Exercise and the GI Tract


There are many strategies that an athlete can utilize to minimize unwanted GI symptoms that can sometimes occur with exercise, supplementation during exercise, or exercise that entails long distances or long time frames. Certainly, not all athlete's GI symptoms are created equally so what may work for one athlete may not work for another athlete. And of course, if you are an athlete with a pre-existing medical condition, especially a particular GI issue such as Chron's disease as an example, recommendations go beyond what is suggested here. So with all of that said here are some general recommendations and strategies one might employ to make sure or GI symptoms remain happy during exercise:

  • Adequate training - make sure that before you decide to put in the 26.2 mile run or 100 mile bike ride that you have trained sufficiently and that your body, especially your GI system has adapted to that level of exercise intensitiy.
  • Exercise change-up - switching from running to cycling or running to swimming on an intermittent or permanent basis may be beneficial as both cycling and swimming are much less jarring an activity and may help to reduce stomach upset. For an athlete with minimal GI issues just intermittently utilizing a less jarring activity may solve the problem. For an athlete with minimal GI toleration, switching to a less jarring activity may need to be more of permanent change.
  • Pay attention to hydration - Making sure that an athlete is well hydrated both before, during and after athletic activity is critical to minimizing GI symptoms. This can be a balancing act and hydration requirements vary from body to body and certainly depend upon the length, frequency, intensity of exercise, and outdoor or indoor temperature. Certainly an athlete competing in an outdoor event in Florida in August would have different hydration requirements than an athlete completing an indoor treadmill run. However, limiting intake to 600 - 1000 ml/hr along with consuming small volumes of liquid on a more frequent basis may be helpful. 
  • Avoid solutions that are hypertonic in nature - this will minimize any GI bloating or aggravation of gastric reflux.
  • Avoid any sudden or dramatic changes in diet - changing your diet just prior to event competition is a no-no amongst athletes. Stick with a diet that your GI system is familiar with and make changes during your non-competitive training times. 
  • Avoid consuming any large meals immediately prior to competition. This will put undue stress on the GI system and most likely lead to unwanted issues and problems
  • Minimize the use of anti-inflammatory medications - certainly, if you are having to compete with a known injury or are in the process of healing from an older injury, might be best to utilize more side effect free treatment modalities such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, or sublingual homeopathic remedies that will not cause untwanted GI side effects due to their sublingual administration. It has been now well documented the GI and cardiovascular side-effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. 
  • Avoid the use of excessive amounts of GI stimulants such as caffeine. Although contained in many supplemental sport gels, in this form it is in a more GI friendly form