It’s not something lots of people like to talk about, but it is a valid and common worry for runners: how do I make sure I poop before a race?
Man, my kids would love that I’m writing about potty talk, but this is important. Because being constipated while running can be miserable: it can mess with your mental game as much as your physical.
Why you can’t poop before a marathon
Before a race, especially a long-distance endurance event such as a marathon, runners face a triple threat that can lead to constipation: extra carbs, less running, and nerves. For those running a destination race, add in a fourth culprit of traveling.
It’s less than ideal. You’ve spent months committed to training for a race, making sacrifices, and doing all you can to prepare for this single event. And then, your bowels throw a wrench in the plans by making you feel bloated and heavy when you want to feel fast and light!
I am asked often by my athletes and friends how to make sure to poop before a race—and what to do if the BM mood strikes them mid-run. In fact, I recently traveled to a race with a friend who was experiencing marathon constipation. It was distressing to her as she carb loaded that everything that was going in wasn’t going out.\
I’m sharing my advice and tips from sports nutritionists and running coaches to help you make sure you poop before your run.
Is it okay to run while constipated?
Yes, it’s okay to run while constipated. In fact, it could be beneficial as the movement of running can cause things to move through the colon helping you poop! Yup, running can make you unconstipated!
It may be uncomfortable though. You may experience bloating, cramps, and gas while running constipated and the urge to go mid-run.
If you are running a race constipated, keep your fueling and hydration plan to same. Just try to put it out of your mind and focus on your goal.
Related: Train Your Gut to Avoid Runner’s Trots
Is it okay to poop before a run?
Yes, it is okay to poop before a run. No, it is actually IDEAL. That is what every runner wants. Pooping before a run allows you to run free of heaviness and potential stomach cramps, and it avoids the situation of having to find a place to squat mid-run. (And, yes squatting is the best position to help you poop.)
How not to poop mid-run?
Pooping mid-run isn’t anyone’s idea of fun yet it is surprisingly common since running helps things move through your bowels. There isn’t much you can do to stop yourself from pooping mid-run if you are constipated. (And trying to hold it in could be really uncomfortable).
If you haven’t pooped before your run, bring some toilet paper with you just in case you must head to the woods to go.
If having to poop mid-run is a common occurrence, you need to examine your schedule. It’s important to have a running routine and part of that routine may involve waking up earlier to drink coffee and wait for your bowels to move.
How do I make myself poop?
For those gearing up for a race or stressing the night before a marathon because they haven’t poop: this is THE QUESTION.
I got with experts and have 6 tips to help yourself poop before your marathon, race, or run.
6 Tips to Help You Poop Before Your Race
Wake up early and drink coffee.
I saw a mug somewhere once that read, “This coffee makes me poop.” No truer words have ever been written on something.
I don’t want to overshare, but this is the secret to my success and many other runners. Wake-up with plenty of time to drink coffee or another warm beverage, relax, and let things move. This may take an hour or more.
“Hopefully, runners have a sense of timing around consuming coffee and its stimulant effect so they can time intake and their need to use the bathroom,” explains Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery, adding that any warm beverage can help you poop.
When I am in peak training and going to 5 a.m. practice, I will wake up at 3:30 a.m. to allow for this process to happen! I don’t enjoy waking up at that time. I am TIRED! But I dislike running constipated more and dealing with the after-effects more!
Related: How to Become a Morning Runner
Exercise can help get things moving through the colon so if you’re trying to poop before a race or run, try doing a warm-up inside. Do your drills, mobility, dynamic stretching, air squats, and lunges to stimulate your bowels while you are close to a toilet.
If you are warming up ahead of a race, Skolnik recommends doing your warm-up near the porta-potties so that you can do a pitstop before you head to the start line.
Related: 8 Drills to Make You Run Faster
Runners are often told to avoid fiber before a marathon but that does not mean you should cut it out completely.
Aim to consume 20-25 grams of fiber a day in the days leading up to your race to ensure you poop before you race, says running coach and my co-coach Laura Norris.
Amy Stephens, a sports nutritionist, advises her elite athletes to eat veggies, whole grain carbs like quinoa, beans, and lentils along with the traditional carb-loading foods such as pizza, bananas, bagels, and rice.
A couple pieces of dried fruit like dates or prunes can also help you poop. Just be sure not to go overboard on the fiber 48 hours ahead of your race. (Do not try any new foods 48 hours before a race!!).
Also, try to stay on your regular eating schedule even if you are traveling or eating more carbs than normal.
Related: Marathon Fueling 101: How Runners Should Eat
Hydration is key for staying regular. If you’re running less by marathon tapering, then there is a good chance you may not be drinking as much fluid. Increasing your carb intake compounds this effect, says Norris.
“Fluid intakes increase with the carb load, as it takes 2-4 grams of water to store one gram of carb as glycogen. Constipation can occur without enough fluid to keep things running smoothly in the GI system,” she explains.
So, drink up! Throw in electrolytes too to get your ready for your race.
Drink prune juice.
In addition to drinking water, you can drink prune juice to help you poop before your marathon or race. This is the best way to make yourself poop fast. You can’t make yourself poop immediately, but this is pretty close.
“Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, is a natural laxative, and found in prune juice. Since sorbitol passes through our system undigested it draws water into the gut which can bulk up stool and stimulate bowel movement,” explains Skolnik.
Mix it with orange juice if that helps with the taste. If prune juice doesn’t help, try prunes. Or you can try MiraLAX, a gentle laxative, as a last resort.
But don’t do this 48 hours before your race! Stick with familiar foods and lots of water and electrolyte drinks!
I know it can be hard to not stress about not pooping before your race, but it can only make things worse.
So, try to relax. Take a warm bath. Try some yoga. Drink some warm tea while you read. Then go sit on the toilet for a little while. Take deep breaths. Repeat the process as necessary.
Related: 6 Essential Running Poses for Runners
If being constipated before a race is a common problem for you, make sure you practice your routine in your training, so you know what works and what doesn’t. Ensure you wake up with ample time before your race to poop.
And, come up with your mental training if you can’t poop before your run. Know that not pooping isn’t going guaranteed to ruin your running performance. Some days it just doesn’t happen and that’s okay.
Pack some toilet paper and try to go with the flow.
I’d love to help you reach your goals (potty and otherwise…), check out my run coaching services!