Runner’s Gut – a solution at last?

By Jess Ackad

Gastrointestinal distress or runners gut is a huge problem – there is a good chance if you are running (or have been) running regularly that you will have experienced some form of ‘runners gut’ – studies of marathon runners have shown a prevalence of some sort of distress or symptoms of 50-70%, with symptoms ranging from cramping, bloating and flatulence to faecal urgency, vomiting and diarrhoea. None of these things is going to make anyone run any faster unfortunately! There has been a host of research investigating potential causes including inflammatory bowel disease, reduced blood flow through the gut during exercise. And a huge number of factors influence the symptoms including intensity and duration of exercise, nutritional intake, and environmental conditions. For example we know that although ingestion of carbohydrates during and prior to endurance events can enhance performance (by increasing the amount of readily available fuel for energy), we also know that there is a link to increased gastro-intestinal distress. And that this doesn’t vary depending on type of carbohydrate source consumed…

Recently a small study has been done (only 24 runners so don’t get too excited) that examined the effect of taking a probiotic vs a placebo for 28 days of training prior to running a marathon. By the 3rd and 4th weeks of training there was a noticeable difference in reported symptoms between the two groups, and the most interesting part is that when it came to the marathon itself that although the probiotic group still experienced symptoms, they did not worsen significantly over the duration of the marathon as the placebo group’s did. And the best part? Performance in the probiotic group in the second half of the marathon was significantly better than the placebo group which slowed noticeably as the symptoms worsened. Now this was a very small study, and also happened to be funded by the company making the probiotic, BUT it was a well run and designed study, and taken together with findings in previous research (summarized really nicely here) a probiotic might be worth considering especially if you are suffering from some form of runners gut. If you do try it – we’d love to hear how it goes for you!

The research: