Bathroom problems while running? Let’s talk about it.

At one time or another everyone struggles with the bathroom. So lets just get that out in the open! We have all been there. Middle of a run feeling fine and then “bamm. I have to go now!!” Praying, making deals with God and finally ditching into the bushes or the closest porto-potty (if you are so luck). So what can you do to avoid this?

There are several causes for GI issues on the run. They can range from hydration status, food consumption, time of day and intensity of the run & many other causes.


When you drink:

Hydration plays a huge role. What you drink and when you drink it is key. The key to hydration is to drink before you become thirsty. If you wait until you feel you need a drink it is too late. Best advice would be to drink every 20-45 minutes. The body absorbs water in small amounts such as sipping throughout the day rather than guzzling 20 oz at once. Don’t overdue it with your water intake so that you have to stop on the road. But make sure you are getting enough fluids to maintain your body at an appropriate level. Planning ahead with fluids before you run.

What you drink:

What you drink can also play a large role. Sports drinks that are high in carbohydrates can also delay the natural processes of your body and can lead to GI discomfort. You should be careful to monitor your electrolyte intake and make sure that you are replenishing what you lose but not taking in too much. The best way to find what works for you is to experiment on the long run. Try a few different products and see what sits best on your stomach and what your body seems to best absorb for fuel. Gen UCAN is a product I like and use often that has a slow burning starch and seems to sit very well on the stomach. It also is low in sugar. You don’t want to try something new on race day.

Alcohol or other sugary drinks can stay in your system and cause GI distress the next day. You know your body! Sometimes keeping a food/liquid diary will help you find things in your diet that cause the GI distress.

Food Consumption

What you eat:

Ever heard, “You are what you eat!!”? It is important to figure out what your body runs best on. Everyone is different! What should you eat the night before a long run? During the day before a hard workout session? What you put in your body really matters. So if you have chicken wings, cheese curds, friees and a few beer the night before a long run … I would wager that it might end poorly for most (maybe some can get away with it.. but not most LOL). You should avoid foods that you know don’t sit well on your stomach and experiment with different things to find out what is best for you. Typically lean proteins, vegetables and just a little bit of grains would be a good option for the night before a long run. During the day of a hard workout you might want to eat light in the hours leading up to the big workout. A sandwich and some fruit for lunch 6-3 hours before and light snacks after. Everyone is different. Some people can eat and run an hour later, while some can’t even think about food hours before a hard run. KNOW YOUR BODY!

Food Sensitivities

Everyone has different sensitivities. Gluten is a hot topic item right now. Certain foods can cause inflammation in the body. So it would be a good idea to monitor what you eat, how your body responds, and see if there is a pattern. This is when keeping a food log can be a great way to monitor what is best for you. Write down your meals and then how you felt on the following run. I have been know to eat the same exact meal before races on the superstition that it worked once! I have also been know to avoid sugars and snacks three days before a big race. Could I get away with changing things? I am not sure, but why change a good thing? Mentally it puts me more in the zone & it is one less thing to worry about. Whether eating specific meals leading up to a race is provides more of a mental or physical edge; if it works it works.

When you eat:

Another consideration when eating is time. What time do you normally eat? If you find that you eat at 9pm on a Friday night and have a terrible early morning long run you would want to consider eating earlier. Every body processes food at a different rate. If you can always run at a specific time your body will adapt and adjust to getting the bathroom time done earlier. The body is amazing at adapting to survive.

Other Factors

Intensity and environment can play a role in GI discomfort as well. Running at a faster pace will require greater blood flow to the legs and therefore pull more blood from muscles in the stomach and intestines. This can contribute to that I HAVE TO GO RIGHT NOW feeling. Temperature can also effect this. As your body temperature rises, your body will have a higher heart rate and your fluid levels will go down (i.e. dehydration).

what can you do to help prevent it:

1) Planning ahead – if you are running in the morning, wake up a few minutes early to allow yourself time to use the bathroom prior to rushing out the door to start your run
2) Try to go before. Just mentally prepare that you need to go before you head out. Your body can be trained. Moving around and getting the body warmed up for the run. Try to relax and get a routine down.
3) Avoid extra caffeine right before a run– If your body is used to a cup or 2 of coffee before a run, that is great! However, it’s best to not try something new like a new energy drink or a new coffee drink before a run. All about what your body is used to!
4) Experiment with foods to find out what works best – Food Log (I can’t say that enough)
5) Have a plan – If you are not able to go right before (time crunch, just don’t have to yet..) you always need to have a backup plan. Run around the block a few times and stop back home to go. Find a favorite porto-potty 1-4 miles from your house! Carry TP. Make a plan for the ‘what if’. Chances are if you did not go much before your run, you will have to go during.
6) It happens to everyone. If you have to stop, do your business and get back to it. Don’t let it ruin your whole run. This happens to every athlete. Even the most seasoned runners. Don’t sweat it. Try to find the humor in it after your run & find the solution. Even if you follow the steps- sometimes you just have ‘those days’!

Everyone is different. Work on some of these things and see if you make progress. If is continues or is debilitating see your doctor. Running does cause chances in the body so it is never a bad idea to have a check up. A large percentage of runners have GI issues on a monthly basis. If it happens everyday or several times a week you should be cautious and seek assistance. It does seem to be more common in women especially postpartum. Your doctor may be able to provide insight or exercises that can help to strengthen the pelvic floor. A lot happens when you run. Taking careful planning and learning your body can help to keep you on the trail and out of the bushes.

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