There seems to be tremendous interest right now in the health effects of sugar in our diets. Many people say that it is sugar, rather than fat, that is leading people to be overweight. Documentaries like "Fed Up" talk about both the addictive nature of sugar and how the idea of "eating better and exercising more" makes little sense when the environment makes it practically impossible to eliminate sugar additives from your diet in the first place. No matter how hard you try, the deck is simply stacked against you, so the thinking goes. So 21 days ago I set ...
I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago in which I gave 15 pieces of advice. I’m working my way through the list to explain where those pieces of sage information came from. This week’s tip was pulled, well, right out of my butt.
Tip #15 and 14: Poop before you run. You don’t want to risk pooping in your shorts during a race. THIS BEARS REPEATING.
Poop before you run. If you poop in your shorts, you risk being called “Shit Pants” and getting Depends for your birthday for the rest of your life.
There’s a serious issue here. Runners, and marathon runners in particular, are prone to needing to expel any mass in their bowels when they’re running. The reason is all that jiggling and bumping up and down. But (not pun intended) once the need to let it lose happens then they may find themselves in trouble for a couple of reasons. First, there may not be any place to place your deposit. Second, they may wait too long for fear of losing time on the clock and thinking they can “make it” to the finish. And third, they may start being overwhelmed by fatigue to the point that they can’t (or don’t) hold it in anymore.
On top of that, still being sort of serious, if diarrhea starts to creep into the picture the situation gets even worse. Runner’s Diarrhea is a real problem (click to read our two–part series). As dehydration sets in, diarrhea can really take off. (We even did a video in our series on this issue called “The Runs on the Run“.) The presence of liquid in stool makes it really hard (no pun intended) to keep in its place.
A 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.
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.
We started apologizing last week for this week’s video. Last week we were looking at what can wrong with runners to make them vomit, barf, or puke. This week, we head south of the border and look at what happens when runners get the runs on the run. And that is not that last of the puns coming this week.
There’s a serious topic in here. Getting your plumbing working correctly before a marathon is a big deal. But the bottom line is that Coach Joe and Coach Dean are little boys at heart and there is a lot of giggling going on here. We hope you find this educational, while being entertained — at least as much as we were talking about it.
On this week’s episode:
— The pre-race poop
— What to do if you get the runs on the run
— Dealing with diarrhea while running
— What causes Runner’s diarrhea
And a whole bunch of war stories and jokes about things that have gone wrong with us.
We’ll get more serious again next week, when we start our series of episodes that we taped at the Rock N Roll Arizona Marathon race expo. Tune in next week for more.
To visit our video pages with links to all of the episodes in the series, go to:
Season 1 Video Page
Running Advice and News
Running can be distressing, especially to your gastro-intestinal tract (GI Tract). There is simply nothing like needing to find a bathroom in an emergency 18 miles deep into a long run, or crashing the Porta-potty lines at the end of a marathon, because your body has decided to let loose a flurry of something bad.
Runner’s diarrhea is unfortunately all too common. Its causes can be physical, situational or nutritional – or could be combination of all three problems. Before I jump into the causes and suggestions to deal with it, let me relate a case-study of my own which is a classic case of gastro-intestinal distress during a racing situation.
In this particular case, I was competing in Ironman Arizona in 2006. The temperature was pushing into the low 90s, so hydration was already going to be an issue. Around mile 65 on the bike course, I retrieved my special needs bag and drank a bottle of Ensure, which is a meal replacement supplement. I had used Ensure before, but for some reason within 5 miles there were dramatic gurgling sounds emanating from my stomach. In another 10 miles, I was forced into the Porta-potty and subjected it to a gush of fluid. After about 10 minutes, I was back on my bike, but my stomach was still quite upset. Over the course of the next 20 miles, I didn’t eat or drink a thing, for fear of making things worse. But knowing that I had a marathon ahead of me, I gradually started introducing plain water and then electrolyte solution and then food. I was being so careful with my hydration that I visited the Porta-potties no less than 20 times on the marathon course, but I did make it through to finish the race.
