Runners Trots: Avoid Stomach Problems Whilst Running

How to avoid runners trots – and other stomach problems – whilst running
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runners trots - avoid Tummy Troubles on your runs

By Coach Tim, We Run Coach for Cardiff and the We Run Online Running Clubcoach tim circle

Paula Radcliffe is the women’s world record holder for the marathon. Her time is over a minute and a half faster than the next quickest runner. In fact until 2017 no woman had gotten within three minutes of her time, and she still holds three of the four fastest times ever. She won the London Marathon three times, the New York Marathon three times, the Boston Marathon and also won world titles over the marathon, half marathon and cross country. Yet all non-athletics fans remember her for is going to the toilet during the London Marathon! (A race she won in 2:17 by the way). So runners trots and other tummy troubles happen to the very best. Here’s how to avoid any unwanted toilet breaks.

Number 1s

My first tip is to avoid alcohol and caffeine in the lead up to an important run. Both these substances are diuretics, which make you pee out more than you drink.

Secondly, drink half a litre of water between one and two hours before the last time you can go to the toilet. If you’re running from home, this means an hour before you leave. If you’re racing, it means an hour before you’ll leave the portaloos or public toilet to get to the start line. This water consumption will help hydrate you during the run, which means you won’t need to drink as much whilst running, which means you shouldn’t need to pee. However it also means you may need to pee 2-3 times in the lead up to the run. That’s fine – it’s much better to get it out of the way whilst it’s convenient. If the queue to the portaloos is a long one, you may need to pee and then get straight to the back of the queue again. That’s ok, you can stretch whilst you’re queuing and let people go ahead of you if you get to the front too quickly – which is a great way to make friends too!

If you’ve had a child you may find your bladder control is somewhat compromised. Running is one of several things that will ‘set it off’. From researching online, Kegel exercises seem the answer most running mums recommend to strengthen the pelvic floor. Here’s a link (Kegal Exercises) to a more thorough explanation of what they are and how to do them. They could also help men and women of a certain age who also struggle with bladder control.

If you follow my advice and are still prone to Number 1s on a long run, then make life as easy as possible: If you’re running a long race, make a mental note of where the portaloos are. Still follow my pre run hydration tips as the ones earlier on the course tend to be much busier, which will mean more time queueing. If you’re spending more than a few hours running you are going to have to pee at some point along the way. This is quite normal and healthy.

Runners Trots & Number 2s

Runners trots (or runner’s diarrhoea) is often caused by dietary choices. Here are the foods and drinks to avoid in the 24 hours before a race or long run:

– Spicy food. This one’s obvious, isn’t it?
– Fatty food (e.g. burgers, cheese, bacon – sorry!) These sit in your stomach for longer and take longer to digest.
– High fibre foods. Some of these are obvious, like cereals, brown bread and baked beans. However, some are less obvious such as green vegetables, potatoes with skins on and many types of fruit.
– Caffeine – unless you’re a real coffee addict with a stomach seasoned to it.
– Alcohol. That’s obvious as well isn’t it?
– White sugar and sweeteners.
– Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs.
– Lactose. You may not be lactose intolerant in everyday life but lactose is difficult to digest and could be what’s giving you stomach cramps during a long run. Try cutting it out in the day before and see it makes a difference.

Some foods which are ‘binding’ meaning they can stop you needing the toilet. These include bananas, plain bagels, boiled white rice and pasta.

To keep up your fruit and veg intake, you can stay healthy by eating grapes, grapefruit, tomatoes or mushrooms. Cucumber and courgettes/zucchini with the skin cut off are also very low in fibre.

Dehydration and low-electrolytes can also cause runners trots or diarrhoea, so stay hydrated and sip an electrolyte drink on long runs to keep your levels up. You may need to experiment with a few different types until you find one your stomach agrees with, and I always find my stomach prefers them watered down.

If all else fails, there’s no harm in taking tablets such as Immodium before an important race, particularly if it doesn’t have portaloos on the route. Just don’t make a habit of it and save it for ‘special occasions’.

what you need to do

Number 1s

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the lead up to an important run

  • Drink half a litre of water between one or two hours before the last time you can pee before a run

  • If you have a weak bladder, try Kegel exercises

Number 2s

  • In the 24 hours before a run avoid; high fibre foods, fatty foods, spicy food, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, sweeteners, Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. Avoiding lactose could also help

  • Stay hydrated and keep your electrolyte levels up by sipping a sports drink you get on with on a long run

  • If all else fails, use tablets such as Immodium before an important run, such as a marathon, particularly if it doesn’t have portaloos on the route