How to Avoid Stomach Issues When Running a Marathon

Learning to prevent and manage stomach woes is part of complete marathon prep.

Learning to prevent and manage stomach woes is part of complete marathon prep.

You're training for a marathon. That means you need to log a lot of miles, practice drinking on the go, burn through a few pairs of shoes, develop a love affair with carbs and remember to set your alarm on race day. But since you'll be running for three to five hours or so, you also need to find ways to stay out of the portable toilets and keep your morning muffin from winding up on some race volunteer's shoes.

Before the Marathon

Drink eight to 12 ounces of a sports-replacement beverage every 20 to 30 minutes during your longest training run each week. You may also alternate the beverage with water, but make an effort to drink at least 32 ounces of fluid per hour; you may need more on warmer days.

Use a different sports drink if you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any other type of gastrointestinal misery during the run. If necessary, continue trying new drinks until you find one that keeps you fueled and agrees with your innards. Plan to replicate this drinking schedule in your race.

Avoid eating known "trigger foods" in the 24 hours before the marathon. For many people, these include spicy foods, foods with significant amounts of fiber, coffee and dairy products. If you go out to eat the night before, as many do, don't try any unfamiliar foods, no matter how tempting.

Limit your intake of medications as much as possible. In particular, keep away from NSAIDs -- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen -- and aspirin, as these can irritate the lining of your stomach, especially when it is empty of food or nearly so.

During the Marathon

Ingest as few different things as possible throughout the marathon. That is, don't take gels here, a sports drink there and an energy bar somewhere else. According to Matt Fitzgerald, an endurance athlete and author of several sports-nutrition books, "keep it simple" should be your mantra.

Consume only what you need and no more. This means striking a balance between taking enough in to avoid "hitting the wall" and not taking in so much that you repeatedly "hit the port-a-john."

Stick to what has worked in your longer training runs, not only in terms of the ingredients in your drinks or gels but also with respect to the frequency and amounts. It's easy to be thrown in this area because the marathon has aid stations serving a variety of items, whereas in your training runs, you have to supply these yourself.

Items you will need

  • Sports fluid bottle, up to 32 ounces or 1 liter
  • Sports drink of choice

Tip

  • It's very common for people to travel significant distances to marathons, meaning that you may not eat at home the night before. Most of these events have large dinners included in the entry fee. As many of these aren't served until close to 12 hours before the race starts, chowing down at such dinners will likely do you more harm than good. Plan your own earlier race-eve meal and bring it with you if you have to.
 

About the Author

L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.

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