What I’d like to use this story to illustrate are the following: 1) diarrhea can strike suddenly, whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a novice; 2) even if you’ve used a food before, the particular situation may make that food intolerable to you (for example it may have been the heat in this case; 3) you must take action, such as reintroducing fluids to stave off serious dehydration once diarrhea appears, because the loss of fluid from your GI tract can lead to even further dehydration; and 4) although uncomfortable, you can often deal with diarrhea in a race, but it will take proactive action on your part to keep it from sidelining you.
What are the causes of Runner’s Diarrhea?
Diarrhea can strike for a number of reasons, include the following:
Physical motion – the jarring up and down motion of running can cause gastro-intestinal distress.
Lack of blood to the GI Tract – blood that would normally be used to digest foods and absorb fluids is diverted your working muscles during exercise, leaving the GI tract without the blood supply needed to function normally.
The presence of high-fiber foods – Foods made of insoluble fiber promote the retention of water in the GI tract, often causing diarrhea.
Nutritional issues – Your GI tract may be reacting negatively to any number of things that you have eaten. See below for more on this.
Hydration Issues – Diarrhea is both a symptom of, and a cause of, dehydration. [For more on this read this article.]
Your experience – Younger and less experienced athletes tend to suffer more from GI problems than older and more experienced athletes. In some respects the GI Tract must “get used” to the stress of exercise and usually does so over time.
Your level of training – Exercising too hard, too quickly can cause GI problems. Backing off your workout load and increasing your mileage more slowly is sometimes the answer.
To continue on to part ii, click here.
Running Advice and News
[This is the continuation of a post. To read part i, click here.]
So how do you avoid runner’s Diarrhea?
Avoiding Runner’s Diarrhea starts by understanding what’s causing the diarrhea in your particular case and then dealing with it. The first place to start is to back off your training intensity and mileage to see if that helps. If it does, then slowly increase the mileage and intensity and hopefully it won’t come back.
In many cases, however, the problem will be strictly nutritional, so here you’ll have some work to do. There are many items in the diet that can cause diarrhea in athletes, such as Sorbitol (used in sugar-free gum), Aspartame, Caffeine, and insoluble fiber. In addition, you could be intolerant of one or more of the sugars used in any of the foods that you’re using during your training. Also, the concentrations of sugars in your stomach may be too high, because you may not be drinking enough water to dilute those sugars and keep them from upsetting your stomach. Finally, it may be a matter of when and how much of what you’ve eaten causing the problem.
Here are some things to try to root out the causes of Runner’s Diarrhea:
– Start a journal capturing everything that you’ve eaten and when, along with the start and end times of your workouts, and when the diarrhea started. Try replacing any foods that you’ve eaten prior to a bought of diarrhea or adjusting the amount of time before your workouts to see if this makes a difference.
– Try different brands of gels/bars/energy replacement drinks and note which ingredients are contained in the brands that do and don’t work for you. Pay particular attention to the sugar contents: sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin, and glucose are common sugars you’ll find in exercise related foods.
– If you are mixing foods, or foods and fluids together, isolate these and use them separately to see if this helps. A common issue that I see are athletes mixing a sport drink like Gatorade with an energy gel like PowerGel. Stick with one product at a time until you find out which one (or which interaction) may be causing a problem.
– Try natural rather than packaged or engineered foods – for example switching to bananas and PB&J sandwiches rather than energy gels to see if that helps.
– Drink more fluid along with energy gels to ensure that you’re properly diluting the sugar in your stomach.
– Cut out suspect ingredients in any food that you’re eating, including Sorbitol, Aspartame and caffeine.
– Reduce the intensity and duration of your workouts and slowly rebuild these, noting how this impacts your diarrhea.
– Ensure that you’re not adding anything new that you haven’t tried before on race day.
Finally, with all of this in mind, don’t panic. When diarrhea strikes, you need to deal with it. If you’re in the midst of training, make sure to experiment with the factors above to understand what’s causing your problem. You may want to consult a sports dietician for help. See the links below to find one.
If you’re in the midst of a race, take corrective action immediately. Stop eating any particular food that might be causing a problem and drink more fluids to prevent dehydration from worsening. Don’t lose your head.
Runner’s Diarrhea is not much fun, but you can deal with it. Just stick to the basics: understand what you’re eating, how much, and when and find the cause of the problem. Through experimentation and trial, you can find the culprit and make the Porta-potties a thing of your past.
Related articles & links:
Ten things you need to know about hydration
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News