The trots, or runner’s diarrhoea, is an unpleasant situation in which a distance runner experiences the sudden need for a bowel movement at any stage during a run. It can occur very abruptly, unexpectedly and can require an immediate course of action. It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon and can happen to anyone, whether a first-time jogger or a seasoned marathon champion.
The reason for this unruly gastrointestinal reaction is not yet agreed upon by scientists. To be fair, it’s not the most appetising subject to research! Frontrunners for the cause of the trots include ischemia (decreased blood-flow) to the gut while running, or mechanical trauma from the constant jarring motion. Given the recent scientific breakthroughs in gut health (which I’ve talked about elsewhere), I propose that an unhealthy gut flora and decreased intestinal cellular integrity are likely causes for the high incidence of runner’s diarrhoea. So it follows that I’ll talk first about improving gut health in order to prevent the terrible trots. I’ve listed a few other ideas worth considering, too:
- Build a strong gut! Daily doses of apple cider vinegar, lemon water, fermented foods and prebiotics are all absolutely fundamental to this. Building a strong gut also includes cutting out the damaging stuff; sugar, processed carbohydrates, additives, preservatives and even unfiltered tap water are all wreaking havoc on our beautiful gut bacteria. These aren’t practices for the days or hours before an event, you should be doing them every single day.
- Avoid high fibre, high protein and high fructose in the lead up to an event. All of these have been associated with increased gastrointestinal issues in runners. To be safe, start cutting down on these during the two days prior to your event. Evidence also shows that common medicines such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) can have detrimental effects, though if you’re running on meds we would suggest you’ve got a much bigger correction to make first.
- Avoid large meals 2-3 hours prior to running. If your pre-race meal is too large, it won’t matter what macronutrients are in it, you’re going to feel the wrath! Go for light, palatable food and be sure to wash it down with water. If you are having a large meal before a race, it should be about three hours before start time.
- Balanced hydration is helpful. Dehydration can irritate the gut, but bear in mind what we’ve already discussed about the dangers of following mainstream hydration guidelines. Finding the right balance for you is pertinent to performance. This includes washing down any mid-race carbohydrates by gulping back sufficient water with the snack. Caffeine consumption can be included here also, as gastrointestinal discomfort is a common complaint when coffee and running are combined. The next point is the best advice I can offer around working caffeine into your regime…
- Practice, practice, practice. The only way you can be certain at the start line that you’re going to have a comfortable race is to have previously practiced it all. The food you ate the day before, what you ingest in the hours before, what you’re going to eat during a race (if anything) and what you’re going to drink throughout (if anything). The more you experiment and practice in training, and the more precise you are with this practice, the more certain you’ll be and the better you will perform.
If race nutrition is something that interests you, or you have any questions around the topic, then make sure your register for miss our upcoming Eat To Run Webinar.
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