Question & Answer: Frequent bathroom breaks while on the run aka “Runner’s Trots”
Question: I am so hopeful you have time to respond to this question. I am a runner. I average about 40 miles a week, and compete in marathons and halfs. I am pretty fit. 5’7” 135lbs. I love running, and try to keep a good diet. The problem I have though, which doesn’t seem too rare, but is embarrassing, is that every time I go for a run, or run on my treadmill, I have to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, even multiple times before I can get my miles in. I don’t eat fatty foods, so I am confused on what to eat. I live in a rural area, so there are no bathrooms on the road like the city offers. So often times I have to find a discrete place to relieve myself. And I go a lot throughout the day, definitely more than the average person. I know this is kinda funny, and I wouldn’t blame you if you are chuckling right now. But it has become increasingly bothersome, and I need to know what to do, or eat. Is there any way to stop this from happening? Thanks for your time!!! John
Answer: Hi John. Thanks for the question. Unfortunately over the years I have coached many people that have had this problem. I think the first thing to do would be to start logging the foods you are consuming and see if there is some sort of sensitivity you are having to certain foods. Be sure and track your BM’s (Bowel Movements) & exercise. Many people are sensitive to foods that contain fructose (the sugar found in fruit). If this is the case you can simply avoid having fruits, foods or juices with fructose before or during runs. Some electrolyte beverages, bars and gels contain fructose, so be sure and read labels. Dairy, spicy, fatty and high fiber foods can also be problematic for many runners so you will want to avoid these before a run too. Some food sweetners can also cause problems (ie. sorbitol, aspartame etc…) so be on the lookout for these in sugar-free gums, candy, breath mints, etc…High doses of Vitamin C can cause the “trots” so review any supplements you might be taking. Dehydration can also trigger bowel movements so be sure and stay hydrated with water. Be careful with beverages that tend to dehydrate (diuretics) like coffee, tea, alcohol and foods containing caffeine. Warm beverages can also stimulate gastric emptying. You might also consider not eating anything too close to running (within two hours) since there is a decreased blood flow to the intestines while running and it may compromise digestion and cause the stomach to be upset. After logging your foods, and if you can not detect any sensitivity to foods or food patterns then your problem may be related to the muscles or something else. Another possible cause would be that the muscles in the intestines & stomach are being stimulated to contract more rapidly with the “jarring” of running. I wonder if you would have the same result using an elliptical in lou of some running to see if it makes a difference. You could give it a try and see. Stress or having the “jitters” can exacerbate this problem so be sure and stay relaxed. If not, then unfortunately I don’t think there is an easy fix to this, but I have had some clients find that using anti-diarrhea over-the-counter medications, like Imodium, before races and important workouts to be helpful. I would caution you against doing this too much. It would also not be a bad idea to consult physician to rule out anything else that could be going on. There are other diseases that could cause this problem like colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac (gluten intolerance), etc… It’s worth getting it checked out just to be sure.
USATF certified running coach