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Maybe you’re familiar with this scenario: You just finished a long run and your stomach feels a bit wonky. However, you haven’t eaten in hours and you know you need food. Between the waves of nausea, you feel pretty ravenous. The thought of putting food in your stomach sounds terrible and amazing at the same time. Some foods may help with indigestion, while others can do the opposite. What’s a runner to do?
First, know that you’re not alone. According to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, gastrointestinal complaints during exercise are prevalent among 30 to 50 percent of athletes. That statistic is even higher for endurance runners specifically, where it’s estimated that 30 to 90 percent experience intestinal problems related to activity.
While there are many variables that can cause these kinds of symptoms for runners (and a physician can help you determine yours), there are some foods you can eat after a run that won’t agitate the situation further.
The BRAT Diet
Originally recommended by pediatricians for children with diarrhea and upset stomachs, BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. What do all of these foods have in common? They are bland, low-fiber, simple carbs that are easy to digest.
While there is limited research on how effective the BRAT diet is in treating the symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, bland foods can provide some initial relief. And some relief may be just what runners need to begin replacing glycogen stores without agitating that stomach with tons of fiber.
If your stomach problems have you running to the bathroom, you can quickly become dehydrated from diarrhea (sorry, it has to be said). The potassium in bananas aids in hydration and replenishing electrolytes, which is helpful when the thought of drinking water or a sports drink is nausea-inducing. It’s also important to note that dehydration itself can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, so making sure you are well hydrated before and during your run is beneficial.
This diet should definitely not be considered a long-term plan for all your meals. It lacks protein and other nutrients, so it should be considered a starting point for dealing with post-run nausea while your stomach recovers.
Other Soothing Foods
If you feel like your stomach can handle a bit more than bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, but it’s not ready for a whole meal, give these foods a try.
These have some sugar to replace glycogen, and the cold icy feeling may help soothe your stomach. Avoid varieties that contain fructose or artificial sweeteners in the ingredients, as those might upset the stomach. Better yet, make your own at home with a diluted fruit juice of your choosing.
Just like toast, this simple carb is easy to digest and replaces some salt lost in sweat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, evidence suggests that crackers are capable of soaking up stomach acids and also prevent acids from being released in the stomach.
Cooked cereal, oatmeal, or boiled potatoes are all warm starches that are easy on the stomach. Enjoy them in small portions when your stomach is feeling woozy.
Like the warm starches, hot liquids can also soothe the stomach when sipped slowly. Choose a blend with ginger, as the root has been shown to ease digestive issues. That’s why so many people are quick to reach for ginger ale when nauseous, but most of those sodas don’t contain real ginger and the sugar content can actually agitate the problem further. Stick to tea instead.
Broth or soup
Soup or a vegetable or bone broth are also great warm liquids for bellyaches, and the salt in the soup will aid in hydration. Bone broth is also rich in amino acids as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium — though the exact amount of each of these nutrients varies based on how the broth was prepared.
Avocado, melon, and papaya
These fruits are low in fiber and easy to digest. (And avocados actually have more potassium than bananas, making them great for replenishing necessary electrolytes. However, they are also high in fat, which can be hard on the stomach, so eat slowly.)
The probiotics in yogurt can aid digestion. Plus, it has protein to help soothe tired muscles. Try a few bites and see how you feel before you down a whole container.
If you’re feeling decent, try some ground meat for a protein boost. The fat in the meat might be too much for the stomach at first, so start small.
Foods to Avoid After a Run
Your stomach will probably tell you that these foods won’t go over well, but here’s a little reminder—just in case.
Anything greasy or fried is sure to sit in your stomach and cause further distress. It might be best to wait a day for that post-run burger.
Milk, as it turns out, is one of the most effective drinks for rehydration purposes. Unfortunately, it is also a known cause of digestive issues for many. It’s best to avoid this nutritious drink if your stomach is not feeling good.
Another nutritious option that isn’t great for an upset stomach is raw veggies. The high fiber content is just too much for a rumbling stomach to handle. If you want to give vegetables a try, boil or steam them first.
Who doesn’t love a good cup of joe (especially after a morning run)? But for all of its caffeine-wonder, it can weigh heavy on your stomach. So it’s best to avoid coffee when your stomach isn’t feeling right.
The benefits of the post-run beer have been pretty well-documented, and that’s something to cheers. But alcohol in any form is sure to bother an already queasy stomach. Try to give it at least a day before imbibing.