There’s a topic that is taboo in polite society. It’s a topic that runners talk about quite openly, though—especially long-distance runners. That topic is poop. Or more politely, ahem, gastro-intestinal (GI) issues during the run.
Why do so many of us have GI issues during running? It's actually quite natural. Consuming food before or during a run is like asking your body to multi-task: 1. Send blood to my digestive system to digest this food I just ate, and 2. Send blood to my muscles so I can run.
Throw in the fact that exercise, and running in particular, stimulates the muscles in our GI tract, causing many of us to need to go shortly after beginning activity. Plus as we log more time on our feet on those double-digit mile runs, our circulatory system directs more blood to our legs, and less to our digestive system, making urgency and diarrhea par for the course for some runners.
I know many runners who skip breakfast altogether before their races and training runs, sacrificing performance to avoid GI issues.
Other take over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications and live in fear of running in areas without bushes or porta-potties.
It’s important to identify whether there are underlying medical issues causing this urgency, so visiting with a doctor is necessary for some.
For most of us, though, there are a few very simple adjustments that will dramatically reduce or entirely prevent GI issues on the run, including…
- Eating your pre-run meal 90-minutes to two hours (or even longer for especially sensitive
- systems) before a training run or a race
- Choosing foods with very little fiber, fat and protein as your pre-run meal (fiber, fat and protein
- are part of a healthy diet, but they take a long time to digest and don’t provide immediate fuel
- like carbohydrates do)
- Training your gut the way you train your muscles: Begin by eating something small a couple
- hours before your run, then add a bit more to it over several weeks
- Cutting back on fiber the evening before a long run
- Reducing alcohol consumption, especially on days before runs
- Cutting out artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, including those present in some popular
- sports drinks and electrolyte tabs
- Experimenting with different fueling options during your runs
…and other habits unique to each of us.
If you’re skipping breakfast or popping medication, it may be time to consult a physician or to talk to a health coach like myself who specializes helping runners fine-tune their diets to achieve their training goals.
Learn about the Author: Lauren Shafer
Lauren received her formal training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition's cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program. She studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and wellness experts from Dr. Andrew Weil, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine; to Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center; to the no-nonsense Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of Nutrition at Harvard University; to the amazing Geneen Roth, emotional eating expert and bestselling author of When Food Is Love. To learn more about Lauren, click here.