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What is Runner’s Diarrhea?

If you are a runner, you may be familiar with the phrase “runner’s diarrhea”. If you are not a runner, you may wonder whether there is truth to this phrase. Unfortunately, runner’s diarrhea is a very common problem.

While toilet habits are not a pleasant topic to discuss, it is important that this is something you are aware of. Being aware of runner’s diarrhea and the causes behind it can help you prepare if you were to suffer from it. 

Runner’s diarrhea is used to describe the loose bowel movements that many runners can experience while running, or after they have run. While this can occur with any type of runner, runner’s diarrhea is more common for those who participate in long distance running, rather than those who perform shorter sprinting distances.

While this is something that can happen to a number of runners, the exact cause of the diarrhea is not something that is completely understood. However, there are many thoughts behind why this is a fairly common occurrence.

The main reason why experts think that this may occur is due to how running can affect the digestive system. When you are running for longer periods of time this will cause the blood flow to increase to other parts of your body, and decrease in the intestines.

In addition to this, it is widely known that anxiety or stress can have a big impact on the digestive system, especially if you are someone that suffers from IBS. If you are particularly nervous or stressed about a race, this can cause diarrhea.

Food that you eat before or during a run can also have an effect on the digestive system, especially if the food has a laxative effect. The digestive system does tend to work more quickly when you are exercising. Given this, the cause of runner’s diarrhea can be a mixture of the potential causes we have discussed.

How long does runner's diarrhea last?

How long runner’s diarrhea lasts will vary from person to person. This is because some runners will experience this more severely than others. Given this, it is difficult to suggest how long this will last exactly. However, runner’s diarrhea typically lasts up to 24 hours.

While this is not ideal, it can be reassuring to know that it is fairly short lived. Runner’s diarrhea typically begins while you are running and can last for a number of hours after this. However, if the diarrhea persists it is worth chatting to your doctor to ensure that there are no underlying problems.

Runner’s diarrhea can be linked to the type of food you have consumed recently. Given this, it is always wise to ensure that you are eating food that agrees with your digestive system leading up to your race. This can help to prevent this from occurring. However, sometimes, this is something that cannot be avoided.

Do runners take Imodium?

While not all runners will take Imodium, some will. If you are unfamiliar with Imodium, it is a tablet that contains loperamide, which helps to slow down a digestive system to help prevent diarrhea. It is typically taken during bouts of diarrhea and is used for short term bowel problems, rather than long term.

As we have discussed above, runners can experience runner’s diarrhea. For runners who suffer with this often, they may opt to take Imodium before a race to help prevent this from occurring. It can be helpful for those with digestive issues in the short term.

As Imodium slows the digestive system, it can be useful while running, and it can keep runner’s diarrhea at bay. While it is not a long term solution, it can be used during events. Many athletes will choose to use it. Even if you choose to use Imodium, it is important to stay hydrated while running.

Can energy gels cause diarrhea?

Yes, energy gels can cause diarrhea. While this will vary from person to person, it definitely is a contributing factor. Given this, we would always recommend testing energy gels you plan to use before the day of the race. That way you will have a better idea of whether the energy gel will have a negative effect on your digestive system.

Energy gels are very concentrated and contain high amounts of sugar. While this is fantastic for increasing your energy levels, it is not so great for the digestive system. It can cause the digestive system to become irritated and work overtime. Given this, you should always consume energy gels with caution.

While they do cause diarrhea for some people, it is important to remember that this is not the case for everyone. Some runners can use it with no issues. It is down to the individual and their digestive system’s response. 


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