Whether it’s a training run or a race, a tumbling tummy is never ideal. There will be times when a stop at the restroom can’t be avoided, but there are a few things you can do to keep from having it become a regular routine.
Learn what causes runner’s trots and what you can do to steer clear of the issue.
During intense exercise, blood flow heads toward your muscles to power your activity. Since a majority of your blood moves toward the legs during a run, you’ll have less blood than normal in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can make it especially difficult to deal with hydration and fuel requirements during intense training sessions or on long runs.
When you eat carbohydrates (such as energy bars or gels), your stomach tries to get rid of these substances because they cause irritation. Diluting concentrated carbohydrates with plenty of water can help if that’s your problem, but unfortunately it isn’t the only cause of GI tract distress on the run.
Other common causes include dehydration, consumption of alcohol and foods high in fiber, fat, or vitamin C, which may irritate your GI tract when consumed the night before or morning of your run. This, or something else you’ve eaten, may be the problem if your GI distress occurs early on in your run and not immediately after you consume energy bars or gels.
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Once the need for a stop at the restroom arises, there isn’t a lot you can do. What you can control is the need to go in the first place. Here are a few tips to kick-start your digestive system before you head out — and other ways you can control the all-too-common runner’s trots.
1. KEEP A FOOD DIARY
Since it can be difficult to know what’s causing the problem, logging your food on an app like MyFitnessPal can help you keep track of what you eat and when. From there, you’ll be able to narrow down what works for you and what doesn’t. If you eat a big plate of pasta the night before the race and always have stomach issues the next day, you’ll know it’s time to switch things up.
2. WARM UP
To get your digestive system going before the main portion of your workout or race begins, try a short warmup. This helps you empty your stomach before you get out on the road where there may not be any restrooms nearby. A few laps around the block near your house or a short out and back near the start line should do the trick.
3. TRAIN WITH ENERGY BARS AND GELS
The good news is there are a lot of different brands and types of energy bars, gels and chews on the market. Knowing which works best for you can be tricky, so it’s best to experiment with different types during training to determine which brand agrees with your digestive system. If all the processing and chemicals irritate your stomach, try a natural energy supplement like Untapped maple syrup. Never try new products on race day because you don’t know how your body will react.
4. EAT LIGHTLY DURING THE RUN
Large amounts of complex carbohydrates are harder for your digestive system to handle than small quantities. If you commonly have problems with eating during your run, try nibbling on an energy bar every 15 minutes or so rather than trying to ingest it all at once at your hour mark. Keep in mind liquids are easier on the stomach, so you can also try getting your carbohydrates and other nutritional requirements through energy drinks instead.
5. DRINK WATER OR COFFEE TO GET THINGS MOVING
An hour or two before your run, drinking coffee or water can help to activate the bowels and ensure you get your digestive system moving before you run, making the need for a roadside stop less likely.
GI distress can also be caused by stress or anxiety, which is common before a big race. Minimize race stress by trying relaxation techniques like deep breathing or listening to music.