What Leads to GI Distress in Women Runners

Gastrointestinal problems are common among women runners, especially those who are heavier and relatively new to the sport, according to research published in The BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal).

Dutch researchers surveyed more than 400 women who were training for the 5K or 10K at the 2013 Marikenloop, a women-only race in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The women were asked how often they generally had any of 14 symptoms of gastrointestinal distress while running. Researchers also gathered data on the runners’ age, running experience, body mass index, timing of food and drink in conjunction with running, and other factors.

Forty percent of the women said they regularly experience at least one GI problem while running. The most common issues were side ache, flatulence, urge to defecate and regurgitation and/or belching.

Women who were in their first year of running were much more likely to report regular GI problems during training than more experienced runners. Of 223 women who said they don’t have GI issues while running, 80 percent had been running for more than a year; of 210 women who reported GI problems, only 61 percent had been running for at least a year.

Younger women and those with a higher body mass index were more likely to report GI issues. As the researchers note, these findings could be consistent with the one concerning running experience, as older, leaner women might have been runners for longer.

Fewer of the women who regularly had GI problems ran on an empty stomach than those who didn’t regularly have GI issues. But overall, the researchers didn’t find as strong links concerning diet as they did the other factors discussed above.

That’s not to say your diet might not be a factor if you regularly have GI problems while running. Runner’s World Fuel School columnist Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., recommends trying probiotics if you frequently make midrun pitstops. Through trial and error, most longtime runners have found what foods don’t agree with them if eaten within a few hours of training.


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