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The Underlying Reason Some Runners Get Runner’s Trots

You can pinch, squeeze and hold all you want, but suddenly the gurgling, sharp, sudden pain takes over. There’s no stopping it but hey, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Runner’s trots—damn you.

It’s one of the most embarrassing issues a runner can experience, yet everyone has been plagued by it at one point or another.

“I have been personally plagued by the notorious runner’s trots for all the years I have been a runner. Imagine being a gastroenterologist and feeling incapable of controlling your own intestinal tract! Well I am in good company,” shares Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, Chief of Clinical Operations and Director of The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine.

Some athletes hit the loo once a day, others twice and others every few days. But what all can agree on is the sudden urgency to go is a little embarrassing.

“Many people don’t report the problem, due to embarrassment, however studies have shown that as many as 20 to 50 percent of runners in a 10K race experience symptoms associated with runner’s trots,” shares Dr. Schnoll-Sussman.

So what exactly is runner’s trots? Dr. Schnoll-Sussman explains that it’s a range of gastrointestinal symptoms from nausea and painful cramping to flatulence and diarrhea. The urgent need for defecation may subsequently occur. They can be experienced during or after exercise.

Related: Dealing With Tummy Troubles

The exact cause of runner’s trots is unknown, but the stress of long-distance running may bring out symptoms in people with underlying irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or those with food intolerances such as issued caused by lactose.

Common factors include:

  • The up and down motion of running, which can jostle the bowels
  • Dehydration
  • The diversion of blood flow from the intestines to the legs and arms during a run

There are many preventative tactics you can try to prevent runner’s trots, suggests Dr. Schnoll-Sussman:

  • Limit the intake of high-fiber foods at least two days before a long race or training run.
  • Avoid/limit artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, dairy products or any foods known to cause loose stools or flatulence for several days prior to the race.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Aim for a very light yellow urine color.
  • Try to avoid eating at least two hours prior to exercise. This will allow for enough time for food to empty your stomach.
  • If you do not need the caffeine stimulation, try to avoid the intake of caffeinated products and warm fluids close to race time.
  • Know your race route. Plan out for restroom breaks if you develop the urgency while exercising. (Consider carrying toilet paper with you, just in case.)
  • Practice your pre-day and morning of meal plans to see what works best for you.
  • If you use gels during races, these may be the culprits. Practice different formulations.
  • NEVER try something new (foods, gels, water supplements) on race day.
  • Although one should not use these on a daily basis, for races or special events consider trying an over-the-counter antidiarrheal agent such as Imodium.
  • Stress and pre-event jitters can contribute. Ample training and a good night sleep can help.
  • Consider getting a consultation with a nutritionist who specializes in the care of athletes. They can carefully review your personal diet and make specific recommendations and modifications.

Know your body. “If you experience blood in your stool, weight loss, a change in appetite, recurrent nausea or vomiting, chronic changes in your bowel habits or ongoing abdominal pain, you should go to see your doctor,” expresses Dr. Schnoll-Sussman. “These symptoms may be a sign of something more serious and requires further investigation.”

Related: Best Pre-Race Foods For Sensitive Stomachs

Fara Rosenzweig

Fara Rosenzweig is a writer, editor, and certified personal trainer. She got her first taste of the gym at age 14 and fell in love with the fitness crowd. After suffering a back injury her freshman year of college, she had to set her ballet slippers aside and rehab her back. That’s when she found her passion for teaching fitness and helping others challenge themselves. Her senior year of college she ran in her first 5K and traded her ballet slippers for the latest (and brightest) pair of running shoes. Fara loves talking health, sports and fitness with any one and everyone. Her love for storytelling earned her an Emmy Award and has been seen in many other publications, such as Refinery29, Active.com, MyFitnessPal and Health.