After increasing your mileage, building fitness, creating a fuel plan and waking up before dawn, the last thing any runner wants to deal with is stomach issues on the run. Yet runner’s trots is a fairly common experience – and often occurs and the most inconvenient times.
There is nothing quite as frightening as the experiencing the surprising, intense urge to head to the bathroom when there is none in sight.
Finding yourself out in the middle of nowhere with an uncontrollable urge to poop is terrifying to say the least. Or worse – finding yourself in the middle of a busy, crowded area with nowhere to sneak off to.
Just about every runner has experienced runner’s trots at some point or another.
What are runner’s trots?
Runner’s trots – sometimes called runner’s diarrhea or runner’s stomach – refers to the dreaded urge to go to the bathroom right now. It can happen in the middle of a long run, hard workout or even an easy run around your block.
This urge to poop (for lack of a better way to phrase it) has an uncanny way of arising at the most inconvenient times.
Not only does it feel like you need to hit the bathroom immediately, but avoiding doing so usually leads to intense cramping, sharp pains in your stomach, or uncontrollable flatulence and diarrhea.
Needless to say – no runner wants to experience this.
Sometimes it can feel that no matter how many different types of fuel you try, how many times you hit the bathroom before beginning, and how thoroughly you might have prepared, runner’s diarrhea still occurs.
Why does runner’s diarrhea occur?
Digestive problems can occur on the run for a variety of different reasons.
Sometimes the cause is as simple as forgoing a bathroom stop before you begin your run. However, more often than not and despite your best efforts – runner’s trots still make an appearance.
The way we fuel before and during a run often plays a critical role in our digestive issues (or lack thereof) on the run. While the direct underlying issue is unknown, many theories state that food intolerances may play a role in gastrointestinal stress during the run.
In addition to food intolerances, those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome often find things intensified on the run.
The movement of running alone is usually enough to cause a bit of stomach issues in runners with even the healthiest digestive systems. Between the repeated pounding and diversion of blood flow from the intestines to the legs, it seems that running creates a recipe for diarrhea and other stomach problems.
Successfully avoiding runner’s trots usually involves a bit of experimentation, as well as thorough knowledge of your own body. To prevent runner’s trots for the long haul, you’ll need to know how your body is going to respond to different foods, times of day, types of workouts and various other stimuli.
8 Tips for Avoiding Runner’s Trots
Avoid high-fiber foods prior to a run.
Fiber is a necessary part of everyone’s diet, however, when timed poorly it can wreak havoc on your run. Fiber aids the digestive system by promoting efficient removal – which is something that we all want to avoid on the run.
Hit the bathroom immediately before your run.
One way to ensure you lower your risk of a bathroom-related emergency on the run is to clear things out ahead of time. Try to hit the bathroom right before you leave for your run to reduce the chance of things getting stirred up while you’re moving.
Try to eat at least one hour prior to your run.
The specific time-table will vary greatly with each individual person, but in general, try to avoid eating within one hour of your run. Some people are able to eat an hour before they run without causing any stomach issues, while others need at least two hours for everything to digest.
Experiment with different time frames and learn what your body responds to best. Once you find a schedule that works – stick with it.
Related: 10 Amazing Pre-Run Snack Ideas
Avoid dairy products, artificial sweeteners and other digestive triggers before a run.
Dairy products are notorious for causing digestive woes, even when lounging at home. Try to avoid any foods that have the potential to cause problems on the run – dairy products and foods with artificial sweeteners to name a few.
If you have any intolerances, be sure to avoid those beforehand as well.
Experiment with a wide variety of running gels and fuel.
Once you’re conscious of what and when you’re eating before a run, it’s time to think about what you’re eating during a run. Fueling on the run can be tricky if you’re prone to runner’s trots.
Take the time to experiment with a wide variety of running gels and fuel types to determine how your body responds. Lucky for us, the fueling options are nearly unlimited.
It might take some time, but once you find a fuel source that your body agrees with, the confidence you will feel knowing you can fuel without causing GI distress will make it all worth it.
Limit your caffeine intake before your run.
Caffeine is a known diuretic – i.e., it promotes the removal of waste from the body. Most runners require caffeine at some point to combat the early mornings and increased activity level each day.
To avoid causing any issues, schedule your caffeine intake wisely to allow yourself plenty of time to use the bathroom afterwards.
Implement relaxation and calming techniques to avoid unnecessary nerves.
Nothing jumpstarts the digestive system quite like nervousness or anxiety. Unfortunately, most runners experience quite a bit of nerves leading up to their goal races.
To minimize the effects of these nerves, try implementing a few relaxation techniques before the race. Test out things like deep breathing, meditation or positive affirmations. Whatever helps calm those nerves.
Find what works best for your body – and stick with it.
Ultimately, the key to avoiding runner’s trots for good is to find what works for your body. If you’re struggling with stomach issues when you run in the morning, try running at a different time of day. If that whole grain bagel leads to diarrhea on the run, experiment with different breakfast foods.
Practice fueling on the run before race day, and when things seem uncertain, try to plan your route near bathrooms or secluded woods where you could sneak off in an emergency.
When all else fails, having a few tricks in your bag to treat runner’s trots when they occur will help put your mind at ease.
How to Treat Runner’s Stomach Issues
Regardless of how well you prepare, sometimes we just can’t control how our bodies respond on the run. If you find yourself plagued with stomach issues during your next long run, one of the best ways to ease the cramping and distress is to walk.
Slowing to a walk is the best way to help relieve the pain (and urge to go) you may feel when runner’s trots occur.
Practice slowing your breathing, calming your mind, and reducing your speed until everything is resolved. If the digestive issues resurface once you start running again, slow back down. Try to find a bathroom nearby – check gas stations and local stores to see if you can step in to use one.
When things get rough, remember that just about every runner experiences digestive distress at some point. It’s rare to find a runner who hasn’t had to dart into the woods at a moment’s notice or hasn’t had to make an emergency stop during a race.
Take note of the situation and try to adjust your strategy for next time. And in the meantime, do what you have to do and remember – you’ll have a great story when you get home.