This is the runner’s diarrhea, the most embarrassing way to reach the finish line

This is the runner’s diarrhea, the most embarrassing way to reach the finish line

Taking part in a marathon or any other similar competition requires considerable effort. For the muscles and, in some cases, for the intestines. At least that is what all those athletes who at some point have experienced the diarrhea runner. Yes, it is as scatological as it sounds.

It is a phenomenon for which many athletes and marathon runners have experienced uncontrollable diarrhea. during a training or, even worse, directly in the race. There may have been a secondary explanation in some cases, but in the majority of athletes in whom diarrhea has been reported runner no presence of pathogenic microorganisms was found that could have caused an infection. Nor has it been seen that it is usually related to any food intolerance.

There is simply something that makes them relieve irremediably before, during or after the race. There are several studies in the scientific literature aimed at search for those boosterswhich seem to be related to three main factors: effort, stress and an increase in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

The first studies on ‘runner’ diarrhea

The first time diarrhea was described as such runner was in 1992, with a study published by scientists from the Ontario Victoria Hospitalin Canada.

109 long-distance athletes participated in it who were interviewed about their bowel movements during races. Of all of them, 62% admitted having had to stop in the middle of a workout to go to the bathroom. In contrast, 43% rated what was happening to them as a nervous diarrhea that always surprised them before the races. For others, the problem came later, since 51% admitted having had diarrhea after races. But there were a few for whom the situation was even more uncomfortable, with 12% reporting experiencing fecal incontinence during running. Come on, they did it to him.

This is the case of the French marcher Yohann Diniz, who in 2016 reached the finish line of a race in eighth place and with more shame than joy. Luckily, the following year he became world champion in the 50 km race walk. Hopefully that would overshadow the dark experience of the previous season.

Why do we get diarrhea when we get stressed?

Many of the athletes who experience diarrhea runner acknowledge having experienced it at a time of maximum stress and nervousness. This, in reality, is not only applicable to athletes. We have all had our stomachs upset at some point in a situation like this. But why does all this happen?

Basically, it is due to the phenomenon of fight or flight, generally associated with anxiety symptoms. This is a physiological response of the organism that has been evolutionarily very useful as a species. For example, when our ancestors had to fight a lion, they felt fear and that threat triggered reactions that helped them flee, preferably, or fight if there was no other choice.

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The fight or flight phenomenon is evolutionarily favorable, but if it gets out of control it is behind anxiety symptoms

Among other symptoms, blood flow mainly targets the muscles, hence our skin turns pale. Precisely because the muscles prepare to face the threat, they also tense and we can experience tremors. Furthermore, they increase heart rate and respiration rateto provide the body with the oxygen and energy needed to flee or fight.

And what about diarrhea? Basically, most of the energy obtained by the body is also invested in the muscle activity. That’s why, digestion slows down and intestinal symptoms such as stomach pain or diarrhea may appear. This applies to runners and anyone who is nervous or scared. Hence the literalness of the expression “shit scared.”

Too many muscles at once

When we are doing a very intense exercise, such as running, it may we withdraw energy that we would normally invest in other muscles. And among them is precisely the sphincter that controls the passage of feces.

Marathons and other professional races are very demanding for some musclesespecially those located in the legs, so this can lead to diarrhea runner.


What does the sympathetic nervous system have to do with it?

The sympathetic nervous system is a division of the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary visceral reactions such as breathing or heartbeat. And, of course, it is also responsible for the contraction of the muscles of the digestive tract.

The most important neurotransmitters that control it are adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are also released in large quantities during exercise. Therefore, there may be an overstimulation of this system that could trigger a excessive bowel movements. Also, can generate a redistribution of blood from the splanchnic organs, in which the different components of the digestive system are included, causing some of them not to receive an adequate flow. That, again, can cause symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea.

To avoid ‘runner’s’ diarrhea, be careful what you eat

Although there seem to be compelling reasons beyond food, what athletes eat it could also make them more or less likely to experience diarrhea runner.

For example, in a study published in 2017 it was seen that avoiding the ingestion of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) was associated with a lower incidence of reported gastrointestinal problems. That is why athletes are advised to eat fewer foods rich in these substances to prevent runner’s diarrhea.

Also, just before running they are advised to avoid fiber, fat, caffeine, baking soda, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. More research will be needed to show how all of these foods influence digestive problems. But in the meantime, to avoid uncomfortable situations, it is best not to abuse them. I’m sure anyone who has experienced diarrhea runner In the middle of the race it seems like a good idea.