There are plenty of reasons why people run - for health, fitness, fun, and social activity - but no one would say that this form of physical fitness is easy. Running is a high-intensity activity that can be physically and mentally taxing, despite the benefits it also infers.
Even so, with a targeted training regimen in place, proper nutrition, and a strong awareness of your body's signals, you can gain the greatest benefits from running and steer clear of many common pitfalls like injury. What you may not have figured out how to avoid is runner's trots.
Believe it or not, you're far from the only runner to suffer from the urgent need to eliminate during running. Many runners are plagued by feelings of gastrointestinal discomfort when they run, or even unfortunate symptoms like nausea, cramping, and diarrhea mid-run. This is not only embarrassing, but it can be extremely problematic when there are no restrooms nearby.
The reason this happens, particularly during longer runs, is that the body draws blood flow away from the GI tract in order to power the muscle groups under demand. This can accelerate the transit time of food being digested, causing cramping and the need to eliminate.
This will make for an uncomfortable jog, to say the least, and it could derail you during a race. How can you avoid runner's trots and stay on course for a successful run? Here are a few tips to keep your digestive system under control.
A food journal is a great place to get started if you notice intermittent or frequent bouts of bowel discomfort or instances of runner's trots as you ramp up your running routine. You'll want to track not only your eating habits, but also your bowel movements.
This can give you clues as to which food might be causing digestive issues when you run, or how the timing of eating affects your ability to complete a run with fewer problems. Changing your exercise routine can cause the transit time of food through your digestive tract to change, and tracking can help you to determine what and when to eat to balance optimal energy and bowel movements.
Certain foods could exacerbate issues like runner's trots, and fiber is definitely on this list. On the one hand, increasing fiber prior to running can help you to clear your system, so to speak, but if you take it too close to race time you could make the problem worse. Trial and error will help you to dial in a proper regimen of fiber intake, and a food journal can help you to collect needed data.
You should also watch out for spicy foods, artificial sweeteners, and known diuretics (like coffee) that can mess with your normal digestive schedule. Your best bet is to have your running diet down to a science before you race. For many, cutting back on fiber and other problem foods in preparation for a race can prove helpful.
When you eat may be just as important as what you eat when it comes to avoiding runner's trots. This is why many runners like to carb load the night before a race and then eat only a small meal in the morning. This not only helps to give your body the energy needed to get through a long run, but it could prompt a bowel movement before running.
This sounds pretty obvious, but how you make it happen is less certain. Some runners use a morning cup of coffee to get things moving, but this can backfire if you're unable to go before it's time to run. It can also cause you to lose water and electrolytes. You're better off sticking to your regular diet as much as possible to regulate your elimination schedule.
Proper hydration requires adequate fluid intake before, during, and after a race. Where runners get into trouble is drinking too much or too little. Like your food, you need to experiment well in advance so you nail down optimal hydration.
In some cases, medications may help with issues like runner's trots, especially if they're related to a medical condition like IBS. Speak with your doctor about whether or not adding OTC or prescription medication is recommended, and if it's right for you.