Runner Problems: Runner’s Tummy & Going Dairy/Lactose-Free?


Warning:  This is one of those times where I am talking about the ugliness of running… proceed with caution.

Ahh the ever-present injuries a runner could face… runner’s knee, shin splints, IT-band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, stress fractures… and stomach problems, aka “Runner’s Tummy.”  We as runners are up against a very unpleasant list of possible aches and pains.  Runner’s Tummy seems to be the one that chose me.

When I first started seriously training for my half-marathon, I noticed that my stomach was beginning to cause me problems.  The more mileage I added and the more serious I became with my training the less foods I could keep down.  At first it was mostly Italian and Mexican-type foods that would trigger the rumblings.  I would be up for hours at night in pretty bad pain.  Once I could get my stomach to settle I could go back to sleep and would be fine the next morning.  I started noting which foods caused the bad pain and sickness, which ones just made me feel rumbly, and which ones were fine.

I researched some running articles and found that this wasn’t an uncommon thing for runner’s to experience.  Running for long periods of time, or at high intensities (like speed work) causes a greater impact on your GI tract.  Some articles suggested that running irritates pre-existing conditions that may have previously gone unnoticed, like being lactose intolerant.

While I haven’t been tested for a lactose intolerance, I believe it to be the culprit.  I can no longer enjoy certain pizzas, although I have been trying different ones and can tell you which ones I have to avoid.  I can no longer eat at Mexican restaurants either, the cheese they use there completely kills my stomach. It’s very heartbreaking because chicken soft tacos from Plaza Azteca are a weakness of mine.

I have been reading running blogs like The Local Elite, who found themselves becoming lactose intolerant later in life.  I have also been reading up on runners who follow Paleo diets.  While I am not ready to go completely in that direction, it is probably best that I remove dairy from my diet…

One of the issues I am having  is where I will get the calcium besides vitamins (which also have a tendency to hurt my stomach) and how can I cook things that require these products.  Ironically the day that I was really pondering this, Shine or Set, discussed the benefits of hemp seeds.  I have seen hemp milk at Whole Foods before but had never really thought anything of it.  I have tried almond milk too, but it’s kind of watery tasting to me.  I guess if I’m cooking with it, it wouldn’t make a difference.  I have used it in smoothies as well.  Textures of foods cause me to be an even pickier eater, the “watery-ness” of almond milk doesn’t go down very easily for me. Hemp milk however, I have heard and read, has a consistency that is closer to actual milk than the other alternatives.  So I am very interested in trying it out.

And Cheese.  I love cheese.  I mean it’s a great compliment to many meals.  Ever since I started noticing my stomach aches, I was taking note on what I had eaten prior.  I do know that certain cheeses are really bothersome, especially when mixed with other foods.  And there are others that don’t have an effect on me at all.  I guess it’ll just be trial and error if I don’t want to fully remove it from my diet.

Decisions, decisions… To be dairy-free or not to be?

 Readers!!! What are your experiences with Runner’s Tummy?  Anyone have weird food issues during/after training?  Advice on lactose intolerance?  Have any suggestions on a dairy-free diet? What about going Paleo?

Comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


3 thoughts on “Runner Problems: Runner’s Tummy & Going Dairy/Lactose-Free?

  1. I’m also working on going dairy free. I have a lot of issues with dairy in general, but one being “runners tummy.” I’m almost completely dairy free with the exception of cheese, it’s just so delicious! If you’re worried about calcium, almonds, beans (especially black beans and chick peas), quinoa, and greens like spinach and kale are all high in calcium. Good luck!

  2. Ah! I know this pain. I am actually dairy-free because of acid reflux (GERD) and since dropping the dairy, I can honestly say that I feel SO much better, in general and while running. For me, dairy screwed with so much–excess phlegm, heartburn, runner’s tummy–so it was worth going without. But it’s not always easy being dairy-free, but the pros really do outweigh the cons. And a little dairy here and there doesn’t cause too much fuss, as long as it isn’t all the time. It’s all about small changes to the diet, like leaving the cheese off your tacos or opting for sorbet instead of ice cream. And don’t worry too much about getting calcium. As long as you eat balanced and healthy, that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s tough, but you can do it! Good luck!

    Ps. The secret is hard cheeses — they have less lactose 🙂

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