Health

Trusting Your Gut: How Runners Can Avoid Digestive Issues

Nutrition coach, chef, and two-time New York Times best-selling author Elyse Kopecky shares a simple but very important trick.

If you’re a runner, you’ve likely experienced bouts of digestive distress. It basically comes with the territory. Digestive ailments are a common struggle amongst distance runners, evident by the long porta-john lines at races. When you run, oxygen flows away from your digestive system to oxygenate your hardworking muscles, which can be taxing to our stomach and intestines. Also runners are a hungry bunch—the need to consume more calories (larger meals and frequent snacks) puts more demand on our delicate system. 

Especially for female runners, it’s important not to ignore poop problems. A solid digestive system is critical to ensure you’re able to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the food you’re eating. When your digestion is off every system in your body can suffer. Poor digestion over time leads to low energy, mood swings, lower immunity, sleep problems, hormone imbalance, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and more. 

Everyone reacts differently to foods, so the best way to learn what could be causing discomfort is to keep a food journal. Common culprits of an upset tummy include dairy, gluten, sugar, coffee, and alcohol. But also seemingly healthy foods could be doing more harm than good. It is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing. While a large kale salad might be healthy to one runner, for another runner this could leave them racing for the bathroom. 

Other “healthy” foods to limit if your digestion is stressed include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), apples, cherries, protein powders, legumes (soaking can help), hummus, grains, carbonated beverages, and artificial sugars. This doesn’t mean you need to completely eliminate these foods, but just become more in tune with what you eat and how you feel. 

What you’re not eating could be just as much of the problem as what you are eating. The best foods to include in your diet to boost digestion are raw salads, which are rich in digestion-enhancing enzymes; probiotic-rich foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and yogurt; alkalizing foods like lemon juice in warm water; and just the right amount of fiber (enough to keep things moving but not too much!). Especially soothing foods include homemade bone broth, chia seeds, tropical fruit like pineapple and mango, and herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, fennel seeds, mint, cilantro, cinnamon, and cardamom. 

For women, digestion can be especially sensitive during our cycles. Consider skipping that extra slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream when you’re ovulating; instead be gentle on your body and select delicious and easy-to-digest foods like smoothies made with ginger, whole milk yogurt with berries, baked sweet potato, or a rice bowl with chicken and avocado (see Elyse’s Power Bowls).    

Looking for a simple and inexpensive vegetarian meal that is soothing to digestion and loaded with anti-inflammatory spices? Try my Red Lentil Kitchari recipe

Elyse Kopecky is a nutrition coach, chef, and two-time New York Times best-selling author. In her new exclusive “Food Is Fuel” monthly column, the co-author of Run Fast. Eat Slow. and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. will explore everything women want to know about how to fuel—from breakfast to snacks, to recovery, and on-the-go foods. Have a topic you’d like to have Elyse talk about? Email us at editorial@womensrunning.com