I ran the 400-meter hurdles in high school. Standing at the start of every track meet I was certain that I would poo in my pants during my first leap. Thankfully (so, so, so very thankfully! ) this never happened. I've been running accident-free ever since (a few minor incidents and a host of false alarms don't count). Until last Sunday. On Sunday there was some aggressive gurgling and a couple VERY uncomfortable moments. Luckily (again, so very thankful), I managed to successfully waddle home 85% of the way through without any messy emergencies.
I'm no stranger to the occasional post-half-marathon bathroom woes, but the running emergency and unpleasant episodes that continued throughout last Sunday were new to me. I've been lucky; Runner's Diarrhea is a regular experience for many athletes.
Fun fact: I just learned that Runner's Diarrhea is also known as Runner’s Trots. Trots! I love that name! The trots, themselves, however? Let's avoid those forever.
What are these Trots I speak of? Long-distance running sometimes invites a cranky belly, manifesting as frequent, loose bowel movements during or after a run.
But why? According to runner and GI-experts, the cause isn’t 100% clear, but is likely related to a few factors:
- When they're working hard, muscles have increased needs for oxygen. To help them out, blood is diverted from other places, like the gut. when they’re working hard. Decreased blood in the GI may be partially responsible for wreaking some havoc.
- When you’re bounding down the road your organs are moving too. All that jostling can upset the usual state of operations.
- Running is accompanied by a host of physiological changes, including alterations in intestinal hormone secretion that can interfere with digestion.
- If you’re racing (or have general mixed feelings about running), anxiety is a likely culprit.
Racing season is here! How to prevent the Dreaded Trots?
Eat at least two hours before running. Aim for low-fiber carbs + protein. Go easy on the fat. Try: hard-boiled egg and white toast, bagel and peanut butter, peanut butter and banana, yogurt with granola. pasta with sauce, KIND bar.
Get to know your body. Oatmeal is chock-full of fiber, but it doesn’t bother me before a run. Experiment and learn what works for your body before, after, and during a run. Keeping a journal may help identify triggers.
Hydrate well and often, but also with caution. Drink up the day before a long run. Fluid is good before you head out, too, just take it easy; drink slowly and moderately to avoid the dreaded sloshing. Once you're out there, sip along the way when you’re feeling thirsty. Water is best. Electrolyte drinks might exacerbate a cranky belly.
Beware the day before. If you have a sensitive stomach, think about steer clear of trigger foods the day before you run. Common culprits include: cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale), beans, fried foods, dairy, caffeine, sugar-free products, and alcohol.
Fuel may not be your friend. If you’re out there for a while, you might need some energy on the go. Gels, goos, chews, and bars are common (take them with water!), but don’t sit well with a lot of athletes. Don't fear if they don't work for you. Try whole food alternatives made of simple carbs and sugars: pretzels; banana; dried raisins, dates, apricots; honey packets; fig bars.
Keep calm and run on! Not everyone experiences running-related GI distress. Stress can only add to the risk. But if the feeling strikes, by all means find a restroom!