This week, a viral local news story about a runner in Colorado Springs who has repeatedly defecated in public has been making the rounds. Dubbed the “Mad Pooper,” the woman reportedly brings her own toilet paper on her running route and relieves herself in the yards of family homes as well as outside a Walgreens. While surely she could find somewhere else to go — including nearby porta-potties in a park or a gas station bathroom — the fact that she needs to poop while running is not uncommon.
A review in the International SportMed Journal about gastrointestinal problems in runners reported that studies have found between 30 and 83 percent of runners are affected by GI disturbances. Simply put, many people feel the need to poop while running or shortly after they finish their workout.
But why? Working out increases movement in your gastrointestinal track, which consequently contributes to the sudden urge experienced by many runners. And while most of us feel the need to go throughout the day, this sudden and overwhelming need to clean out your bowels can spell trouble for a lot of runners. It happens so frequently among all levels of fitness enthusiasts that it’s been given the nickname: runner’s diarrhea.
Complaints about GI issues seem to top the list of problems runners face, and many wonder why their body always seems to pick the wrong time to go to the bathroom. According to an article on Competitor.com, as you run, all that stuff in your GI tract gets shaken and loosened, and while there is no one answer as to why this makes runners feel the need to go poop, there are some valid reasons why this phenomenon happens.
“Contributing factors likely include the physical jostling of the organs, decreased blood flow to the intestines, changes in intestinal hormone secretion and pre-race anxiety and stress,” said Dr. Stephen De Boer, a registered dietician with the Mayo Clinic who has studied this topic. “What is clear is that food moves more quickly through the bowels of athletes in training.”
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Another factor to consider is how your body diverts blood flow away from your internal organs and toward the big exercising muscles instead — something we all want in order to push us in our workouts, but also something to be aware of so you can plan for the likely occurrence that you might need to go to the bathroom.
And while you can’t change the makeup of your insides, you can certainly make adjustments to what you put in your body before you hit the pavement.
Drink something warm about an hour before you head out
A cup of hot herbal tea or just plain warm water can help activate the bowels and hopefully have you heading to the bathroom before you hit the road.
Being dehydrated can lead to painful cramps and sometimes severe diarrhea. Make sure you drink at least two full glasses of water an hour or so before your run, aim to drink at least 12 ounces every 30 minutes while you run and continue to hydrate after your activity is completed.
Pay attention to what you eat
Try to avoid foods that pass through your system quickly. These include foods high in fiber, high-fat foods and caffeine.
Timing of food
Try to avoid eating about one to two hours before running and make sure the food you do eat close to your activity is easily digestible and something you are familiar with.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
These tend to irritate most people’s stomachs and can produce a lot of cramping, gas and diarrhea.
A warm-up jog
Try a five-minute jog close to a bathroom before you head out to get your body warmed up and encourage any lingering waste to get out.
Pay attention during your run
If you eat and/or drink while running, be cautious of the energy bars, gels and drinks. Sometimes they can contribute to GI issues.
Plan ahead for bathroom stops
As you plan your run routes, include bathrooms for a safety net. Knowing you have a place to go is comforting and will reduce some stress.
Stick with what’s familiar
Resist the temptation to try anything new before you head out for a run and certainly say no on race day. This is the time to stick to the same food and drink your body is used to.
Be ready for anything
Carry a small amount of toilet paper or wet wipes with you in a zip-close baggie just in case. When you feel the urge to eliminate, it is important to do so as soon as possible. Waiting will further irritate the bowels.