Coach Casey

Written by Coach Casey


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.

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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.

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14 Responses on “Having to go to the bathroom when running

  1. Another huge part of this that kind of falls into the food category is supplements. If you suddenly decide to drink a cytomax and pop a couple gels before a race and your stomach isn’t used to that… lookout!

  2. This article is very helpful. I sometimes find myself needing a restroom quite badly when running and of course there are no restrooms available when this happens. The two things I have done is first of all to try to bm before going out, although you can’t always force your body to get rid of it if its not ready to. The second thing is to plan the route so that you either have access to a restroom or privacy in nature. For myself my route consists of country fields and wooded areas so I usually don’t have a problem with privacy. I will hold it if I can, but I find it so annoying to have a hard and pushing bm wanting out. If it gets too uncomfortable, I will utilize a secluded area to relieve myself. And yes I always carry tissues with me. I agree, its a topic that is not much talked about but needing a bm when running probably happens to a lot of people and it is good to have these useful tips.

  3. I was looking for tips as this has become a more regular issue. I think it’s a combination of longer runs (excuse the pun) and just the motion (again excuse the pun) of pacing that moves you to need to go. So not to be deterred I am including big stores on route (IKEA – super facilities) and there’s always Supermarkets too. Perhaps it will not always be a problem but despite going beforehand, it’s getting more regular (sorry) – the joys of eating healthy and keeping fit? ;0/

  4. I usually run around my neighborhood, and half way through my run, my body was like, ” yeah , your having a nice run? Well I’m going to f**k it up”

  5. You wrote: write down the foods you eat and then identify your bathroom situation on the preceding run. 

    Did you mean “following run”?

  6. Very good article, very useful info. Personally i find it is the motion that seems to shake everything loose and we all know the result after that!
    Good to hear others experience too, at least i am not the only one looking for a quiet area or the next gas station!!

  7. Craig DeVitto, Prev sounds ideal, but not available in the UK…We have Immodium but that doesn’t seem to work…If anyone has any other preventative measures that are available in the UK similar to Prev…please let me know….other than that…Thanks for the tips, i shall be trying some of them out..especially the diet….

    • Hi Paul, thanks for reaching out. I am actually from the UK, and I had many situations where I had an upset stomach during runs. The best solutions I found were to make sure you get up with enough time for your body to get moving and go to the bathroom before you run. I also find having a tea first thing in the morning helps to regulate. Finally, look at what you are eating, try different foods in different times before you run, sticking to plain carbohydrates before the run (even up to 5 hours before). The biggest thing is to experiment yourself, and find out what foods work for you. Try to stay away from fruits and vegetables (or other high fiber foods) before running, and keep the foods as simple as possible. Hope this helps!

  8. I am lucky (?) to run in the early morning in the dark. I have lots of bushes to duck into when the emergency strikes, and I know the location of every porta-potty and 24 hour store in the neighbourhood. Thankfully I don’t need this information every run. I like the suggestion of getting up a little earlier; sometimes that helps.

  9. I’ve completed 57 marathons in 39 years and had to make pit-stops for a BM in at least a dozen of them. Usually the urge comes within the first hour and I can sometimes fight it for another :30 or so until I reach a port-a-potty or public restroom. I’ve varied my food intake and pre-race routine with some success, but now that I’m the course longer, the threat is always there. When you gotta go, you gotta go. I always carry a few baby wipes with lanolin in them rather than t/p. they don’t shred or stick, and the lanolin helps soothe the area. I also carry a small tube of Vaseline to reapply when my “business” is done.

    • Hi Alan, thanks for sharing what has helped you. Have you practiced your eating in the months before, eating the same foods over and over again (when you find ones that work?). We have some other suggestions that have worked with runners who struggled with this in the past if you would like us to share. We appreciate your suggestions for runners once they do have problems, those really will be very helpful!

  10. I primarily have this problem during my harder efforts or workouts. I’m guessing it’s the added blood flow going away from my GI tract. Normally, coffee is usually able to help me get rid of this problem before regular runs and even long runs, but I haven’t found a solid solution yet for getting rid of this issue during my repeats, tempos, fartleks, etc. I’ve tried toughing it out a few times throughout the duration, but it normally leaves my stomach very upset for the rest of the day and I am in the bathroom every 20-30 min. The other option is to stop the workout and use the port o potty, but I don’t like interrupting the hard efforts. Still looking for a solution.

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