Too Much Exercise Can Cause Gut Problems

by Matt Weik

As we all know, too much of a good thing is bad. Too much confidence can lead to narcissism. Being too nice can cause people to take advantage of you. Too much conscientiousness and you may be considered a perfectionist. And when it comes to exercise, there is such a thing as a dependence—exercise dependence. While many wouldn’t exactly think of it as a negative, it certainly can have side effects that can be detrimental to your health. And yes, exercise dependence is considered a disease. However, there seems to be more to the story when it comes to those who exercise for long periods of time—even those who don’t have an exercise dependency, but rather exercise in a fashion that can cause them to train for long durations (think of marathon runners). That being said, researchers are also now saying that too much exercise can negatively impact the health of your gut.

Research that’s a punch to the gut

It’s fairly common to see people who see a little bit of results from the gym want to push harder and extend their time training to see results even quicker. That being said, what they are doing could potentially have them run the risk of producing acute or chronic gut problems such as what they are now calling, “exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome.”

Researchers are now looking at the issues that can come along with exercising for around two hours a day at around a 60% VO2max. This can actually be accomplished quite easily for those who train for events such as the Ironman and other triathlons for example. What they are seeing is that through excessive exercise at long durations, the cells of the intestines can become injured. What this causes is their gut to become what is called, “leaky.” When this happens, toxins are able to make their way from the intestines and into the blood.

There really is no age or certain group that this is more prevalent in. More research is probably needed to look into that further. But at the current time, this condition can happen in beginners as well as advanced exercisers or athletes and generally worsens if the individual is training in hot temperatures.

What are researchers saying?

One of the researchers mentioned, “Despite excessive exercise being confirmed to compromise gut integrity and function, we have identified several exacerbating factors which can be controlled, and several prevention and management strategies that can attenuate and abolish the damage and compromised function. It is recommended that a full gut assessment during exercise should be undertaken by individuals with symptoms of gut disturbances during exercise, to ascertain what is causing the issue and to develop individually tailored management strategies.”

What can you do to prevent this condition?

The best thing you can do, is keep your training sessions brief and intense. If you aren’t a marathon runner or someone who trains for long distance events, there is truly no reason for you to be in the gym for upwards of two hours a day. If you find you’re hitting this threshold, look at your current exercise program and find a way to minimize what you’re doing. If you need help, consult with a personal trainer so they can set you up with a plan that can help you achieve the goals you desire without having to spend two hours a day in the gym.

If you yourself find you are having any discomfort or pain in or around the abdomen while exercising for long durations (two hours or more), it would be wise to seek the medical care of a doctor to see if the issues you are having are due to exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome. There, you can be treated properly to take care of the situation before it exacerbates. And remember, too much of a good thing can most certainly be BAD.


1.) R. J. S. Costa, R. M. J. Snipe, C. M. Kitic, P. R. Gibson. Systematic review: exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome-implications for health and intestinal disease. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/apt.14157

2.) Wiley. “Excessive exercise may damage the gut.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 June 2017. .