-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training — Troubleshooting Diarrhea Problems in Runners

running-advice-bugA reader named Simone writes in with a follow-up question about running and diarrhea after reading our two-part series on the topic of Runner’s Diarrhea. Here is her question:

I’m getting back into running and am training for a sprint triathlon in mid-August. The problem has been that I have been having diarrhea nearly every day this week. I didn’t know there was a connection with running and diarrhea. I will try some of the things you suggested—your two-part diarrhea article and hydration article were both helpful. I think I have an idea now what might be causing it.

I do have one question, I’m pretty sure I am sensitive to all the sugar in drinks and bars. Is there any product that is not sweet that replaces electrolytes? I read your review on NUUN and will try it. Do you have any other suggestions? And are there any bars that aren’t so sweet? Do “salty” bars exist? I’ve been trying to create my own at home and am getting closer to something I like, but I’m not quite there yet.

I’m glad that you’re working toward solving your problem. Usually experimentation is the key to figuring out why you’re having these kinds of problem and it takes some trial and error to finding the root cause. But let me give you some additional food for thought (pun perhaps in intended.) You may also want to watch the episode of our video series on this topic, which may be less helpful than funny I’m afraid.

Season 2 – Episode 13 — The Runs on the Run from Joe English on Vimeo.

Here are a couple of things that I’d suggest:
– Make sure that you are getting enough fiber in your diet generally. Before bed every night you may want to drink a glass of water with a fiber supplement (like Metamucil) or have a bowl of cereal such as All Bran or Fiber-1. Many times these types of problems are caused by a lack of dietary fiber. Ensure that you are getting enough fiber in your diet in general, by eating plenty of raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

– Start experimenting with just a few bites of something during a workout and work up from there.

– Use only one food at a time when trouble-shooting — meaning one brand of gel, or one food like cookies, peanut butter crackers or pretzels. One you are mixing foods, it is hard to figuring out which may be causing the problem. Isolating the food that you use during your workout can help you check off things that work or don’t work for you.

– Make sure to drink plain water (or an electrolyte-only product like Nuun) with energy products such as energy gels. Energy gels are very highly concentrated and need to be diluted by plain water in the stomach. Drinking an energy drink that also has sugar in it (such as Gatorade or Gu2O) may just add to the problem by putting even more sugar in your stomach at the same time. My suggestion is to drink plain water with energy gels and then drink an energy drink in an alternating fashion (e.g. first aid station use energy gel+water then second aid station drink energy drink alone, etc.)

– Commercial energy products are packed with sugars by design. This is the best way to make a big energy punch in a small, portable package. What you may find is that less concentrated foods, such as peanut butter sandwiches will be easier to digest. A food like a peanut butter sandwich includes carbohydrate, protein and fats, so it should be easier for your stomach to tolerate in small doses. But keep in mind there are trade-offs in carrying and chewing these foods — meaning a peanut butter sandwich is bigger and may be harder to eat. However, if this helps you take in calories to fuel your muscles and rids you of diarrhea then this is a sensible trade-off.

– There a number of alternative energy products that have come onto the market recently. A good example is the energy gel called HoneyStinger ( As the company says on its web-site, “We use honey as the main sweetener in our products. Honey has the same glucose to fructose ratio of fruit, 1:1. If you can eat fruit without getting an upset stomach you should be able to eat Honey Stinger without any problems.”

– You may also want to try energy bars that are not specifically formulated for high-intensity sports, such as fruit and nut bars. A good example here is the Clif Mojo bar (, which is a “sweet and salty trail mix bar”. These are easy enough to carry and they include some additional salt, protein and fat in the nuts that may be easier on your stomach.

– Another alternative are whole food bars, such as the Vega Whole Food energy bars ( These bars are vegan and made with only natural fruits and vegetables, so again, they may be easier on your stomach. Vega is a brand created by an Ironman triathlete, who also has written an excellent cook-book called “Thrive” which has a number of recipes for making sports bars, snacks and drinks at home.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Good luck!

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


One response so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Georgeann Raver July 20th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    This is a useful article about exercise. I’m a college student just trying to learn more about the personal training business and I really enjoyed your post. Keep up the great job!

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