When it comes to running, there are few things more painful – physically and emotionally – than runner’s trots.
If you’re unfamiliar with the trots, consider yourself lucky. Essentially, it’s running-induced diarrhoea and, while it’s most common with long distance workouts, it can attack at any time, in any place. (Trots are nondiscriminatory – and evil – like that.)
As a registered dietitian and avid runner, Lauren Slayton puts it: “If you don’t have a runner’s trot story to share, you probably haven’t been running that long.”
One source of solace: there are certain foods that can trigger the trots more than others, so steering clear of them before your runs can lessen the likelihood of a GI attack.
Slayton and two other registered dietitians detail these dangerous eats and provide suggested swaps.
1. Avoid: Caffeine
“Coffee is notorious for keeping us regular, but caffeine in general can really expedite the transit time of food through the GI tract,” explains registered dietitian Cara Harbstreet.
While obvious sources include coffee, tea, energy drinks and soda, there are also trace amounts of caffeine in certain foods, like chocolate and gum.
Says Slayton: “I’m definitely pro-coffee but upping caffeine before a long run isn’t always wise.”
Her advice: limit intake to one cup of coffee and budget “transit time” before a run.
Replace with: If you’re looking to cut back the caffeine, opt for decaf in the three to four hours before your run. And be sure to check your food labels to ensure you’re not consuming hidden sources that could put your bowels in the danger zone.
If you want to switch away entirely, try eating an apple – yes, an apple. Studies show it can be just as effective as that pre-run cup of coffee.
2. Avoid: High-fibre cereal with berries
Although healthy, a heaping bowl of pre-run oatmeal (or other fibre-filled cereal like bran) can spell a serious case of the trots, especially when sprinkled with fibre-packed toppings like berries and chia seeds.
“Go low fibre before a big run. There’s a time for fibre of course – but it’s not pre-race!” says Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian nutritionist, runner and author of Eating in Colour.
Replace with: Toast, peanut butter and a banana is Largeman-Roth’s better bet. Both bread and bananas are easy to digest and the protein in peanut butter will sustain – not sabotage – your workout.
3. Avoid: Sorbitol
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol commonly used in products like gum or beverages to replace actual sugar and reduce calories, explains Harbstreet. The issue: sorbitol is not fully absorbed and used for energy the way actual sugar is, meaning it remains in the GI tract and can cause a number of digestive dilemmas, including cramping, bloating and diarrhoea.
Replace with: Plain old H2O or an electrolyte replacement drink, depending on your training needs.
“Both will keep you adequately hydrated without stimulating any misbehaviour from your colon,” says Harbstreet.
4. Avoid: Spicy foods
Capsaicin – the chemical that makes spicy food spicy – is also known to irritate the lining of the small and large intestine, explains Harbstreet. Combine that with the fact that exercise quickens digestion and you could be in for an explosive workout.
Replace with: If you plan to run post meal, tone down the heat and select a milder menu option, advises Harbstreet. Fill up on complex carbs like non-starchy vegetables and brown rice, and then allow two to three hours for digestion before hitting the pavement.
5. Avoid: Dairy products
“I’ve often seen the jostling of running shine a light on a dairy intolerance,” explains Slayton, who warns the combination of fat and lactose in milk, cheese and other dairy products can upend the GI system.
Replace with: If you struggle with trots but are craving a creamy beverage, consider an alternative milk source like almond milk.
Just be sure that it’s made without the thickener carrageen, as some findings suggest the additive could be linked to inflammation and gut irritation.
6. Avoid: Beans, lentils and legumes
These foods (collectively called pulses) became trendy last year and continue to gain popularity, thanks to their many health benefits. But one of their greatest strengths – a high-fibre content – can also be your mid-run nemesis, warns Harbstreet.
Again, high fibre equals higher chance of bowel movements.
Replace with: Pre-run, seek out alternative carbohydrates with less fibre. Think mini bagels, English muffins, sourdough bread, potatoes (white or sweet), pasta or rice.
“It’s one of the few times I don’t recommend the whole-grain or whole-wheat version of these foods, simply because those options do contain additional fibre that might upset the GI tract during intense exercise,” says Harbstreet.