Quell Your Race Day Tummy Turmoil

Skip Veggies and 4 More Ways to Avoid Stomach Issues in Competition

Tummy Turmoil
Illustration: Mickey Smith

As runners we can all identify with tummy troubles. Whether you’re one kilometre into a long run or approaching 20K of your marathon, it never comes at a good time.

Poor nutrition choices, hydration (or dehydration) and pre-race jitters all take a toll on our gut. Stomach discomfort can come in the form of gas, bloating, cramps or, worst of all, a bathroom emergency. Stress is mainly to blame for “runner’s stomach.”

Stress triggers a response from your brain to your endocrine system to release hormones. These hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine and epinephrine are commonly referred to as fight-or-flight hormones. They allow us to respond to stressful situations, directing our blood to extremities and helping muscles move.

While adrenaline can work in our favour by making us run faster, the diversion of blood from your stomach can compromise digestion.

At times stomach woes are unavoidable (you can’t help feeling nervous for the big race), but practicing these strategies can help prevent the need to haul off into a porta-potty (or the woods) mid-run.

Race day holds a lot of emotions and energy. Nothing helps fight stress better than getting adequate sleep, taking a calming Epsom salt bath and drinking hot tea. Good luck!

Race Day Nutrition Strategies

Practice What You Eat

Consider fuelling part of your training plan. Experiment with pre-run breakfasts and sports drinks, gels and foods mid-run. Practice is the best way to find out if you tolerate something well or if you should steer clear.

Avoid Your Greens

As a dietitian, there’s only one time I tell people not to eat vegetables: the days leading up to the big race. Vegetables are loaded with fibre and although this is important to overall health, when eaten too close to your race this fibre can cause constipation mid-run. I recommend starting to reduce your vegetable intake two days before the race and omit most veggies the day before.

Sip, Don’t Gulp – Nibble, Don’t Chomp

Because blood is diverted to your muscles, you don’t want to overload your digestive system. For optimal absorption, sip your gel or take small bites of energy bars or dried fruit. Take a few sips of water or sports drink at the station and avoid chugging the whole cup.

Timing Is Everything

Make sure you allow your body to have time to digest before heading out. I recommend eating your pre-race breakfast about two hours before the run (again, practice timing during training). While this might mean an extremely early wake-up, you’ll be happier to get bathroom breaks out of the way before you start.


Your body is roughly 60 per cent water and water makes up nearly half the composition of blood. When you don’t have enough water in your body, blood volume drops and your body has to work harder to deliver nutrients to and remove waste from your muscles. Hydrate before, during and after your run. Be careful not to over-hydrate.


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