Running to the Bathroom During Workouts? What to Do

There's nothing better you can do for your health than to get moving. Exercise revs the whole body up, including your digestive and urinary tract. If urges to go to the bathroom when exercising are keeping you from getting a good workout, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Frequent, urgent trips to the bathroom are a common problem for many athletes. That's why marathon routes are lined with portable bathrooms. This urge to go is called "runner's trots," but it's not limited to runners.  Bicyclists, walkers, skiers, and other athletes all experience the need for frequent bowel movements while exercising. It's common, natural and usually healthy, but not terribly convenient. 

What causes the need for frequent bowel movements during (and shortly after) exercise? Experts don't know for sure, but theories suggest it is caused by increased motility (muscle activity) and decreased circulation in the intestines. All that healthy exercise stimulates the intestines to process food and fecal matter quickly and efficiently so the rest of the body can concentrate on exercise. 

What if it's getting in your way? 

  • Try exercising at different times of the day to see if there's a difference.
    • Many morning runners recommend getting up an hour early, having some coffee to get things moving, then going for a run after you've had a bowel movement.
    • Evening runners say late-in-the-day runs work for them because they've already gone to the bathroom during the day.
  • Avoid high fiber foods the night before a long run, but maintain a high-fiber diet the rest of the time to create bulk and minimize loose stools.
  • Run on an empty (or almost empty) stomach.

If none of the tips above work, ask your doctor if taking an antidiarrheal medication would be a good option for you.

What about frequent urination? If you can't make it through your workout without having to urinate, you're not alone. Many athletes experience this as well.

What causes it? Frequent urination during exercise may be caused by:

  • Your bladder getting jostled around during exercise, which triggers a feeling of fullness. 
  • Stress incontinence, which means the muscles in the pelvic floor aren't quite strong enough to support the bladder comfortably during the pressures of exercise (or sex, sneezing, and other situations where pressure is applied to the bladder). Performing Kegel exercises may help.
  • Good health. Frequent urination can be a sign you're well hydrated and your kidneys are doing their job of processing excess fluid in your blood stream.

What can you do about it? 

  • Go to the bathroom immediately before exercising. 
  • Limit caffeinated beverages (which simulate urination) several hours before your workout.
  • Drink clear water before, during, and after working out in small quantities (enough to keep you hydrated, but not so much that it fills your bladder).
  • Plan your workouts around bathrooms and breaks. 
    • Map out running routes near your home or a place with a bathroom. 
    • Take a mini-break during your aerobics class to go to the bathroom.

If frequent urination is a big problem, see your doctor. You may have a urinary tract infection, kidney problem, or some other health condition that requires medical treatment. Ask your doctor about bladder control exercises and medications.