Saturday 29 August 2015


I'm writing this post to share my experience and maybe it will help someone.

For the last 12-15 years I have suffered with stomach/bowel problems that mainly manifest when running.  It has also caused problems when I have been swimming too.  

The problems I have had are quite common to many runners I have spoken to over the years and that is the need to go to the toilet whilst out running (and I'm not just talking about needing a quick wee because you drank too much water before)!  Most of the time I can go up to 3 or 4 times before I leave the house and think I've emptied my bowels now surely I will be ok but pretty much every run resorts in me having to find a bush.  Most of my runs I have driven out or gone to places where I know I can find somewhere to go.  

10 years ago the problem was getting to me so I went to the doctors and they said it was IBS.  Now, I'm not ok with this as a diagnosis as IBS is so general and refers to many different issues from constipation and bloating to diarrhoea.  I wanted a more specific diagnosis and a way forward to deal with this problem.  The one thing I asked them at the time was "is it a food allergy/intolerance?"   I was told it absolutely wasn't.  I had tests to eliminate things like bowel cancer and I saw a specialist who said he'd vaguely heard of athletes having problems like this and he would look into it.  Of course I heard nothing back from him.

Over the years I just put up with it.  For my long runs I drive out to places where I know I can go and my shorter runs from home I do some out and backs by my house in case I have to nip back which does happen a lot. 

Then 18 months ago I started working with a sports nutritionist.  The main change I made to my diet was cutting out normal bread - his reasoning was the high sugars in both white and brown bread.  I then included more protein and veg with every meal and less sugars.  I replaced normal bread with rye bread.  The only times I was now eating any type of bread was at breakfast where I would have boiled or scrambled eggs with avocado or spinach on rye bread.  Lunch time I no longer ate any type of bread at all and would eat jacket potatoes, pasta or similar. 

Over a few months my problems got a little bit better.  They didn't go away but it definitely wasn't happening as often.

Then this year I spoke to my nutritionist about this and wondered about a gluten intolerance.  He suggested I read a book called Wheat Belly and try and do 30 days without any gluten at all.  So for June this year I did this.  It was quite hard to start with as I really had to plan what I was going to eat.  It meant a lot of preparation in advance too.  Gluten/wheat is in many things that us athletes think we need for energy like pasta and bread.  I now found myself eating a lot of potatoes!  I made a big batch of hash browns that I then froze so I could eat them for breakfast (only take 15 mins to cook from frozen) which I would have as usual with my eggs.  I then eat jacket potatoes (sweet or normal) or quinoa for lunch and then again at dinner carbs include either potatoes or rice mostly.  

Within about 10 days into 30 days gluten free I was finding that I wasn't needing toilet stops on my runs.  This was great but I didn't rule out that this could just be a coincidence or in my head.  Doing the 30 days of gluten free was definitely hard to do to start with but by the end I had gotten into a routine of the types of food to eat and any preparation in advance I needed to do.  There were times I didn't want to keep going with it as it seemed like a lot of hassle.  I'm so glad I did as for that time I had no stomach issues.  

Once the 30 days were up I found I was now in a good routine and didn't actually want to go back to my old eating ways.  I thought I would miss bread but found I really didn't.  The only thing I missed was pizza.  I have now found that lots of places do a gluten free pizza, although admittedly the bases aren't quite as good as a normal pizza base!  

When I was doing the 30 days gluten free I was very strict but now I am gluten free but not 100% strict with it.  I do have the occasional biscuit and when cooking a chili I add an oxo cube for example.  I have found for me that tiny amounts of wheat/gluten don't upset my stomach but large amounts do which I recently put to the test.

At the weekend we travelled up to Scotland for a wedding.  I intended to make myself a quinoa salad to eat for lunch on the way but completely forgot.  At lunchtime we stopped at a service station and was limited to what was available.  I opted for a toasted panini and accepted that there may be consequences.  The next morning I went out to do a run session.  Part way into my second effort and I had intense stomach pains and once again found myself having to stop and look for a bush.  The following 3 days I had a bad stomach every time I went out running.  Now I knew for sure that this was definitely down to being intolerant to gluten.  I had thought that maybe it wasn't really this and perhaps I was just eating better on the whole or it was in my head.  This is the first time I have really put it to the test and just shows what one sandwich does to me.  

I wish I had found this out years ago as it has caused me a lot of distress over the years and races that I've pulled out of with pains and issues.  I am quite annoyed that I went to the doctors a lot over the course of a couple of years around 2005-2007 and they just fobbed me off telling me to just take immodium before I run.  I was reluctant to be gluten free to start with as I know it seems like I'm jumping on the band wagon with a few high profile athletes going gluten free.  

The advice I have to anyone out there who has stomach problems as I had when running or doing other sport is to give the 30 days gluten free a try to start with and see if it makes a difference.  It is really important though that if you do train for endurance sport you find carbohydrates that you can replace your breads and pasta with.  I spent a week just looking at my options and writing out daily food menus before starting this.  Going into it with no plan will either see you relapsing back to bread/pasta etc or depleting yourself and not having the energy to train.

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