Nicknamed “runner's trots” and “runner’s stomach” runner's diarrhea is the body's response to physical stressors from running, especially long distances. If you're in the middle of an intense run and suddenly feel a case of the Hersey squirts creep up, know that you're not alone.
Running and pooping is a common occurrence for avid and high-level endurance athletes. But if you're like most casual runners, it can have you tightening those cheeks and speed walking to the nearest public restroom.
The continuous movement and stress on your gastrointestinal tract (GI) can quickly loosen food in your gut. Psychological stressors like anxiety also play a part in activating stress hormones that speed up digestion and create an urge for you to cleanse your colon.
Knowing the warning signs, staying hydrated, and avoiding foods that make you poop, can leave you feeling lighter and less susceptible to abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite tactics for combating runner's trots that could help you set a new personal record without interruption.
Keep reading to learn what you can do when a case of runner's diarrhea creeps up.
Why Do I have to Poop When Running?
Runner's diarrhea, also known as “runner’s stomach,” or "runner trots" is the need to suddenly move your bowels during or immediately after running.
It's the body's response to intense physical activity, which places stress on the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Blood is redirected from the stomach to active lower limbs and muscles. Dehydration, nutrition, and stress on the nervous system can also contribute to you getting a case of the bubble guts while in mid-stride.
A survey of 388 runners conducted by the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that many athletes experience GI issues due to food choices. Drinking coffee as well as eating high fiber and fatty foods like beans and cheese can cause gut issues for endurance athletes.
Getting mud butt while running may be an inside joke between hard-core distance athletes, but for the average enthusiast, it can be a nightmare come to life. Know that if it happens to you, it can be seen as a sign that you’re pushing it to the limit—no pun intended.
Let’s take a look at the causes of running and pooping so that you will know the warning signs during your next workout.
Symptoms of Runner’s Stomach
Doctors have yet to pinpoint the specific cause of runner's diarrhea. However, studies have concluded that continuous pressure on the GI tract moves food through your system more quickly. Dehydration-induced ischemia, a lack of blood flow to the intestine, can result in symptoms of stomach cramps and loose stools.
Here are some of the symptoms that may indicate that you're experiencing a case of runner's stomach:
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Acid reflux
- Urge to move bowels
- Ischemia: Decreased blood flow to intestines
If you experience any of these symptoms, they can have you doing the crab-apple two-step to the nearest Starbucks bathroom, instead of the finish line.
If you ran track in the past, your coach may have told you that "hydration is king!" Your coach wasn't lying! Dehydration from high-intensity exercises can make you poop faster by trigger ischemia. The blood gets redirected to the legs and other active muscles. As a result, your intestines can suffer!
A recent study on gut microbiota in athletes by the Journal of Sports Medicine and Nutrition found that prolonged hypoperfusion (low blood flow and volume) can cause damage to the intestinal lining.
The good news is that the symptoms of runner's stomach are short-term, only lasting 24 to 72 hours. This is the amount of time that it takes food to digest and move to the colon.
So before your next run, be sure to hydrate with water, coconut water, or electrolyte-rich drinks. They can save you the pain and agony that results from the runner's shits.
Next, we'll take a look at the types of runners that are most susceptible to running and pooping.
Running While Pooping: Why are Marathoners More Susceptible?
We previously mentioned that runner’s stomach occurs during high-intensity exercise. But did you know that it's considered normal for marathon runners to shit their pants during competition?
French Olympic walker, Yohann Diniz was considered a hero after pooping himself during a 50-kilometer walk, in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Diniz collapsed after crossing the finish line, only six minutes behind the leader.
But pooping while running doesn't stop with Diniz. During the 1982 Iron Man Triathlon, Julie Moss, lost control of her bowels during the final stretch of the race. Moss crawled across the triathlon finish line, only to come in second to Kathleen McCartney. But, Moss's efforts gained her great notoriety.
Running and distance walking incorporates a lot of body movement and physical stress, as your lower extremities pound on the pavement. This also includes your stomach. The food inside your stomach is shaken loose, which causes stress hormones to trigger the digestive system and process food quickly, causing diarrhea.
