Monday, November 23, 2009

Why am I bloated after my runs?

I have come to realize that my Buddha belly issues are not normal thanks to finally remembering to ask fellow bloggers HEAB and Caitlin if they’ve ever experienced this issue. First and foremost, thank you ladies for helping me out and for your quick and very informative responses. I’m still working thing out, but I wanted to talk about it a little more for those of you who might be experiencing the same thing I have.

After a run, my stomach usually bloats out. It’s been something that I’ve been experiencing for as long as I can remember, and I never really thought anything much of it until this past weekend. I ran 7 miles and on my cool-down walk back to my car, I noticed my belly was sticking out. I looked in my car window and it seriously looked like I was a few months pregnant. I thought, “Damn, what the hell is this?” It really shocked me to see how bloated I got, and to be honest, it kind of scared me.

I emailed Caitlin and HEAB to let them know what I experienced and asked them if they knew anything about why that would happen. Figuring it to be normal, I half expected a quick and easy response such as, “Oh it’s just your body reacting to the stress of running,” or something like that. But when they both emailed me back to say they had never heard of anything like that before, I was a little worried.

Let’s take a step back 29ish years. When I was a baby, I had some intestinal issues. The doctors didn’t really know what was wrong with me but I was in the hospital with complications that were thought to be related to my small intestine. I struggled for years with regularity, and as a child was forced to take (Warning, TMI) enemas, laxatives, and mineral oil for lubrication. I would go weeks (seriously) without a bowel movement all throughout high school and never thought twice about it. Ignorance? Maybe. But I didn’t know anything else. It was just how my body worked.

It wasn’t until I started changing my diet (and when Dennis got sick) that I realized the importance of regularity. Eating more balanced, less refined, and more natural “whole” foods is what helped me to becoming “normal” so to speak. But this bloat issue has remained, so I thought it must be natural.

Both Heather and Caitlin asked me what I eat before I run and gave me information about how eating solid foods too close to a run can cause bloating and nausea. I don’t get nauseous, thank God, but this could be the cause of my problem. I eat before every run or workout session; depending on how long my workout is how much I will eat. If I know I’m running a long run, I’ll be sure to eat a good, hearty breakfast of oatmeal or Go Lean waffles with yogurt, PB and bananas about 2 hours before I begin my run. I do this because I don’t like to eat while I’m running, and I don’t know how else to stay fueled during the run. I took a Goo with me during the Boilermaker 15K and it ended up making me sick, so after that I decided to stay away from that kind of stuff and just keep doing what I’ve been doing. However, I am seeing that maybe liquid nutrition might be best for me before a run or long workout.

Caitlin sent me this link: #3 states:

Liquid nutrition is the easiest and most convenient way to get kilojoules and nutrient dense fuel. Solid food for the most part cannot match the nutrition of the best liquid food supplements. In addition, too much solid food consumption will divert blood from working muscles for the digestive process. This and the amount of digestive enzymes and fluids required in breaking down the constituents of solid food taxes the body and can result in a feeling of bloating and/or nausea. Some solid food intake is okay during endurance exercise, particularly during ultras, but for a more rapid utilization of nutrients with less chance of stomach distress, a liquid energy source is preferred.

Heather sent me something similar…pretty much the same thing as what was bolded. However, when I looked back at #3, it was labeled as Eating too much solid food DURING exercise. I’m not eating while I run, but I do eat solids before. So I chalked it up to that for the most part. On Thursday I’m planning a long run in the morning. I was going to run a 10K but I really need to save that $30. I have a carton of Muscle Milk that I will drink before that run and we will see how well that works. I will also try making a smoothie with a banana and some milk or something like that.

Another question I have is is it safe to run on an empty stomach? I’ve heard it is really bad to do that, but I know many people who do. I don’t typically run well on an empty stomach (i.e. first thing in the morning) and I’ve only done it a few times. Usually if I run in the morning I’ll at least eat a half a banana before I go.

Now here’s the other issue: fueling while I run.

I need to find a good energy source that isn’t too expensive and not too processed. Caitlin suggested jelly beans or gummy bears and I will try them, but I feel like putting that kind of sugar in my system will only hurt me in the long run. I have been using agave nectar which is slightly more natural but it’s still pretty much sugar, and the coconut water is expensive. I never realized how important this stuff was, so now I’m reaching out to see what kind of suggestions I can get to finally get what will work for me.

Heather and Caitlin were a major help to me. I really appreciate the help they provided for me. Now all I can do is test the theory of liquid fuel vs. solid fuel.

I wanted to put this out there just in case there was anyone else experiencing this issue. Feel free to let me know what you think!


  1. Ha ha - Caitlin and I did send you the same link.

    So, yes, I think liquid before a run might help you, and you can totally run on an empty stomach, but for something longer than an hour, you may need a little fuel.

    As far as fueling while you run, how a mix of water and agave. Much better than Gatorade! If your running long distance, then your body will need the sugar. CD mixes GU and Cliff powder (sweetened with brown rice syrup) and dilutes it with water. Try different things, but I still think you should stick with liquids. All runners have different needs, and you have to find what works best for you.

  2. This can really put a damper on training!

    Personally, I find that I cannot eat ANYTHING 2 hours before a long run. After all, it takes your body about 2-4 hours to process a meal. If I do eat anything solid, I get crampy and bloated.

    There's nothing wrong with NOT eating anything before a run. In fact, it's probably best not to, because you're right, your blood is shunted to your digestive system to digest the food. I would say if you plan on exercising longer than an hour, eat a SMALL meal 2 hours beforehand (30 grams of carbs, moderate amt of protein), and plan for 15 grams of carbohydrate in liquid form at the one hour point, and plan for a quickly digested post-exercise snack/meal. If you are working out for an hour or less, there's really no need to fuel during.

    Have you thought about just plain old juice? 1/2 cup provides 15 grams of quickly digested carbs and is more nutritious than, say, Gatorade or even sugar syrup. OJ may not be a good choice d/t the fact that it may cause a little indigestion, but apple juice works for me. It's what diabetics use when their blood sugar is low. Personally, I would stay away from the Muscle Milk, or only drink a 1/2 cup or so 1-2 hours before exercising. It has protein (and I think a little fat) which will delay digestion. Protein, fat, fiber and portion size will all affect how quickly (or slowly) a food is digested.

    The other thing is you may not be getting enough hydration. Are you hydrating up beforehand?

    Hope this helps. Shoot me an email if I have totally confused you :-)

    Happy Thanksgiving hon!

  3. Hmmmm...
    I'm male, and I've always bloated after runs -- and the longer the run, the more I seem to bloat. I just did a half marathon (relaxed, not racing) and I've had to go out another belt notch for the moment!

    I have to do long runs on an empty stomach -- nausea and cramping otherwise -- and I've pretty much always run that way.

    Just to throw out some complete ignorance here -- is there any potential for something hyponacemia-related? Maybe cells in the stomach are absorbing water released from fatty acids being converted to energy? I'm having trouble finding anything authoritative on this bloating issue...

    It's ironic that we do workouts that most of the population isn't capable of, but then the look of our stomachs after a workout betrays our actual ability.

    Someone on one of the answer sites quoted an article saying that distance runners are known to have more gas. I don't notice this be an issue for me, but maybe its a contributor?