Having to go to the bathroom when running
Oh that dreaded feeling, you know the one where you’re in the middle of a run and all of a sudden you have to go to the bathroom. The majority of runners don’t like to talk about it, a few like to sit around and tell their disturbing encounters with it, but odds are you too have dealt with having to go to the bathroom while on a run. While there is not a definitive answer to why we encounter the issue while out running, there are several theories and tips to help resolve, or at the very least reduce, the chances of having to go to the bathroom while running.
Causes of having to use the bathroom during running
There are several causes to why you may have to use the bathroom during your run, some more common and easily solved than others.
Blood flow and the GI tract
First, the lack of blood flow to the GI tract plays an important role in the situation, especially for beginner runners. While exercising, the body diverts our blood away from the GI tract and towards our active muscles. This may cause irritation to the GI tract, which your body responds to by trying to force the irritating substances out of your system. Unfortunately, this particular reason for having to go to the bathroom while running is one of the few that we have little to no control over. In general, issues with the GI tract will go away as you get more accustomed to running, but they can be a pain in the meantime.
Dehydration and the type of fluids you drink before running can also cause issues. If you have sensitive stomach, hot drinks and caffeine can trigger the urge to go to the bathroom, so it’s best to stay away from coffee and warm tea before you go for a run if you are having consistent bathroom probkems.
However, dehydration can cause problems as well. According to Dr. Nancy Clark, “Intestinal complaints are common in athletes who have lost more than 4 percent of their body weight in sweat”. If you’re running in hot climates or are generally bad about staying on top of your fluid intake, you can use our sweat loss calculator to target the exact amount of fluids you need to drink in order to stay hydrated and avoid some of the bathroom issues.
Finally, there’s alcohol. While the majority of us wouldn’t think alcohol would be much of a problem (at least those of us who aren’t still in college) alcohol itself, combined with the dehydration it causes, is a sure fire way to send yourself in search of a bathroom on your next run.
Finally, many of the foods you eat, even the night before or day before will impact your bathroom situation before or during a run. In my experience, this is the largest cause of why I run into the bathroom issue while on runs (I personally have a weakness for fatty foods, so I am know the effects all too well). In addition to fatty foods, spicy dishes, high dosages of Vitamin C, and fiber rich foods can all contribute to the need to go to the bathroom during a run.
Solutions for having to go to the bathroom while running.
Fortunately, if you’re having problems with having to go to the bathroom on a run more than once in a blue moon, there are several solutions that can help reduce or even resolve the issue.
Adjust your wake-up time and schedule
If you are having this issue while out on your morning runs, my advice would be to wake up a few minutes earlier in the morning and give your body a chance to fully wake up. This will allow your body to let you know if you need to use the restroom before the run. With my hectic schedule, I fall victim to this trap often. I like to stay in bed as long as possible and hit the roads within five or ten minutes of waking up. By simply dedicating myself to getting out of bed 15 minutes earlier, I can usually avoid the problem all together.
Drink coffee or tea
If giving your body time to wake up in the morning, but you’re still having issues but you are still having issues, my advice would be to have a cup of coffee or warm tea. As discussed earlier, these beverages will make you want to use the bathroom and will hopefully get the systems going and help you use the restroom before you hit the roads.
Identifying the foods that trigger going to the bathroom
Figuring out which foods are triggering runner’s trots can always be tricky. It can take the body anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to process the different foods you have eaten, so it’s not always clear which item you ate is causing the problem. Plus, the combination of certain foods can cause as much of an issue. A simple solution is create an excel chart that monitors the food you eat and also tracks your bathroom situation during a run. Each day, write down the foods you eat and then identify your bathroom situation on the preceding run. This should help you identify some of the foods that are causing the issue and you can systematically start taking them out of your diet or eating them only on off running days.
Tips for race day
Race day can be the most difficult for runners who suffer from having to go to the bathroom while running. You’re already nervous about the race itself and now the fear of possibly having to use the restroom adds to the fear, which actually increases the need to use the restroom. It’s a viscous circle that no runner wants – especially with long port-o-john lines. Here are some race day tips in addition to the ones above:
(1) If you have a high fiber diet you should begin to cut down on your fiber intake the week leading up to the race.
(2) Make sure your dinner the night before consist of foods that you know do not irritate your stomach.
(3) Stay hydrated and to continue to hydrate throughout the race if needed.
(4) Finally if you are extremely worried about the trots hitting you during the race you can take an anti-diarrhea medication one hour before race time, but it is recommended that you do not do this on a daily basis. Likewise, make sure you practice with this during your training. Never try anything in a race for the first time.
If all else fails and you continue to run into the problem on your daily runs, plan your running routes out to where they have several restroom stops along the way and always carry some toilet paper tucked inside your running shorts pocket.
If you have any great tips that work for you, please feel free to share them. Having to go to the bathroom is a problem that strikes every runner and we’re all on the lookout for new tips.