The topic you are too embarrassed to ask about....

Do you ever worry about needing a pit stop during a run? Are you concerned this will happen during the marathon? Read on for some helpful tips.

A topic that most are too embarrassed to talk about and do not know how to address is "runner's trots," or diarrhea. Nearly every runner will experience this at some point, but many suffer from the urgency to use the bathroom regulary during running and exercise. In fact, an estimated 20 - 50% of runners will experience this problem.

Why does this happen? When running, blood flow is reduced to the intenstines and increased to the working muscles. This causes changes in the intestinal hormones, altering absorption rate and speeding up transit time through the intestines. While this is a good thing (regular bowel movements help to keep your intestines healthy) it can be very disruptive if the timing is not right. End result: you need to go. Now!

Is your diet the cause? Your dietary intake may be the problem but there could be other issues such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other factors such as stress, pre-race jitters, high intensity workout/race can also trigger movements. This can affect novices more as their bodies are not accustomed to the high intensity exercise and demands on the body. How do you know if food is the cause? Keep a nutritional log, recording what you eat, when you eat, when your exercise, and when you have bowel movements. Then, remove a food that you feel is the culprit and keep a log again. If you notice less irritation and few runner's trots, then you have identified the culprit!

What foods should you avoid? Each person is different, and therefore food may impact people differently. Below are some foods that commonly cause problems for many people.

  • Fiber: Athletes tend to eat healthy, and some of our favorite foods are very high in fiber: fruits, veggies, whole grains. Aim to reduce your fiber intake over teh 1-3 days prior to your competition/long workout.
  • Coffee and tea: Warm fluids can trigger gastric movements.
  • Fatty Goods: high fat foods can trigger gastric movement.
  • Milk/Dairy: If you are lactose intolerate you will experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Switch to lactose-free milk.

Tips to help resolve the problem:

  • Experiment with training at different times of the day. Some individuals may experience fewer problems in the morning versus afternoon/evening.
  • Well before you workout or race, help to stimulate a bowel movement by drinking warm fluids or exercising lightly. Allow yourself time. If you have a morning race or workout, plan to get up early and get your system stimulated before you need to begin your warmup for the workout or race.
  • Eat foods that are low in fiber, such as white bread, white rice, and pasta. Avoiding high fiber foods for 24 - 48 hours before the race can help.
  • Know where the bathrooms are on your running route and on the race course. Keep toilet paper with you (put a little in a zip lock and tuck inside your shorts.
  • Practice mindfulness. Be aware of stressors and anxiety. Find methods to help cope with stress.
  • Practice a positive mindset and see yourself having no intestinal problems during the race. Do not panic.
  • See a registered dietician
  • When all else fails, consult your doctor about trying an anti-diahhrea medicine.

Bottom Line: there is no one quick easy fix. Take time NOW to experience with your diet and practice some of the above suggestions to best know your body's inner workings. Unfortunately, no two people are the same. Find what works for you!



Vicki is a distinguished athlete and international competitor, Vicki competed in the 1996 US Olympic Trials in the 10,000 run. She made her marathon debut at the 1999 Hong Kong Marathon, where she qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2001, she was invited to join the Fila Discovery USA training program, a program designed to develop American distance runners into elite marathon athletes able to compete with the best in the world. She has been a member of five USA national teams, including the 1993 World University Games and 1998 IAAF World Road Race Championship in Manaus, Brazil.