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What Is Runner's Diarrhea?

Many marathon runners suffer from runner's diarrhea.
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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Many runners, especially those who participate in marathons, suffer from runner’s diarrhea. The condition, also known as "runner’s trots," causes loose stools and makes a runner feel a desperate need to defecate, either during the run or just after. One estimate says the uncomfortable and embarrassing condition affects up to 50 percent of runners. Experts are uncertain of the cause, but advice is available concerning runner’s diarrhea prevention and ways to lessen incidences and keep a runner on course rather than in the bathroom.

Much of the advice concerns changes to a runner’s diet. Foods that are high in fiber should be avoided for 24 hours before a scheduled run, as should foods that cause gas. Another possible culprit that should be avoided are sugar alcohols, a kind of sweetener contained in sugar-free food products, such as ice cream, candy, and some sugar-free gums. Some experts suggest a runner should also avoid fatty foods and caffeine for about three hours preceding a race, and some runners may find they need to avoid these substances for as many as six hours. It is also advisable to completely refrain from eating for a couple of hours before a run.

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Advice for runners who are trying to avoid runner’s diarrhea also includes taking precautions with lactose products, such as milk and milk products, because in certain people, lactose can cause diarrhea. Runners also should be aware that energy bars could lead to diarrhea, as can dehydration. Drinking fluids is important, but a runner should pass up any warm drinks, which can accelerate digestion.

Runners who fear a recurrence of runner’s diarrhea might want to take extra precautions with the fit of their clothing because clothing that is too tight can exacerbate the problem. Another safeguard would be to limit the length of the run until improvement is seen. If the problem continues, a visit to a physician may be in order to obtain an antidiarrheal medication. Some runners simply make sure they know the location of restrooms along their route before starting out.

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