Runner’s trots (aka Runner’s Diarrhea or Runner’s Gut) is one VERY unwelcome aspect of running! It often seems to happen at the most inconvenient time (no bathroom in sight!). Not only is it inconvenient, but runner’s trots can really hamper your time and results while racing.
If this doesn’t apply to you, you’re in the minority! 62% of runners have reported they’ve had to stop during a run to “go.”
Whether you’re in the middle of nowhere (with no legit bathroom options), or in the midst of a crowd during a race, getting that urge can be downright frightening. While I’m certainly not a fan of porta-potties, they are a beacon of hope during a race when that feeling comes on.
Runner’s Trots – DEFINED
This “ailment” goes by a few different names: runner’s diarrhea, runner’s gut, runner’s colitis, and runner’s stomach! All names pertaining to essentially the same thing – that urgent need to go while running: running-induced diarrhea (note, it applies to shortly before or after a run). It can happen any time, any place, but it does seem to be most common with longer distance workouts. and high intensity (ie: speed workouts).
Related Topic: How to Ensure the Best Long Distance Run
WHY Does it Happen?
The most common triggers are 1) blood flow being diverted from the intestines to working muscles, 2) the jostling of running, and 3) dehydration. Plus, food intolerances, food triggers, and how/when we fuel before a run impacts GI distress, too.
How Do I STOP Runner’s Trots?
There’s a number of strategies to use! While all may not apply to you, and it will require some trial and error, you should lessen your trips to bathrooms and porta-potties once you include some of these tips below.
Foods/Habits to Avoid Runner’s Trots
Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily imply that you should avoid the below food items at ALL times. It might, but may not. The only way to know for sure is to keep a food journal and track your intake to find out if there’s a correlation. But, at minimum, it may be wise to avoid before running (or night before a race).
Including milk, cheese, creamer, etc. may bring out the worst in you on a run, especially if you have a lactose intolerance. There’s also many milk alternatives available now, almond and oat milk are two examples.
Personally, I use Fairlife filtered milk, and there is no lactose (often a GI distressing culprit). Plus – it has more protein, and fewer carbs/serving.
Coffee, a gastric stimulant, is known to help keep people/runners more regular, but it can really speed up transit time in your GI tract. Therefore, plan to have your coffee (or other caffeinated product) far enough in advance (at least an hour) to allow time for things to get moving.
It’s probably wise to limit intake to just a cup/serving before your run.
High Fiber Foods
Yes, high fiber is great! But not so great for avoiding pit stops on a run. Save the fiber in your diet for times other than pre-run (and pre-race the night prior). Instead, opt for less GI disturbing options such as toast or bagel (perhaps with some peanut butter) pre-run. While white rice may not seem like a compelling breakfast item, it’s great pre-run fuel to keep you running whilst avoiding runner’s trots!
High Fat Foods
High-fat foods are a big contributor to runner’s diarrhea as well. Why? It takes your body longer to digest fats—longer than protein or carbs. A high-fat dinner the night before a morning run, means food could still be lingering in your intestinal tract. Once you start running, that partially digested meal can cause GI distress and ultimately, diarrhea.
“Fake” Sugar (aka sugar alcohols)
There’s a host of artificial sweeteners on the market. Some are worse at causing runner’s stomach than others. These sweeteners can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea – NO fun!
The worst offenders are those sweeteners that end in “ol” – for example: sorbitol, and xylitol. Sorbitol is the most common, and is often found in low-sugar items. If you see an item with the words “low sugar,” “sugar-free,” or “no sugar added,” READ the label! It very likely has an artificial sugar/sugar alcohol as an ingredient.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s not just in sweet items, but protein bars, and performance bars, etc. Any food item that is promoting less sugar may be a culprit!
According to a U.S. News & World Report article, the most agreeable (least GI distressing) sweeteners are: glucose, sucrose, maltose, Stevia, monkfruit, Aspartame, and Saccharin.
Legumes, Beans and Lentils
While these foods pack a nutritional punch, they also provide plenty of FIBER. As mentioned above, high fiber can exacerbate runner’s diarrhea, so best to avoid it. Try some other options for fuel such as a plain bagel, waffle or english muffin (not the whole wheat variety!).
Related Topic: What to Eat Before Your Run, A Simple Guide
FODMAP Food Items
Say what? What’s FODMAP? I know, not the most common term out there. It refers to types of carbs found in foods that have a strong link to digestive issues like gas, bloating, stomach pain, and yep, diarrhea.
Examples: milk, broccoli, corn, onions, garlic, apples, kidney beans, and yes, items made with sorbitol! This is not an exhaustive list, click here for a more detailed list.
Again, you may not need to always avoid these items, but it would be smart to avoid prior to a run, or the night before an important race/run.
Strategies to Stop Runner’s Diarrhea in its Tracks
Allow sufficient time to eat prior to a run. Even if that means waking up earlier to do so. Or, some folks will wake up to nibble on something, and then go back to sleep for a bit. Some dietary experts recommend eating at least an hour prior to your run.
Speaking of sufficient time… give your body time to go, too. While we all want as much sleep as possible, some extra time in the morning to nibble, and go to the bathroom may be just the ticket.
Use a bathroom if possible right before you run. That may be a Captain Obvious statement, but having that pitstop prior to a run may alleviate issues once you start.
Experiment with and use different fuels during a run. Our bodies best use carbohydrates during a run. However, there are different types of carbohydrates (ie: glucose, fructose), each handled differently in our intestinal wall. As such, it’s best to have a variety of carb-based fuels to minimize a backlog in our system.
For example: have gummy bears, a gel, some pretzels, etc. to mix up the carb type. Once you know what works for you on a run, stick with that come race day.
Avoid OTC painkillers, especially Advil (Ibuprofren) before and during a run. Studies show runners are 5x more likely to have GI upset when consumed before/during a race or run.
Hydration – don’t get dehydrated! When you have dehydration, you’re unable to move food through your system. But, once the jostling of running kicks in, your GI system goes into overdrive.
Consider liquids for pre-run fuel, especially for shorter runs. Solid food may weigh too heavily on your stomach, or prompt your GI tract into action. For example, if I’m doing a shorter run, I’ll have tart cherry juice or grapefruit juice prior.
How to COPE with Runner’s Trots
You may have done everything right, and still feel the need to go urgently on a run (or worse, race). OH NO! What to do in that scenario? Here’s some ideas:
Be prepared. Pack some toilet paper, or wipes in a ziploc bag – and carry them on your run. (Yes, I’ve heard the stories of people using socks, but I can’t bear to make that a legitimate tip.)
Know your route. Know where you can stop along your run, or race route.
Slow down. Consider even walking, and try to relax the best you can. One of the best ways to ease the urge or cramping is to slow down (walk) and (try to) breathe deeply/calmly.
My sincere hope is that Runner’s Diarrhea is NOT something you must contend with while running, but given the odds, it likely is, or will be!
But, consider it is just another sign that you’re a runner – and now have a story to share! (Other signs that you’re a runner: mis-matched running socks are the norm, you have more running shoes than dress shoes, and you prefer to go to bed early on Friday to run your Saturday long run.)