How to Avoid Runner's Trots

Some athletes call it runner's trots; others call it diarrhea. Whatever the name, few athletes openly discuss the topic; yet many secretly suffer. Here's some information about this stinky topic that might help bring peace to your workouts.

Q. Does anyone else worry about undesired pit stops while exercising?

Yes. Diarrhea is a major concern for many athletes, particularly those in running sports. Of these athletes, an estimated 20 to 50 percent suffer from "urgency to defecate." Running jostles the intestines, reduces blood flow to the intestines as the body sends more blood to the exercising muscles, stimulates changes in intestinal hormones that speed up transit time, and alters absorption rate. Dehydration exacerbates the problem. Add a pre-existing bowel problem, and you are even more likely to be bothered by pit stops as your exercise ramps up.

Q. How often do most athletes have a bowel movement?

Some athletes poop once a day. Others poo twice a day, and some go once every two or three days. "Normal" is what is normal for your body. You can learn your personal transit time by eating sesame seeds, corn, or beets—foods you can see in your feces. Pay attention to how much time passes between intake and output.

Exercise (even weight-lifting) speeds up transit time, especially if you do more exercise than usual. A study with healthy, untrained 60-year-old men indicated their transit time accelerated from an average of 44 hours to 20 hours after they started lifting weights.

Q. Is my diet causing the problem?

Your diet can create the problem, but medical issues such as celiac or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause chronic loose stools. Just being female increases the risk of experiencing loose stools, particularly at the time of the menstrual period. Add stress, pre-event jitters, high intensity effort, and it's no wonder many athletes become plagued by urgency to defecate. This can particularly affect novices whose bodies are yet unaccustomed to the stress of hard exercise.

To figure out if the problem is connected to your diet, keep a food and poop chart. For at least a week, eliminate a suspicious food. Observe any changes in bowel movements. Next, eat a hefty dose of the suspected food; observe changes. For example, if you stop having diarrhea when you cut out popcorn, but have trouble during a long run after eating a tub of the stuff, the answer becomes obvious. Eat less popcorn.

Q. What are the common dietary triggers?

1) Fiber. Triathletes with a high fiber intake reported more GI complaints than those with less fiber. Cut back on high fiber cereals and, if needed, fruits, veggies and whole grains. Reduce your fiber intake for one to three days prior to competition.
2) Sorbitol. If you enjoy sugar-free gum, candies, and breath mints that contain sorbitol (a type of sugar), take note: sorbitol triggers diarrhea in some people.
3) Coffee and tea. Hot fluids can stimulate gastric movement.
4) Fatty foods, spicy foods, alcohol and a high dose of Vitamin C.

Q. I've heard milk causes diarrhea?

Some athletes have trouble digesting lactose, the sugar that naturally occurs in milk. If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Try switching to lactose-free milk (such as LactAid Milk or soy milk).

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