Stomach Gurgling During a Race? A Few Causes + Solutions

by | May 31, 2024 | Nutrition

A churning stomach, gurgling tummy, hiccups or a bit of a heartburn-y tight feeling during a running or cycling event is normal—and incredibly annoying and stressful!

Dealing with race day gut issues

Normalize a bit of gut distress

That sounds like a weird first tip, but honestly, being stressed about your tummy being rumbly or needing to rush to the port-a-potty ahead of the race is just going to make the situation worse. $hit happens (literally). It’s hard to accept, but race day nerves and any number of food choices and timing issues can make you more prone to gut distress. But it doesn’t have to wreck your race! The more you let it get you stressed, though, the worse it’s going to get—there’s a major psychosomatic component to race day gut distress.

Arrive early

Get to the race site with enough time to hit the port-a-potty as often as needed! Often, some of these gut issues can simply stem from not having enough time to gently warm up AND take a potty break before the start line.

Have a pre-race food plan

The best racers keep it simple and keep it consistent in the day leading up to the race. If you often have gut distress in race, you may want to even start with your pre-race eating a couple of days ahead of the race. This means lowering your fiber intake (less veggies, more simple carbs) though not taking veggies entirely out of the mix! (You do want to poop pre-race.) Think rice and eggs, bananas, toast with jam, pasta with a lighter sauce, pizza—whatever you know your body isn’t sensitive to.

Get rid of foods you know don’t agree with you a few days out

This might mean cutting out really heavy high-fat meals or salads that are fiber packed. We usually skip alcohol a couple days prior to a race, and cut out things like ice cream that *can* be disagreeable with my gut. Basically, anything that’s been known to potentially cause an issue goes.

Know your race day fueling plan

Again, know what works for race breakfast, what sports drink/bar/gel/whatever combo works for you before and during your race. If you’re doing a race with aid stations, be aware of what they serve ahead of time and have a plan for what you’ll take from the aid station and what you’ll skip.

Journal out your past events

Play detective! After each race, jot down a few notes about what you ate the night before, morning of, and in race … plus any gut symptoms and issues. This will help you start to hone in on what potentially can be causing issues.

Staying with a group? Practice food safety!

In high school home economics, I remember one thing: The Danger Zone. This is when food is left on the counter for too long and gets warm. If you’re sharing race day accommodations with people, be careful with communal food, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Things like rice left out on the counter in the rice cooker seem innocuous, but can be literally gut-wrenching.

Try an OTC solution

Pepto Bismol, Tums and Immodium are all commonly used by ultra-runners who tend towards gut distress on runs. Personally, I do pre-race Pepto Bismol and I know that it makes a big difference in my gastrointestinal outcomes!

Don’t let it wreck your race

Finally, sometimes you just have a bit of a grumbly gut. It happens. Maybe you drank a bit too much water, maybe you’re just nervous and your system is in overdrive. Hit the port-a-potty (or the woods if necessary, let’s be honest) and get back to racing. If you’re having more of an upper-stomach situation (hiccups or that tight feeling), just slow it down for a minute and take a few deep breaths. A lot of the time, just taking a minute to let things settle down, expanding the rib cage to give your stomach some space, maybe unzipping your jersey a bit or even just tugging on it to loosen it up a bit in your midsection can make a big difference.


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