Have you ever had to poop when you’re out running or walking in an area where you couldn’t get to a restroom, porta-potty, or even a friend’s house? You’re not alone, as many runners and walkers have. Even the most seasoned of runners aren’t immune from soiling themselves during a race or training run — an incredibly gross and humiliating experience!
In fact, at the 2016 Olympic Games at Rio, the current world-record holder for the 50 km walk race, Yohann Diniz of France, ‘had to go’ during the 50 km competition, an experience that ultimately contributed to him passing out near the 30 km mark, before finishing 8th overall in the race.
Needing to go is also a very common experience as evidenced by a host of articles and online discussions about the topic and by the terms for describing it — runner’s trots and runner’s diarrhea (in extreme instances) and poop walk (where you squeeze your cheeks together and shuffle to “hold it in”). According to one review in The International SportMed Journal, various studies have shown that 30 to 83 percent of runners reported experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) distress, which can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and even acid reflux while running. Another study found 93 percent of long-distance triathletes competing in extreme conditions experienced at least one symptom of GI distress.
If we all pooped like unicorns, there wouldn’t be a problem. Nobody could possibly be offended by sweet tasting, rainbow-colored poop. Unfortunately, human poop isn’t as enticing.
Exploring the causes
Numerous factors are thought to contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) distress during periods of intense and extended physical activity, including the following:
- The physical jostling of internal organs and undigested food and liquids
- Decreased blood flow to the intestines as the body diverts blood from the intestines to the muscles being used to run or walk, leading to poor digestion and absorption
- Increased motility (muscle contraction in the GI tract) as exercise stimulates all muscles in your body
- Increased production of stress hormones and cytokines (inflammatory proteins), particularly prior to a race
- Increased mucosal permeability, leading to the contents of the GI tract leaking out into the rest of the body
All of these factors contribute to looser stools and increased motility, which can result in an incontrollable urge to poop. And if you’re not at a convenient location to drop your runners shorts, and you don’t have some toilet paper to clean up afterwards, the added stress can make the problem even worse.
Considering possible solutions
Neither pooping your pants nor dropping your drawers outdoors is a pleasant experience, so how do you deal with the issue? Some runners recommend taking an antidiarrheal, such as Imodium, to plug themselves up prior to a run or race, an approach we don’t recommend.
Running dehydrates you, which can contribute to constipation. Taking something like an antidiarrheal to harden your stools will exacerbate the problem. Try the solutions listed below instead, and then consult your doctor if you continue to have an overwhelming urge to poop that’s impairing your ability to perform at your best:
- Coordinate your poops and runs. Try to get on a regular schedule of eating, sleeping, running, and pooping. Regulating your diet and routines helps your body maintain a predictable pattern, and you’ll be less likely to get caught with your pants down.
- Time your meals. Stop eating three hours before you run or walk to give your body time to digest your food and possibly eliminate some waste. If you’re like most people, you tend to poop shortly after eating as your body tries to make room for more food.
- Be aware when taking NSAIDs, including aspirin and ibuprofen. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) tend to increase mucosal permeability, contributing to GI distress.
- Watch your diet. Fat, fiber, chocolate, and sweets are all associated with GI distress while running. Avoid fatty, high-calorie meals at least three hours before a workout or race.
- Pack toilet paper. Stuff some toilet paper in a pocket or elsewhere. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
- Plan your route. You can’t do this during a race, but when you’re mapping you training or recreational route, trace a path that includes possible poop stops — restaurants, gas stations, the local library, friends’ houses, wooded lots, and so on, where you can poop in private. Alternatively, consider taking a warm-up jog near your home, so you can do your business before setting out on a longer run.
- Eliminate more completely prior to a run. Using a Squatty Potty stool, you can eliminate waste more completely prior to a run, thus reducing the amount of unpassed stool in your poop chute.
And about that rainbow-colored unicorn poop mentioned at the outset of today’s post…Squatty Potty is now a proud sponsor of The Color Run, “the Happiest 5K on the Planet” — a unique paint race that celebrates health, happiness, and individuality. It’s the largest running series in the world, experienced by over six million runners in more than 35 countries around the globe. While you may not be able to poop rainbows, you will earn the Unicorn Medal upon completion of eight select Color Run races across the United States. For more info, visit: TheColorRun.com and look for the Squatty Potty logo on select 2017 Color Run race listings.
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Disclaimer: This blog post, which touches on issues related to gastrointestinal distress while engaged in running and/or walking activities, provides general information and discussion about medical issues and health-related subject matter. The words and other content provided in this post, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If you or any other person has a medical concern, consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care professional immediately and do not rely on the information presented in this post. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog post or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.