WARNING! This is not a post you want to read over your lunch or if you have a weak stomach!
But diarrhea (diarrhoea) is something that affects so many runners, myself included, and yet rarely gets discussed. Probably because it’s a bit gross and toilet issues make appropriate conversation in very few situations! But this can be enough to put a new runner off, so….I’m going to talk poo!
My Experience of Runners Trots!
Runners trots is a rather affectionate term used to describe loose bowel movements, or diarrhea after running, or sometimes even during. The exact symptoms vary a little from person to person, but for me, it meant stomach pain which would develop at some point into my run and then come and go, getting gradually worse. Luckily for me I always managed to make it home without embarrassment, although at times I felt I wouldn’t! It then nearly always resulted in a fair length of time spent in the bathroom which subsequently relieved my symptoms.
This can obviously be pretty distressing and certainly enough to put someone off running if it happens enough. Luckily for me it wasn’t happening every time I ran, so I realised there must be something triggering it.
After a bit of research, I stumbled upon the idea that a high fibre meal before your run could be the culprit. So, I experimented. I was usually running in the mornings, although with the occasional late afternoon run thrown in after an early shift. Before morning runs, I tended to eat a bowl of cereal, usually shredded wheat and then wait about an hour and a half before I went out. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see the fibre content of shredded wheat to be 11.9g per 100g. I found that to be pretty high compared to some of the other cereals in my parents cupboard, so I tried Crunchy Nut Cornflakes which contain only 2.5g per 100. After a couple of weeks I’d had no problems with morning runs. So, I then applied this theory to when I was planning an afternoon run, consuming lower fibre meals throughout the day – and again no problems.
6 years later and I rarely get bowel problems after running now. I still run mainly in the mornings and don’t tend to eat a lot now before I run – maybe just a handful of mixed nuts or a banana. If I plan on doing an afternoon/evening run, I tend to avoid wholemeal breads, pasta, rice, cereals etc in the daytime. I don’t seem to have a problem with fibre from fruit and vegetables, so a green salad with chicken or salmon etc is fine.
So What Causes Diarrhea After Exercise?
Running jostles your insides about – that’s a large part of it – all that bouncing up and down! But add into that the reduced blood flow to your bowels (it’s all headed to your muscles and skin); hormonal changes which affect your intestines transit time and reabsorption rates and dehydration too and you’ve got an embarrassing accident waiting to happen! This is especially true if you already have a bowel issue such as IBS, lactose intolerance or celiac disease. It’s also more common for women, especially around the time of menstruation. The link with fibre is that insoluble fibres such as those found in bread and cereals actually help speed up transit time through your digestive system and soften your poop.
There are other factors which may contribute to diarrhea after running, including caffeine, sorbitol (found in ‘sugar-free’ products), milk (or rather the lactose in milk) and fatty or spicy foods. I don’t have any experience of these causing a problem, but if reducing fibre doesn’t work for you, they are worth a shot.
The other thing I do, which I debated including in this blog post as it’s a little personal, but here goes….is to sit on the toilet before I go for my run and make sure I’m empty! Sometimes it might take a while so this time has to be factored in when I plan my runs, but to me it’s worth it and helps to stop me worrying about the dreaded crouching in a field scenario! In fact, Mr D does this too, so it’s just as well we have two toilets in our house!
Oh…and just a little caveat. DON’T reduce your fibre content completely! Only in the day before you are going to run. Fibre is really important in our diets as it improves digestive health, but is also thought to protect against heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and even some forms of cancer. So don’t cut it out – just time when you have it!
I hope this helps anyone struggling with this problem. I’d love to hear your feedback!