Prevent Marathon Runner’s Diarrhea

September 6, 2012 9:00 am 20 comments

You’ve made the commitment to run a marathon. Congratulations! This is a lofty goal which will require lots of training and dedication, but the feeling of accomplishment you’ll experience as you cross the finish line will make it all worthwhile. Before you start training, it’s important to be aware of potential problems you may encounter during the training period or the marathon itself. If you haven’t already discovered, there’s a link between marathon running and diarrhea. Marathon runner’s diarrhea is a common malady you’ll want to avoid if you want to maximize your marathon running experience.

What exactly is runner’s diarrhea?
As the name implies, this is a condition whereby a runner experiences diarrhea during a long run such as a marathon. As you can imagine, this is a problem that can not only slow you down, but make a marathon or any other long run extremely uncomfortable. The exact cause of runner’s diarrhea isn’t known, but it’s thought to be due to blood flow being channeled away from the intestines to meet the demands of the hard-working leg muscles.

How common is runner’s diarrhea?
This condition may affect anywhere from a quarter to a third of all runner’s in some capacity. So, if you experience this symptom, you’re certainly not alone. You can be certain during any marathon that a significant number of runners are making unplanned stops at the portable johns along the route to deal with this menacing problem.

What’s the best way to prevent runner’s diarrhea?
As you may have guessed diet plays an important role in managing the symptoms. Although it’s important to eat before a marathon to maintain your energy level for the long run ahead, it’s important to avoid foods that are high in fiber such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Although these foods are excellent energy sources, they can also draw water into the intestines and bring on the symptoms of runner’s diarrhea. It’s also best to avoid dairy products if you have any tendency towards lactose intolerance.

While hydration is important, avoid drinking caffeine containing beverages prior to a race. Caffeine can be irritating to the stomach lining and can bring on marathon runner’s diarrhea along with upper gastrointestinal symptoms such as reflux and heartburn. Fruit juice and water is a better alternative. Avoid any beverage sweetened with artificial sweeteners, particularly sugar alcohols, which are notorious for causing diarrhea.

Medications are another consideration. Some runners take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil before a race. This should be avoided as they can cause irritation of the stomach lining and aggravate marathon runner’s diarrhea. Some runners carry an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication with them during a marathon. This is something to consider if you have recurrent problems with runner’s diarrhea.

Try to relax the night before since stress can contribute to diarrhea in many cases. Be prepared and be positive. See you at the finish line!

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Written by Dr. Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie is a medical doctor with a concentration in family practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and a master’s in Clinical Pathology. She has been a published writer for the last two years and was named one of Associated Content’s top 100 writers.

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