You know what makes a long run extra hard? Diarrhea.
Everywhere. That you can’t control. UGH.
Mid-run diarrhea, aka runner’s trots, is a ~shitty~ drawback a lot of runners deal with.
To shed some light on this crappy situation, BuzzFeed Life spoke with Dr. Sophie Balzora, a specialist in gastroenterology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s likely causing this ~fecal urgency~?
Chalk it up to one or more of these five factors:
1. The very act of running.
Balzora explains that the GI distress is caused by many things, but mostly “it’s pounding on the pavement and that mechanical disturbance, the jostling of the intestines. It seems obvious when you compare it to, say, cyclists, who are seated the whole time.”
Another factor is how little blood is flowing to your intestines when you exercise. “Runners are particularly susceptible to GI conditions because when running, your body diverts blood flow away from your internal organs and towards the big exercising muscles instead,” Balzora explains.
2. Not drinking enough water.
Balzora adds that your body also gets dehydrated, and the combination of reduced blood flow and dehydration makes it hard for your intestines to absorb anything lingering in them, so it does the only other thing it knows how to do: It flushes it out.
3. Eating right before a run.
Balzora says that “whenever you eat, gastrocolic reflexes (tummy churning) start up, so your intestinal drive for a bowel movement increases.” If you’re eating too close to a run, this could be causing your distress. She adds that consuming foods high in caffeine (“such as energy gels”) and fat close to run time could be upsetting your tummy. Artificial sweeteners can irritate your gut as well, and they may be hiding in your gum, snacks, or energy gels.
4. How new you are to running.
Doing more than your body is used to too quickly might make for crappy runs. “There are variances from study to study, but the distress is reported more often among inexperienced runners,” Balzora says. “So if you’re going from zero to 60 — couch to marathon — you’re more likely to experience symptoms. That’s why we tell athletes to increase their intensity and distance gradually.”
5. How long or hard you’re going.
“We don’t know enough to know if intensity or distance affects the condition more, and it depends on the person. But we definitely see trends with more intense exercise, as opposed to moderate or easy, and for distances longer than 5K,” says Balzora.
Balzora does confirm that among triathletes, complaints of diarrhea are the most common during the running event, and in a survey of ultra-marathoners, 96% of the finishers reported some form of GI symptoms.
PS, here’s what runner’s trots are NOT:
A casual poop after a run, farting or occasional GI distress when running, or having a GI condition that gets worse after running.
“Complaints of GI disorders in general runs pretty high in runners,” Balzora says. If you have a pre-existing condition like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, then, “Yeah, you’re gonna get bowel movements when running. But one doesn’t decide the other,” she explains. Runner’s trots are urgent, gotta-go-now, middle-of-the-race “fecal emergencies.”
Now that you know what they are, here are some tips for keeping runner’s trots at bay.
Up your training gradually, and don’t be afraid to scale back.
Remember to increase your training by small steps to give your body time to adjust.
“If you experience runner’s trots during or after longer distances or a more intense run, you should scale back immediately,” Balzora advises. “This helps a lot and offers the quickest results … Don’t be afraid to go slower.”
Re-evaluate what you eat before a run.
Balzora tells BuzzFeed Life that runners should:
- Avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Look out for loads of caffeine and high-fat foods.
- Never try something new on race day.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Try to avoid eating about one to two hours before running.
If you see blood, GO TO THE DOCTOR.
“If you’re training for something, you should have a low threshold for seeing your doctor,” says Balzora. “But especially if there’s blood in your stool, if your diarrhea is very intense or doesn’t stop after the exercise is over, if you have severe cramping, if you’re losing a lot of weight, absolutely see your doctor.”
And if you find yourself using anti-diarrheals on the reg (like, every other run), you should schedule a visit with your doctor. They’re fine for rare emergencies, but you should never rely on them to get through a run.
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