Runners know that when it comes to training and racing, there's one topic that can't be avoided: gut health. Whether it's dealing with runner's trots mid-race or navigating pre-run nutrition, managing digestive issues is a common challenge for many athletes. 

Let’s explore the causes of runner's diarrhea and provide practical tips for staying on track with your training.

Understanding Runner's Diarrhea

Runner's diarrhea, also known as runner's trots, is a common issue characterized by loose bowel movements that often occur during or after a run. While the exact cause of this condition is still under investigation, several factors may contribute to its onset.

  - Mechanical Stress: The repetitive impact of running can jostle the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, speeding up the movement of waste through the digestive system and increasing the likelihood of diarrhea.

  - Reduced Blood Flow: During exercise, blood flow is redirected to the working muscles, leading to decreased circulation in the GI tract. This can contribute to digestive discomfort and diarrhea, particularly during intense or prolonged workouts.

  - Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress and anxiety can exacerbate GI issues, as the gut and brain are closely interconnected. Managing stress through techniques like meditation or yoga may help alleviate symptoms of runner's diarrhea.

Preventing Runner's Diarrhea

While some factors contributing to runner's diarrhea may be beyond our control, there are steps runners can take to minimize its occurrence:

  - Pre-run Nutrition: Pay attention to what you eat before a run, focusing on easily digestible foods and avoiding high-fiber or fatty meals that may exacerbate digestive issues.

  - Hydration: Proper hydration is essential for maintaining GI health. Drink adequate fluids before, during, and after your runs to prevent dehydration, which can worsen symptoms of diarrhea.

  - Caffeine and Sugar Alcohols: Limit your intake of caffeine and sugar alcohols, as these substances can stimulate bowel movements and contribute to digestive discomfort.

  - Dairy and Unfamiliar Foods: If you suspect certain foods trigger your GI symptoms, consider eliminating them from your diet before runs. Stick to familiar foods that you know your body tolerates well.

  - Training Your Gut: Gradually introduce sports drinks, gels, and other fuel sources during long runs to train your gut to handle them more effectively. Avoid consuming large quantities of carbohydrates or fluids all at once, as this can overwhelm the digestive system and lead to diarrhea.

Experiment and Listen to Your Body

Every runner is unique, so it's essential to experiment with different nutrition strategies and listen to your body's cues. Keep a food and symptom journal to track how different foods and hydration practices affect your GI health, and adjust your approach accordingly.

In conclusion, while runner's diarrhea may be a common challenge for athletes, it's not something you have to suffer through in silence. By understanding the factors that contribute to digestive distress and implementing practical strategies to manage it, you can stay focused on your training and perform at your best on race day.

Written by Jamie Sheahan, MD, RD, Director of Nutrition at The Edge Sports & Fitness, where she also doubles as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. As a registered dietitian, Jamie regularly works with endurance athletes to develop day to day meal plans as well as fueling plans to optimize performance.