Anxiety and visceral sensitivity relate to gastrointestinal symptoms in runners but not pre- or during-event nutrition intake

J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2023 Jul;63(7):846-851. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.23.14804-3. Epub 2023 Mar 16.


Background: Previous research has shown anxiety to relate to gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in endurance athletes, but it remains unclear whether competition-related fueling is impacted by anxiety. This study examined whether general anxiety, pre-race anxiety, and visceral sensitivity were associated with nutritional intake before and during endurance running races.

Methods: A total of 149 (86 female, 63 male) runners participated in this cross-sectional survey study. Assessments, which were carried out at a median of eight hours after races finished, included the State-Trait Inventory for Cognitive and Somatic Anxiety (STICSA)-Trait, Visceral Sensitivity Index (VSI), perceived pre-race anxiety (0-10), during-race GI symptoms (total, upper, and lower), and intakes of energy, macronutrients, fluid, and caffeine for the pre-race period (4 h before) and during races. Spearman's correlations were used to examine associations between variables. A two-sided P value ≤0.01 was used as the threshold for significance.

Results: Median race durations were 139.5 and 126.9 min for women and men, respectively. VSI scores were positively correlated with total during-race GI symptoms, while STICSA-Trait scores were positively correlated with total and upper during-race GI symptoms (ρ=0.22-0.25; P<0.01). No significant correlations were observed between measures of anxiety/visceral sensitivity and nutrient intakes before or during races.

Conclusions: In a sample of primarily recreational runners, greater anxiety and visceral sensitivity did not translate to lower intakes of energy, macronutrients, fluid, etc. around competition. Further work is needed in other settings, especially with high-level athletes, to understand the impact of competition anxiety on fueling choices.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eating*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Endurance
  • Surveys and Questionnaires