Interested in taking up running? For people with IBS, it’s easier said than done. Despite their positive health effects, certain “good-for-you” activities, like running, can worsen or trigger certain IBS symptoms. Even with the challenge of running with IBS, though, health benefits can make the exercise worth it.
Although research has not yet fully explored the relationship between exercise and IBS, experts do agree that exercise can help reduce stress, a primary trigger of IBS symptoms. Another benefit of running as a regular form of exercise is its ability to improve heart health and muscle function.
How IBS reacts to running can vary for each person. For example, those diagnosed with IBS-D may experience increased diarrhea and gut pain during a long run. For “athletes” with IBS-C, this form of exercise may actually help improve gut function and reduce constipation, but abdominal pain and gas can still be issues.
Still interested in taking up running? Before lacing up, it might help to keep the following tips in mind to help keep your gut quiet.
Our top tips
Learn your body’s schedule. Every case of IBS is unique—some are at their best first thing in the morning while others have the fewest symptoms around bed time. Those whose IBS symptoms tend to worsen early in the day may benefit from running at night instead of taking a morning jog.
Avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeine has the potential to speed up contractions and can worsen IBS symptoms, so consider laying off caffeinated drinks until after the run (or cutting them out altogether).
Don’t eat before exercising. Avoid eating a few hours before exercise to give the body a chance to digest its meal. The physical motion of running can worsen IBS symptoms, especially with a stomach full of food. If you must eat, try a low FODMAP snack to get you through a run.
Limit foods that cause gas. This is common IBS advice, but it’s even more important to avoid gas buildup while running. Fatty and high-fiber foods, like dairy or beans, can lead to increased cramping and bloating during a run. Experts recommend cutting out foods responsible for IBS flare-ups.
Don’t push yourself too hard. Your high school gym teacher might have told you to “push through the pain,” but those with gut issues should pay special attention to their bodies and take breaks as necessary. There’s no shame in pausing or stopping to let your gut calm down.
Talk to your doctor. Anyone with symptoms that make it impossible to exercise or cause extreme discomfort while running should talk to a medical professional to help manage symptoms.
Whether you’re a long-timer runner or a beginner looking to improve your health, taking steps to minimize symptoms can make it possible to exercise comfortably. For people with IBS symptoms severe enough that running just isn’t possible, consider other, more IBS-friendly workouts, like walking or yoga.