for a run.
Thankfully, with a few simple tweaks, you can be running pain free and focusing on your stride length instead.
Here are some common issues and ways to alleviate them.
1. THE CULPRIT: OATMEAL
THE FIX: The oatmeal-as-a-runner’s-meal is fantastic if you’re following runner fueling protocol and actually eating your meal 2–3 hours before your run. Unfortunately, most of us are missing that key piece of advice. Eat your oats far enough ahead of your run to let your digestive tract do its thing — or else the fiber can wreak havoc. If you can’t eat a few hours ahead of your run, swap how you eat and run. Rather than oatmeal and out the door, do a quick snack like half a granola bar 15 minutes before your run, and follow your run with a full meal.
2. THE CULPRIT: EGGS AND BACON
THE FIX: Skip the bacon, or at least cut it down to a single slice to reduce fat content, and add a piece of multigrain toast or a microwaved sweet potato for carbohydrates. Fat can have a pretty destructive impact on our running when eaten right before heading out the door, and you may notice you’re low on energy or feeling sluggish — that’s because you might be skipping carbs and missing that quick-burning fuel. Try moving your high-fat meal to at least two-hours pre-workout or to after your workout, to avoid stomach pain.
3. THE CULPRIT: VEGETABLES, ESPECIALLY RAW, CRUCIFEROUS ONES LIKE BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER
THE FIX: While veggies are a super important part of a healthy diet, the high-fiber content, among other things, can wreak havoc on your gut if you eat them ahead of your run. Steamed vegetables will bug your gut less, so if your lunch is typically a salad, consider swapping it for a stir-fry or soup instead. As with the first two issues, most of these problems clear up if you simply eat earlier. A meal two hours prior to a run, with a light snack 15 minutes before, is ideal. Bonus tip: Stick to the back of the run group if you accidentally get into the cauliflower rice before go-time.
4. THE CULPRIT: COFFEE
THE FIX: Caffeine tends to stimulate the bowels, so you’re likely not leaving yourself enough time for number 2 before heading out the door to run. You may also find your stomach is a bit more gurgly, cramped or even that you’re feeling nauseous or have the hiccups. That’s due to the acidity of your coffee. Give yourself extra time before your run to let the caffeine do it’s thing … If you don’t have that kind of time, plan a route that hits a public restroom within the first few minutes. (Another alternative is to do a warmup lap in the neighborhood and end up back at your own home within the first few minutes.) Swapping to green or black tea or doing a shot of espresso instead of drinking a cup of coffee can also help as the effects tend to be more mild. Luckily, this issue often resolves itself once you figure out your best bathroom timeline. If the acidity is the culprit, make sure you’re eating with the coffee or skip it until you can sit down to breakfast.
ONE FINAL NOTE
Nutrition is highly individualized. You might be able to eat a Denny’s Grand Slam or a full pizza and crush 10 miles problem-free or a gel might cause your stomach to cramp like crazy. Sports nutrition is a rapidly developing field, but experts agree on one point: There’s no cure-all solution. If you tend toward stomach issues no matter what you eat before a run, the best three pieces of advice include moving your meal farther from your run start time, plotting a route that features plenty of bathroom stop options and keeping a food-and-training journal so you can find patterns between what you’re eating and how you’re feeling on the road.