Epinephrine (adrenaline), the stress hormone that plays a part in activating “fight or flight mode,” can activate digestion. The acetylcholine hormone can cause digestive organs to squeeze and "push" food through the digestive tract faster than the Indy 500.
Now that you know that you're not alone in "Battle of the Poo," let's explore some ways that you could help you combat runner's trots.
How to Stop Runner’s Stomach
Stopping runner's stomach can keep you moving harder and longer, without needing to make a pit stop. Minimizing stress and optimizing your nutrition are ways that you can reduce mental stress and pressure on your stomach.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing yourself into the present. It's being fully focused on the moment at hand and the events occurring around you. It is the continuous practice of being self-aware. This can help you stay grounded and overcome pre-race jitters.
Nutrition also plays a large part in your physical function. Studies show that restricting specific foods that can irritate the stomach, should be considered when participating in high-intensity activities.
We've collected a list of our top tips that could help alleviate the need to poop while running. With a little preparation, you can enjoy running, without the belly works. And if you do see brown...At least you’ll be ready.
Let’s look at a few ways that you can avoid runner’s trots.
1. Avoid Taking NSAIDs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are pain relievers like Aspirin and Ibuprofen. They can help reduce inflammation, but side effects can include gas, bloating, and drug-induced diarrhea.
Pro Tip: Wait till after you've completed your run and the body has had time to cool down before taking pain relievers.
2. Limit High Fiber and Fatty Foods
Eliminating foods that make you poop before you race day, could keep your colon clean during your run. Consider eating from the FODMAP diet (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols).
The diet was originally designed for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), due to their inability to absorb nutrients from certain foods. The downside to the FODMAP diet is that it should be prescribed and monitored by a doctor or nutritionist. So if it’s not ideal for your training regiment, consider minimizing or eliminating these foods:
- Sugary foods and artificial sweeteners (fruit, juices, etc)
- Nut butter, nuts, and seeds
- Raw vegetables
Pro Tip: When training for a race, or making running your main sport, be sure to research nutrition guides specific to your event, or work with a nutritionist to develop an ideal plan to keep you fueled and light on your feet!
3. Avoid Coffee and Warm Liquids
Avoid warm liquids like coffee or tea. Studies have shown that coffee and other caffeine products may speed up the pooping process. Cholecystokinin is the peptide hormone responsible for stimulating the digestion of fats and proteins.
Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee can stimulate cholecystokinin to release enzymes from the gallbladder and pancreas, and into the intestine. In other words, it’s like putting a turbocharger in your colon.
Pro Tip: Everyone’s hydration levels are different, but start hydrating for your run 24 to 48 hours beforehand. Pre-race hydrating with 500 milliliters could help prevent dehydration.
4. Quiet Your Mind to Reduce Stress
Practicing mindful meditation and visualization are great ways to relieve the pre-race jitters and deal with a potential case of the nervous shits.
Studies have shown a connection between sports performance and meditation with programs such as Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE) and Mindfulness Meditation Training for Sport (MMTS).
Sports psychologists believe that practicing mindfulness and bringing awareness to the present moment can help you understand your emotions, eliminate anxiety, and get into a flow-like state during competition.
Pro Tip: Before your next run, take a few moments to take several deep breaths, visualize the run and ground yourself, bringing awareness to the ask at hand.
5. Poop Before You Run
Anxiety and stress keep our bodies alert, preparing us for anything that may come. As previously mentioned, stress hormones can release into the GI tract, causing irritation to gut flora, resulting in stress diarrhea. This includes intense runs or important races like a marathon.
Pro Tip: In order not to get caught off guard with sporadic butt gravy, it's a good idea to evacuate your system beforehand. If you’re still concerned, bringing along a friendly toilet paper option can save you in the long run.
Running and pooping is a challenge that most runners will encounter sooner or later, especially if you're working on a new personal record. Know that it's your body's response to physical and psychological stressors. Suddenly needing to drop Ninja Turtles in the sewer may not be ideal, but the effects are short-term.
If you're preparing for a long run or an important race, nutrition, meditation, and pooping before you run can go a long way in laying the groundwork for a successful run.And if it so happens that the runner's trots creep up and have you sprinting for the porta-potty, consider yourself a member of the club. Just be sure to bring our travel bidet with you to freshen up afterward.