How To Prep for Your Workout So You Don’t Feel Like You Need To Poop Halfway Through, According to Gastros

Nothing ruins a workout than the sudden urge to use the bathroom halfway through it—and if you’ve ever had this experience, you wouldn’t be the only one. As it turns out, working out does make you poop, helping to keep things moving in more ways than one. This cause-and-effect isn’t usually problematic, but it can be a nuisance when nature often calls in the middle of your exercise routine—or a nightmare when it’s accompanied by gastrointestinal issues.

Experts In This Article

The good news is that you can postpone the urgent need to poop and prevent workout-induced bowel problems typically linked to long and vigorous workouts, like runner’s diarrhea. Below, gastroenterologists offer information on the link between exercise and digestion, plus tips on avoiding workout discomfort so you can exercise without the need for incessant bathroom breaks.

How exercise affects bowel movements

There are a few ways that exercise affects our bowel function. For one, it stimulates bowel function, says Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC, board-certified gastroenterologist and founder of Well Sunday. More interestingly still, it can play a role in promoting a healthy microbiome and your overall gut health, she says, and there is research to back her up. In one 2017 study, researchers found that exercise increases the quality and quantity of good gut bacteria. Plus, regular exercise can be a boon to people with irritable bowel syndrome, she says. For example, in relieving stress, which has a major impact on our bowel function, it can, in turn, keep you regular and minimize symptoms of IBS, including bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.

Why does working out make you poop?

As for why working out makes you poop, there is a clear link between exercise and your bowel function. “Exercise stimulates your gut,” says Dr. Robbins. “The more you move, the more your bowels will move.” Board-certified gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, adjunct assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and clinical instructor at Kingsbrook Jewish College, agrees, adding that when we exercise, our bodies move in up-and-down and side-to-side motions, which triggers the digestive system and speeds up your gut transit time. “When this happens, ingested food is digested at a quicker rate and makes its way throughout the GI tract,” he says.

Are certain types of workouts more likely to make you poop than others?

According to Dr. Robbins, certain types of workouts are more likely to jumpstart your digestive system. What types of exercises make you poop immediately, you ask? One such exercise is cardio. “In general, cardio is stimulatory to the gut,” she says, even at moderate intensity levels. (Think running, walking, and swimming.) Another type of exercise that helps promote healthy bowel movements is yoga and stretching, she says. Certain yoga poses or stretches add pressure to the abdominal organs while stimulating the vagus nerve, which is behind the body’s relaxation response—and the combination of these factors can encourage bowel movement. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, long bouts of vigorous exercise can prompt runner’s diarrhea among some individuals.

What is runner’s diarrhea and what causes it?

Runner’s diarrhea is exactly what its name implies—“loose bowel movements during or immediately after a run,” says Lauren Bleich, MD, MPH, a board-certified gastroenterologist at Gastro Health. “It is most commonly seen in long-distance runners.” According to Dr. Robbins, one potential cause of runner’s diarrhea is the changes of blood flow during intense or prolonged periods of exercise. Blood flows to the muscles to supply them with oxygen for energy, while blood flow to the GI tract is reduced. “That relative decrease can be hard on the gut,”she says, and in some cases, people might experience ischemic colitis, an issue that can be exacerbated by dehydration.

How to prevent the urge to poop during a workout

Whether it happens often or every one in a while, having the urge to poop during a workout is nothing short of an inconvenience. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent this urge—none of which involves having to hold in your poop. For one, you might want to consider emptying your bowels before exercising, says Dr. Robbins, particularly if you have a tendency towards diarrhea.

What and when you eat is also important in avoiding workout discomfort while ensuring you have enough energy for your exercise. A light snack prior to a workout is ideal, and Dr. Robbins recommends consuming protein, healthy fats, and soluble fiber—which all work to slow down digestion—30 minutes to an hour before exercise. She notes that you’ll want to avoid eating too much fiber, though, as large amounts can be hard to digest. Dr. Sonpal emphasizes the importance of consuming lean protein, explaining that it “keeps your energy high without irritating your stomach.”

Mary Johnson, USATF and VDOT02-certified running coach and founder of Lift Run Perform, recommends eating a light meal made up of easy-to-digest foods like simple carbohydrates prior to a cardio workout—and refueling if you’re training vigorously or for longer periods with carbohydrate-rich liquids, gels, or snacks, with the caveat: “Every athlete is different with tolerating different types of fuel.” In other words, what might work for others might cause you gastrointestinal issues. Experimenting with various energy options can help you determine one that’s best for you and your gut—and ideally, you’ll want to conduct this experiment prior to, say, a big race. Conversely, if you’re opting for a larger meal, you’ll typically want to wait at least three to four hours before working out, says Dr. Robbins. (And you may want to heed her suggestion on this, as many can often experience an immediate bowel movement after eating bigger portions of food.)

Lastly, you’ll want to ensure you’re well hydrated before a workout. “I think we’re all aware of the importance of hydration,” says Dr. Robbins. However, this isn’t to say that you should drink a whole bunch of water in one sitting. “It stretches and distends the stomach,” she explains. “Small frequent sips is probably a better way to hydrate.”

Are certain foods more likely to trigger a bowel movement when working out?

What you eat plays an important role in prep-workout prep and preparing your stomach for a workout. While there are certain types of food that you’ll want to eat prior to exercising, there are foods that will make you poop immediately—and you’ll likely want to avoid them prior to a workout. Dr. Robbins is of the mind that small (emphasis on small) amounts of soluble fiber can help slow digestion, as well as prevent sharp spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. However, Johnson and Dr. Sonpal recommends avoiding it if you’re prone to tummy trouble. While bulking up on Raisin Bran might be great for encouraging a poop in the morning, it might raise some problems for you if you’re eating it right before exercising. Dr. Sonpal adds that you’ll want to steer clear of heavy meals—unless you’re consuming it hours prior to workout—as well as spicy foods. “Both are likely to cause discomfort in the upper abdomen, especially once the body is moving around,” he says. Finally, Dr. Robbins recommends avoiding “alcohol, caffeine, [and] fatty foods,” which are all difficult for the stomach to digest and tolerate before exercise.

When to see a doctor

These suggestions can help those who often have the urge to poop during a working out. “If you’re finding you’re consistently getting an upset tummy when you’re working out, timing [your bowel movements] and dietary changes can help mitigate that,” says Dr. Robbins. However, if none of these work for you and you’re also experiencing persistent gastrointestinal issues, you might want to speak to your doctor, who can help you create a personalized plan of action.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Monda, Vincenzo et al. “Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2017 (2017): 3831972. doi:10.1155/2017/3831972
  2. Faress, Ahmed et al. “’Runs’ from a run: A case of exercise induced ischemic colitis.” World journal of emergency medicine vol. 8,4 (2017): 302-304. doi:10.5847/wjem.j.1920-8642.2017.04.010

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...