First things first: Poops during exercise are a real thing because cardio and movement are catalysts. Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City and faculty member at Touro College of Medicine, explains that when we perform cardio, our bodies move in up-and-down and side-to-side motions. It’s not your imagination—this ‘bouncing’ movement in our guts can actually trigger the digestive system to propel waste out.
“When this happens, ingested food is digested at a quicker rate and makes its way throughout the gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Sonpal says. “The stomach is also jostled around and causes movement of stomach acid. Thus, people are often suddenly hit with an urge to go to the bathroom once they start cardio.”
He explains that another issue caused by cardio is that blood flow is directed more towards the cardiovascular system rather than the digestive system. To account for the sudden stall in blood flow, the body tends to try and rid itself of any undigested food, bacteria, and toxins. Hence, the sudden urge to go to the bathroom.
Now, for how to avoid the pesky poop-hampered workouts. The good news is, there are a few ways to avoid this major inconvenience. As you probably suspected, the best thing you can do to prep your gut is through healthy diet and nutrition.
“The better your microbiome in your gut, the better your stomach will feel while exercising,” says Dr. Sonpal. An easy place to start is by packing on the probiotics, which aid in digestion. “Consuming probiotics may help strengthen the stomach lining, which leads to less frequent bathroom visits while performing cardio,” says Dr. Sonpal. “These microorganisms can be found in a plethora of different foods like yogurt, cheeses, fermented foods, as well as oral supplements.” Mary Johnson, USATF and VDOT-certified coach and founder of Lift.Run.Perform, shares a similar sentiment regarding pre-cardio nutrition. In addition to probiotics, she suggests sticking to simple carbs, like crispy sweet potatoes or a plain bagel with a thin spread of light jam or honey.
“It’s also significant to note that every athlete is different with tolerating different types of fuel,” says Johnson. “Practicing different carb-delivery methods is important and can make or break an athlete’s fueling strategy.” So if you’re training for a major race, start experimenting with mid-cardio “meals,” like liquids, goos, or other carb-heavy snacks.
Now that you know what you should eat, here’s what you shouldn’t. Number one on both Dr. Sonpal’s and Johnson’s list is—you guessed it—fiber. If you’re exercising, don’t bulk up on raisin bran unless you want your bowels to raise some problems for your later on. Fiber stimulates digestion and may lead to a bowel movement mid-workout.
Other foods to avoid include dairy, which is tough to digest and can upset the stomach, and spice. “Steer clear of heavy meals or spicy foods as both are likely to cause discomfort in the upper abdomen, especially once the body is moving around” Dr. Sonpal says. “Instead, try fueling your body with lean protein like chicken to keep your energy high without irritating your stomach. Bananas are easily digestible carbs that are packed with potassium to minimize the chance of muscle cramps.”
Good hydration is also key for breaking down food and maintaining gut health before, during, and after your workout. But the real key to preventing the poop runs/bikes/trampoline sessions, however, is knowing your body and developing a steady, nutritious diet. “The gut is trainable, so practicing with different types and timing of fuel is essential,” says Johnson. “Everyone is going to be different with what works, so it’s all about individual practice and consistency.”
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