Today I want to share with you 10 tips for runners with IBS or IBD.
Recently I completed the first true long run I’ve done in a long time, 7 miles. 7 miles gives one a lot of time to think, dream, and pocket all thoughts for a later time. I had already been thinking of many of these tips for quite some time now since I’m learning new things each run I complete.
I have been running for a very long (non-consecutive) time while living with SIBO (which I didn’t know back when I first started running). 8+ years later and I have learned so many things.
10 Tips for Runners with IBS or IBD
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- Time of day. I have experimented with this over-and-over again. I know that everyone has their time of day that they love to run, but what I have learned over the years is that my best chance for a successful run is when I run first thing in the morning. And this probably has more to do with number 2 (on this list, no pun intended) than anything else.
- Food prior to run. When I run first thing in the morning, here is exactly what I eat before any length of run: a banana (monosaccharide), 1/4-1/2 cup of coffee with a little (like 1/2 tsp little) honey and coconut milk. If I have a long run, I’ll eat a whole banana, otherwise, usually just a half. Once I get into higher mileage, 13+ miles, I will likely play around with eating a little more than this, but for now, this is what is perfect. All of these things settle in my stomach perfectly. If I wait any later in the day for my run, I’ll always eat a lot more, but then typically more problems arise. If you run first thing in the morning, you shouldn’t need to eat a ton, as your body is still working off the previous day’s stores (which makes number 3 on this list very important).
- Food in general. Food will always be subjective, but if you have IBS and/or IBD, you must dial in food (for your body) in order to ensure running with ease. On Saturday night before my Sunday morning run, I had about 1 cup of sweet potato. I knew I probably shouldn’t, since anything more than 1/2 cup is high FODMAP, but it was so good, and I enjoyed every single bite. I think I paid a little for that decision on Sunday morning. For me, I know exactly what I can and can’t eat if I want to be serious about running. Depending on your condition(s) what you can tolerate will be different from what I can. Make no mistake, when you have IBS or IBD, food will be your medicine or poison, and I will argue that point until the day I die. If you want to run, and you want to run well, you’ll need to do the very best you can to determine what foods in general need to fuel your life before, during, and after your runs.
- Pants. I like to run in super tight running pants (Under Armour, Reebok, Nike, Lululemon, and Lucy are my current favorites). There was a time when I would run in sweatpants, but I have no idea how I survived. That said, sometimes, I think the constriction on my stomach makes matters worse while running. Because I’m not really willing to run in sweatpants anymore, the way I work around this is that I’ll usually tuck a tank top into my pants so that there is a little extra comfortable “padding.” It sounds weird but totally helps. You have to feel comfortable, from all angles, on your stomach.
- Alcohol. I have not had a drop of alcohol since November 7, which is now over a month. For my drinking running friends who don’t want to hear this, just skip it, but never did I have a drink then go on a run the next day without feeling miserable. Will I ever drink while running again? Um, of course. But very carefully and selectively. For me, it’s just not worth it because even if I’m not running, alcohol still affects me far too much.
- Monthly cycle. Most gastrointestinal syndromes and diseases cycle with the female monthly cycle. This is, by far, my greatest struggle. It is 99% of the reason why I went back on WP Thyroid – I am trying to see if it helps my hormones to the level where my monthly cycle doesn’t cause so much pain and agony any longer. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have noticed that yesterday I made the comment, “Today’s #Run was anything but easy. At mile 1.36 (I know because I had to stop my @garmin for awhile) I wasn’t sure these 7 miles would happen today. But they did.” At mile 1, the horrific cramps set in. Luckily, I was still close to home, so I ran home. I stopped my Garmin, and let the cramping and pain subside. And then I ran my heart out the rest of the way. It’s a super, duper bizarre thing I have going on (one in which no doctor can figure out), but basically, they think it’s either like something bursts with intensity and then I’m able to go on or it has to do with the Colitis or a combination of them both. I’m at the point where I believe it might be a combination, but regardless, I have learned to work with my cycle. Track it for awhile to see. If you find your IBS and IBD symptoms cycle with your monthly cycle, write your workouts and runs to minimize the complications. You will obviously not be able to do this for race day, though, which is a lasting concern for me. (For the record, this has taken years to figure out – and I have over half a month each month when I am affected by it.)
- Flaring? Just skip the run. Gasp! Skip a run? Yeah, I know….I am Type A, and even cutting a run down by .30 miles gives me anxiety. I met a girl recently who has severe Colitis but is a serious runner, running races all the time. She told me about all the things she has done, even while flaring, just to run. In fact, many times she didn’t make the bathroom, and many other times always ended up even sicker (think hospitalized). I listened to her, but I could never agree that that’s okay for someone with IBD because I believe if you’re really flaring, you must heed what your body is saying and skip the run altogether. I haven’t had a flare like that in years, and I wish back then I would have read these words and then listened.
- Routes. Know your route. Know where any and all bathrooms are. For me, where we live, there are barely any bathrooms on long routes so if I feel even a little off, I”ll just run circles, if need be, or out-n-backs until my mileage is complete. Like yesterday, for example. After that pain at mile 1.36, when I left my house again, I just did an out and back just in case. And even though I felt perfect, I also knew that I was never too far from home if I needed it. Rarely will I set out for a long run without knowing that a bathroom is nearby if I need it (or my husband is home to call).
- Treadmill “Safety.” The safest place to run, run, run would be at home, on a treadmill. I think a treadmill is a dreadmill, but because I love running so much, we are going to be getting one soon for the days I want to do certain interval workouts, hill workouts, but also so that I have one just in case I don’t feel like wandering far from home. This could be an expensive option, so make sure you love to run before investing here!
- Race food and beverage. My friend just PR’d another marathon, like super fast. I asked her what she ate and drank while running it, and she said she drank at each aid station, gu’s, etc. I hear “gu” and I want to barf. She doesn’t have IBS or IBD, so I legitimately want to ask those who do, “Does gu actually sit well in your gut when you are running your heart out?” I think that the in-race food and beverage is something you absolutely must practice and perfect if you have IBS or IBD. Funky ingredients and sugars, while running hard, have never sat well in my stomach. I’d gather they won’t sit well in yours, either.
If you want to run, know that you can run. I used to believe and listen to the things people told me, “You can’t run. You shouldn’t run. Don’t run. Blah.”
That’s called fear. And living with fear about every little thing that brings you joy in life makes for long days and hard years.
Trust me. I’ve been there. I’m overcoming that.
I promise. Mile one is the hardest, but such is life.
p.s. All things considered, I totally nailed that run yesterday!
You will heal. I will help.