Have you ever had to dash to the nearest tree or porta-potty mid-run?
Then you’re not alone.
This nightmare scenario is so common in the running world that it has its own catchy name: runners trots.
Runners Trots Suck!
Unless we’re talking about serious overuse injuries, few things can sabotage a run like the onset of diarrhea.
Been there done that—though it’s a terrible place to be.
Though its triggers are not fully understood, runners trots affect beginner and elite runners alike.
Therefore, to shed some light on this crappy situation (pun intended), here is your complete guide to runners trots.
Runners’ Trots Demystified
Also known as runners colitis, runners trots is a generic term that refers to the gastrointestinal issues encountered by runners from all training backgrounds—though the condition is more common among long-distance athletes.
It includes a wide range of symptoms: from bloating and nausea to painful cramping, flatulence, and diarrhea. The pressing need for bowel movement may subsequently occur.
Trots Are Common
Truth be told, if you don’t already have a couple of horror stories to share, chances are you have not been running that long.
Here are some stats:
Roughly 60 percent of long-distance runners had to stop, mid-run, to have a bowel movement, according to research.
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that roughly 30 percent of marathon runners experienced GI issues during or after running.
Here are the telling signs of runners trots. These can be experienced during or after a run.
- Acid reflux
- Urgent need to defecate
Note: Just keep in mind that actual diarrhea is only one of the symptoms of runners trots.
The Causes of Exercise Induced Diarrhea
So, what’s likely causing this fecal urgency?
The answer remains under debate, although there are several theories as to what triggers runner’s diarrhea.
Here are the main culprits, according to my research.
The Up & Down Motion
Running’s up and down jostling motion stirs the bowels and manhandles the intestines.
This movement affects digestion because it speeds up the flow of food contents, gas, and stool along the digestive tract, creating that burning need to defecate.
By the way, this is one of the reasons many doctors recommend regular exercise to chronically constipated patients.
Limited Blood Flow
Research has shown that intense exercise may limit blood flow to the colon and small bowel—often by as much as 80 percent.
The sharp drop in blood flow may lead to limited intestinal absorption of nutrients and a decrease in water reabsorption in the colon, which may cause diarrhea.
Bad Food Choices Pre-Run
Nutrition is often cited as a leading cause of diarrhea in runners. Primary culprits include high-protein foods or meals including dried fruits and berries.
Moreover, your risk of having runners trots during or after a session increases if you run after consuming a meal.
It’s hard for the intestines to absorb anything lingering in them when you’re dehydrated, so the only option it’s left with is to simply flush it out.
Other factors that may contribute to the onset of diarrhea while exercising include:
- Performance-enhancing drugs,
- Bowel issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
- Certain prescription medications,
- Anxiety and stress—especially pre-race jitters,
- Hormonal fluctuations,
- Bowel nerve reflexes.
Your Complete Guide To Treating & Preventing Runner’s Trots
Now that you understand what runners trots are, here are some tips for keeping running-induced diarrhea at bay.
Most of the prevention measures relate to your nutrition, mainly what you eat in the hours before a workout.
Eat The Right Things
Some foods fire up the GI tract more than others.
- Foods high in fiber, such as veggies, whole grains, and fruits.
- High-fat foods.
- Wheat products.
- Dairy products.
- Artificial sweeteners.
Cut these or any other foods that you know produce flatulence for you from your diet within three to fours hours of a run.
Don’t Eat and Run
Another dietary measure is to space your main meals and your run by at least three hours.
Give yourself around 90 minutes to two hours between a snack and your run. This is especially the case if you’re prone to runner’s trots.
Or, try eating four or five smaller meals through the day rather than two or three larger ones.
For some of the best pre-run meal and snack ideas, check the following posts:
Stay Well Hydrated
Drink 12 to 16 ounces of water 60 to 90 minutes before a run, giving the excess fluid enough time to pass through.
During long runs, drink eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes to keep your body well hydrated.
Also, monitor your hydration levels. Your pee should be a very light yellow. If It’s dark, drink up.
Here is the full guide to proper hydration while running.
Poop Before you Run
In an ideal world, you’d want to schedule your runs for immediately after a bowel movement. That way, you’ll make sure you’re running with an empty GI tract.
Sure, bowel movements should not directly dictate the best time to run, but they can guide your schedule.
So, if you’re running first thing in the morning, give yourself at least 30 minutes to take care of business before you head out.
In case you don’t have enough time to wait around, then map out a running route to where are pit-stops or restrooms are available, so when mother nature calls, you’d know exactly what to do.
Also, be prepared for emergencies. Carry some spare toilet paper or wet wipes with you in a ziplock baggie or your pocket just in case.
Keep Track of Your Triggers
Some people have certain food sensitives that can lead to the onset of the condition.
After all, different people react differently to specific foods.
Therefore, use a diet journal. Inside it, keep tabs on everything you eat or drink and when it was ingested.
Then look for patterns that may contribute to the onset of the diarrhea episode mid-run, and assess what you did on the day your stomach misbehaved.
This will not only help you learn more about your unique food sensitivities but also help you find the most efficient ways of fueling your body.
See a doctor
In case symptoms persist in spite of taking some of the above measures, then see your doctor for a thorough assessment.
Seek medical help immediately when suffering from any these serious symptoms:
- If there is blood in your stool
- If your diarrhea is very intense
- Experience change in appetite
- Experience an acute headache that comes on suddenly
- Diarrhea does not stop after exercise is over
- Experience nausea and ongoing abdominal pain.
These red flags may be a sign of something more serious and require further examination. Do not take them lightly.
A doctor can help you better assess your unique situation, and may recommend taking anti-diarrhea medicine, such as Imodium.
Just keep in mind that taking Imodium without diarrhea may leave you constipated.