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Intestinal concerns: certain foods and exercise patterns can be causing unwanted pit stops. (Nutrition).

Gastro-intestinal (GI) concerns are surprisingly common among both professional and recreational athletes.

* An estimated 30 to 50 percent of distance runners experience intestinal problems related to exercise.

* The majority (83 percent) of 471 surveyed marathoners reported occasional or frequent GI problems during or after running, while 53 percent experienced the urge to have a bowel movement and 38 percent experienced diarrhea. Overall, women were more likely to experience these problems.

* Among 155 mountain marathoners, 24 percent had intestinal symptoms and two dropped out due to GI problems.

* Dieters (including athletes and individuals with eating disorders)were more likely than non-dieters to report abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

* In a survey of 2,500 Americans, 40 percent reported one or more digestive symptoms--abdominal pain (22 percent), bloating (16 percent) and diarrhea (27 percent)--the month prior to the interview.

Given the above data, we need to acknowledge the fact that bowel movements are a concern for many active people. Yet, this topic is rarely discussed. This article addresses this concern and can hopefully help reduce your gastro-intestinal problems.

Causes of "runners' trots"

Many physiological facts explain why diarrhea is a concern for athletes, particularly athletes in running-type sports. Contributing factors include "jostling" of the intestines, reduced blood flow to the intestines as the body diverts blood flow to the working muscles, changes in intestinal hormones, altered absorption and dehydration. Add high intensity exercise, stress, anxiety, pre-event jitters and it's no wonder athletes--particularly young and novice athletes whose bodies are unaccustomed to the physical stress of hard exercise--fret about "nervous diarrhea."

Exercise, specifically more exercise than your body is accustomed to, increases intestinal activity. Even strength training accelerates intestinal transit time. As your body adjusts to exercise, you may resume regular bowel movements, but not always.


To alleviate this problem, exercise lightly before the event to help empty bowels or experiment with training at different times of the day. Visualize yourself exercising with no intestinal problems--the problem may be solved with a positive mindset. Be sure to watch your diet, the following nutrition tips might help reduce the problems.

1. Reduce fiber intake. Fiber increases fecal bulk and movement, thereby reducing transit time. Tri-athletes with a high fiber intake reported more GI complaints than those with a lower fiber intake.

2. Limit "sugar-free" foods that contain sorbitol. This type of sugar can cause diarrhea.

3. Keep a food and bowel movement chart to pinpoint food triggers. Take away any suspicious foods--excessive intakes of juice, coffee, fresh fruits, raisins, dried fruits, beans, lentils, milk, high fiber breads and cereals--for a week and then eat a large portion. Observe changes in bowel movements. If you stopped having diarrhea when you stopped eating bran cereal, the answer becomes obvious--eat less bran cereal. A simple way to learn your personal transit time is to eat sesame seeds, corn or beets--foods that can be seen in feces.

4. Drink extra water to maintain hydration. GI complaints are common in runners who sweat more than 4 percent of their body weight. These same runners often believe the ingestion of fluid causes diarrhea. However, the true culprit is the dehydration that occurs due to inadequate fluid intake.

5. Consult your doctor about using anti-diarrhea medicine. Medication may have side effects that can affect your performance.

The bottom line is you are not alone with your concerns. By experimenting with different food and exercise patterns, you may find an easy solution.

Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., offers private consultations to athletes at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her popular book, Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition, is available by sending $22 to Sports Nutrition Services, 830 Boylston St. #205, Brookline, MA 02467 or visit
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Author:Clark, Nancy
Publication:American Fitness
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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