Reduce Your Risk of Runners' Colitis or Diarrhea

A flare up of colitis can trigger diarrhea

two women running together
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Nothing can ruin a good workout like the fear of having a bathroom accident, especially if you've been diagnosed with a condition that makes you prone to such problems, like runners' colitis. While this condition typically affects elite athletes who routinely run long distances, even ordinary folks who run intensely may experience flare ups. 

What Is Runners' Colitis?

Colitis is simply inflammation of the colon, and runners usually experience the condition temporarily due to the intensity of their workouts.

Symptoms may last for hours, days or weeks, and runners are vulnerable because running requires the body to send oxygen-rich blood to the large muscles, a process that reroutes this blood away from other body parts, such as the gastrointestinal tract. The dehydration runners experience and the harsh movement of the body during exercise may also aggravate the GI tract, resulting in colitis. 

Symptoms of the condition include gurgling, cramping and loose bowels that can certainly amp up a runner's anxiety. Runners' diarrhea, which has been linked to colitis, is the term for the group of diarrhea-related symptoms brought on by intense or prolonged exercise. In addition to intestinal cramping or loose and frequent stools, this decidedly unpleasant phenomenon may manifest itself through fecal incontinence and (on rare occasions) rectal bleeding. These symptoms may appear during or after exercising and are most common when people engage in long-distance running.

Avoid Known Triggers

There are several identifiable factors that affect your gut’s motility, thereby increasing the frequency of intestinal contractions and resulting in diarrhea symptoms. Thus, the basic recommendations for reducing the risk of runners' diarrhea have to do with avoiding these factors:

  • Don’t eat two hours before exercise.
  • Avoid caffeine and hot drinks on the day of exercise.
  • Avoid known intestinal triggers and gas-producing foods starting the day before a big event.

For more detailed information about preventing diarrhea during a run, consult the following: 

Avoid Other Contributing Factors

Research performed on marathon runners has pinpointed other potential contributing factors for runners' diarrhea. The following appear to result in changes within the gastrointestinal system, changes that increase the risk of diarrhea symptoms:

  • Don't take aspirin or ibuprofen. If possible, avoid these products prior to or during exercise.
  • Stay hydrated. Adequate fluid intake is important for many aspects of health and performance while exercising, including reducing your risk of GI symptoms.

Nervous Diarrhea

Nervous diarrhea is the term for diarrhea symptoms that are experienced prior to intense exercise. You may be more at risk for nervous diarrhea if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are lactose intolerant, or suffer from irregular bowel habits. Here are tips for avoiding nervous diarrhea:

  • Avoid dairy products if you think you may be lactose intolerant.
  • Learn relaxation exercises to keep your system calm prior to exercising.
  • Schedule your workouts during times when you know that your digestive system is quieter.

Sources:

Lambert, G., Boylan, M., Laventure, J., Bull, A. & Lanspa, S. “Effect of aspirin and ibuprofen on GI permeability during exercise.International Journal of Sports Medicine 2007 722-726.

Lambert, G. et.al. “Fluid restriction during running increases GI permeability.International Journal of Sports Medicine 2007 29:194-198.

Smetanka, R., Lambert, G., Murray, R., Eddy, D., Horn, M. & Gisolfi, C. “Intestinal Permeability in Runners in the 1996 Chicago Marathon” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 1999 9:426-433.

Sullivan, S. & Wong, C. “Runners’ diarrhea: Different patterns and associated factors” Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology 1992 14:101-104.

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