Gastro-Intestinal Concerns for Athletes

Surrey Delta BC at Legacies Health Centre

GI Concerns for Athletes

Gastrointestinal (GI) problems are considered so common by many athletes that they have become a natural part of the athletic experience. Many athletes have even accepted the symptoms of GI distress (pain, diarrhea, gas, vomiting, bloating) as an inherent and normal part of training and competition, having suffered for so long they can’t imagine life without these problems. Of course, GI distress that results in these symptoms is anything but normal and natural, and left untreated, some GI problems may cascade into disease states that can seriously compromise a runner’s health.

There are many GI concerns for athletes. Frequent fluctuation in hydration state can cause digestion and absorption difficulties that require a constant vigilance to make sure fluid consumption is adequate. The stress associated with competition and overtraining is also a concern; GI dysfunction (nausea, gastritis, colitis) is a common outcome with persistent stress and lack of adequate rest. Once stress-related GI problems occur, nutrient intake drops. This gives rise to numerous other nutrient-deficiency disorders

Physical activity increases the need for fuel and for the metabolic processes that are involved in its utilization. Anything that either limits the provision of adequate calories to support the cellular requirement or alters the cell’s capacity to properly metabolize the provided fuel will have a negative impact on performance.  Some factors are within athletes’ control, including adequate food consumption, careful consumption of drugs and supplements, and avoidance of regular alcohol consumption; other factors are not within athletes’ control, including disease state that may alter food intake or food absorption.

For those condition that are not within direct control of the athlete such as IBS, celiac and Crohn’s disease and other GI tract disorder, an increasing number of medical solutions are available.

Food Sensitivities:

Food sensitivities are one of major factor in GI tract disorder. In addition, food sensitivities cause inflammation in the digestive tract and prevent the absorption of the essential nutrients.

Sports Beverages:

Another common source of GI distress is sport beverages. There are three common scenarios: (1) the athlete fails to adequately adapt to the beverage; (2) the beverage has an excessively high osmalirity (i.e: the concentration of electrolytes, sugar, or protein is too high); and (3) the athlete has an intolerance or sensitivity to s specific carbohydrate source in the beverage


GI distress is a common problem in athletes, resulting in pain, diarrhea, gas, vomiting, and bloating. Although common, these problems should not be considered insignificant. Athletes should consult a physician to determine the cause. Athletes with GI distress should consider the consumed beverage, sensitivity to the carbohydrate source, celiac disease, food allergies, and food sensitivities as possible causes.

Surrey Delta BC at Legacies Health Centre