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AIR FORCE March 18, 2010
PASSING THROUGH: Diarrhoea, cramping and blood in the stool are not a runner's badge of honour and
shouldn't be treated as such.
Photo: PO Ollie Garside
In running circles
runner's tummy is one
of the terms used to
describe stomach and
bowel complaints. LT
Rob Orr says they're
more common than
you might think.
STUDIES estimate that 30 to
50 per cent of distance run-
ners experience stomach
cramps, diarrhoea and blood
in their stool at some time in their
One study in 1986 found that 23
per cent of marathon runners had posi-
tive blood in their stool. Even running
experience cannot save elite runners
suffering the effects.
Top runners have lost races, prize
money, medals and have even been dis-
qualified due to stomach cramps and
the strong desire to evacuate.
Recommended remedial actions
Reporting to the medical centre
for further investigation if any blood
is found in the stool or diarrhoea con-
tinues. Just because these conditions
are relatively common in endurance
athletes does not mean they are nor-
mal. Nor should they be considered a
badge of honour.
Increasing your hydration as
this may decrease the amount of
gastrointestinal ischemia (tem-
porary loss of blood supply) and
losses through bleeding.
Charting your nutritional intake
(time and type) and examining the
Reducing your running intensity
and volume and gradually building it
back up again (see a PTI for assist-
Excessive use of anti-inflamma-
tory drugs has also been suggested
as a cause. If you have an injury that
requires the use of anti-inflammato-
ry drugs you should be seeing your
physiotherapist or doctor for guidance
regarding both drug intake and train-
Pay attention to your body, you
only have one and spare parts are hard
to come by.
A sudden, extreme increase in
training volume or intensity.
Blood shunting. Blood shunt-
ing is a natural occurrence
where blood flow to the intes-
tines is reduced and shunted
to the working muscles. This
decreased blood flow is
thought to cause the cells in
the gastrointestinal tract to die
and slough off presenting as
bloody mucous or diarrhoea.
Nutritional intake. Eating too
soon before a run has the food
bounce around in the stomach
causing cramps and increas-
ing the need to evacuate food
contents. This in turn reduces
water uptake in the intestines
and the result is not only diar-
rhoea but a reduction in water
uptake. This mechanical effect
of bouncing food is not limited
to a unidirectional outflow. A
study has found that all triath-
letes eating within 30 minutes
of a race start vomiting.
Specific food intolerances.
The most common is thought
to be to lactose, although
wheat (gluten) products may
be another potential cause.
Remedies to run by
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