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What Causes Stomach Pain after Exercise?

author image Meredith Crilly
Meredith C. has worked as a nutrition educator, chef and community health projects since 2011. She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Tennessee and is currently completing an MS/DI program in nutrition.
What Causes Stomach Pain after Exercise?
A young woman holds her stomach in pain.

If you've ever experienced stomach pain after exercising, you may be wondering which factors lead to stomach discomfort. Since your post-workout stomach pain may be caused by one or several dietary or exercise factors, you may benefit from changing your workout to avoid the most common causes. Keep in mind that while these factors play a role in post-exercise stomach pain, severe GI symptoms may be a sign of a more serious problem, so be sure to consult with your doctor if your symptoms are progressive.

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Dehydration contributes significantly to disturbances in the GI tract, especially when you've lost more than 4% of your body weight. Long-distance runners often struggle with maintaining hydration. However, if your workout is varied, you can maintain adequate hydration by drinking 400-600 milliliters of water or sports drinks before exercise. Try to drink water during your workouts if you have pauses between exercises, and be sure to drink and rehydrate after completing exercise.

Dietary Contributors

Eating improperly before exercise contributes to stomach pain. Having a large meal that's high in protein and fat slows down your gastrointestinal system and can cause stomach pain. When performing endurance exercises, such as races or marathons, you need to consider your dietary patterns in the days leading up to the race. Different nutrients pass through the GI tract at varying rates. While carbohydrates are easily broken down and absorbed, foods high in fiber, protein and fat pass more slowly. On the day before and the day of exercise, decrease your intake of these foods to avoid stomach pain after exercising.

High Exercise Intensity

A common factor in post-exercise stomach pain is exercising at a high intensity. Individuals who are competing often push themselves farther than they normally exercise, causing abdominal pain. In order to avoid overstraining yourself, focus on training. Work up to your desired intensity level, and if you are training for a competition, be sure that your exercise mimics the conditions of the competition as closely as possible. By conditioning your body, you may have fewer bouts of post-exercise stomach pain. Most athletes adapt and have fewer GI complaints as their training progresses.

Weather Conditions

Exercising in cold conditions also plays a role in post-workout stomach pain, especially when you exercise in snowy or icy weather. Because of the cold weather, your muscles experience decreased circulation, increasing the chance for muscle strain in the abdominal area. Warming up the abdominal muscles decreases risk of strain. Perform warm-ups indoors before exercising outside in cold weather. Also, if exercising in cold weather, dress appropriately for your workout to help your body to retain needed heat.

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