QT: 5 Takeaways After Reading The Athlete’s Gut

Denny Krahe
6 min readOct 16, 2020

A couple of months ago, the book of the month in the #DizRunsBookClub was The Athlete’s Gut.

Safe to say, most of us have had some form of GI issue during a run in the past.

And for some of us, GI issues are an issue more often than not.

Whether or not your gut regularly gives you some trouble, I think The Athlete’s Gut is definitely worth a read for every runner.

5 Takeaways from The Athlete’s Gut

The fact of the matter is there are many more than 5 takeaways from this book. As such, there is no way I am going to cover every interesting bit from The Athlete’s Gut.

So get yourself a copy and read the whole bloody thing.

And in case you’re worried about it being overly technical, let me assure you that isn’t the case.

Yes, the book does get into some of the medical technicalities of the digestive process, but the author does a great job of breaking things down in a way that I think anyone can understand what is going on within your body.

Anyway, let’s dive into some of my takeaways from the book, shall we?

1: Beverage Osmolality Matters

Wait, you’re not familiar with the term “osmolality?”

Me neither.

But you know what it means even if you don’t know what it means.

Simply put, it’s how much “stuff” is in your drink beyond the water.

So the more “stuff” you add to your water, like carbs or electrolytes or whatever, the higher the osmolality is.

And if the osmolality is too high? Not only does it take longer for your body to digest your drink but it actually pulls water out of your body and into your stomach/small intestine to help with the digestion process.

Or, to put it another way, a strong batch of Gatorade actually has the effect of dehydrating you instead of hydrating you in the moment!

Crazy, right?

If you like your sports drinks strong, and I’m definitely guilty of this, you might want to think about watering them down a bit more.

Also to note, that a super low osmolality, aka pure water, isn’t exactly ideal either.

Having a bit of sugar and/or salt in your drink is the best way to speed up digestion/absorption while maintaining/improving your hydration status during a run.

2: Sleep Impacts Gut Function

If you’ve been listening to the show for awhile, you know I’m pro-sleep.

Until I read The Athlete’s Gut, I’m not sure I ever thought about there being a link between your sleep health and how your GI system works.

But after thinking about it a bit more, I suppose it makes sense.

While we are sleeping, our bodies are working overtime doing a whole host of vital processes. And digestion is one of those processes taking place.

Not only that, but a regular sleep schedule helps us to be “regular” in other areas as well, including when you need to use the restroom.

So I guess that’s one more reason to make sure you’re getting to bed on time every night, eh?

3: There’s More to Fueling than Just Taking In Carbs

Yes, I’m a fat-adapted guy.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-carb, in general or on race day.

The Athlete’s Gut has an entire chapter dedicate to carbohydrates, and there were some points made that I think are often left out of the conversation when it comes to fueling during a run or a race.

Perhaps nothing is more important than remembering that anytime you’re ingesting anything while you’re running, it’s a challenge for your gut. Even if what you’re taking in are “easily digestible” fuels.

So while fueling during runs/races is often a key piece of the puzzle, we can decrease the risks of being forced to deal with GI issues if we reduce how much we take in during our runs/races.

Yes, fueling is important. But as I talked about a few weeks ago, over fueling during a run/race can definitely be an issue if you’re not careful.

4: Nutrient Timing, in Relation to Running, Matters

When it comes to consuming fats and proteins, timing matters.

A lot.

Taking in something high in fat or protein before/during a run or race really doesn’t do you any favors, because those types of fuels don’t break down easily.

And the last thing you’d want to do, I assume, on race day is to causes your body to divert energy to your stomach to break down a fuel source when you could be sending that energy to your legs to power your running.

Fat and protein can also slow the absorption of simple carbs, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your pre-run meal/snack.

5: Show Up Hydrated and You’ll (Probably) Be Fine

As I’ve talked about before, few things get an eye roll out of me like the old “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate” advice that I hear so often on race day!

Yes, being well hydrated is important. Yes, being massively dehydrated can be life-threatening.

But for the love of all things holy, let’s remember that running for a couple/few hours (or more) isn’t going to put us in a life-threatening state of dehydration, in most cases.

When it comes to drinking during a run or race, there are no shortage of factors to consider (and the book takes many factors into account!).

But the two biggest takeaways I got from The Athlete’s Gut were also the simplest to remember and implement.

  • Be well hydrated before you start running.
  • Drink based on your level of thirst during activity.

At the End of the Day…

Perhaps the thing I appreciated the most about The Athlete’s Gut is that the author repeatedly stressed that there are very few, if any, universal truths about how our digestive systems work during activity.

In other words, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to making sure you’re meeting your fueling needs while eliminating the risk of GI issues during a run or a race.

I know.

It would be nice if it were that simple, but unfortunately it’s not.

Instead, it’s all about figuring out what works best for you.

Keep experimenting.

Keep learning, both from your own experiences and from resources like The Athlete’s Gut.

And with a little luck, you’ll start to really be able to dial in the fueling strategy that works best for you going forward.

Have You Read The Athlete’s Gut? What Was Your Biggest Takeaway from the Book?

This post is accompanied by an episode of my podcast, Diz Runs Radio.

Click this link to listen to me talk more about five takeaways from The Athlete’s Gut.

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Originally published at http://www.dizruns.com on October 16, 2020.