There are few things more distracting on that final set than realizing the most powerful muscle movement you’re about to make is in your sphincter. Still, if you work out regularly — especially with endurance or high-impact strength training — you’ve no doubt felt it: Your abdominals cramp; your gut starts bubbling; and your butthole tightens up like the rubber band around a morning newspaper. But you’re mentally tough! You’re a gym animal! You refuse to quit mid-set! You’ll just push through — oh crap, nope, gotta run to the bathroom for a different kind of push altogether.
It’s true, if rarely discussed in polite society (or round the weight bench): Exercise and competition can bring on some seriously shitty situations. Here are the most common ones, and how you can avoid them.
Exercise and Constipation
You’re generally considered constipated when you have three or fewer bowel movements per week. Consistent exercise usually increases regularity (keep your body moving, and your ass will follow), so if you’re working through CrossFit circuits four times a week and aren’t shitting like a goose, you’re doing something wrong, Brosevelt. Are you drinking adequate fluids during workouts and throughout the day? Dehydration is a common cause for constipation, according to this LiveStrong report. You might also need to increase your fiber intake, which in conjunction with more water helps keep the contents of your bowels moving smoothly. For instance, try swapping out that sugary bowl of Fruity Pebbles for breakfast and have Raisin Bran instead — your ass will thank you later.
Exercise and Hard Stools
Do you have a God-awful sensation like you’re passing chalky billiard balls when you dump? That’s textbook hard stools, champ. According to U.S. News & World Report, they’re part deux of constipation: Coupled with defecating irregularly, your stool is dry, hard and difficult to move through the colon. Your bowels are dehydrated because water has been extracted from your large intestine to replenish other parts of your body, so in addition to drinking more fluids, try eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods, which lack fiber. Omega-3 oils from a few portions of fish each week will be useful, too, as they help lubricate your intestines.
Exercise and Sharting
This is where athlete v. anus really comes into play. Sharting — where “farting” and “shitting” collide — is most likely to happen during super-heavy squatting or deadlifting. As well as the effort involved in such lifts, it could be connected to the fact that several studies in recent years have suggested that squatting while pooping is easier and more effective than merely sitting. One report noted, “Your puborectalis muscle, the muscle responsible for continence, relaxes only partially [in a seated position]. But in a squatting posture, it releases completely.” The potential reflex to shart is likely a familiar one for anyone who’s attempted heavy squats or deadlifts, so the smart money bets on hitting the gym bathroom before hitting the weights. Otherwise, you’ll end up like the weightlifting pro who couldn’t keep her shit together:
Exercise and Diarrhea
In a 2000 study, the Oklahoma Foundation for Digestive Research found that 72 percent of conditioned athletes have suffered from lower gastrointestinal distress, known in layman’s terms as diarrhea. Occurring during or immediately after vigorous exercise and competition, experts say it’s caused by the redistribution of blood flow and oxygen away from the intestines, toward exercising skeletal muscles. And the gross gravy train is by no means partisan in its affliction: Pro athletes in MLB, the NFL, UFC, NHL — shit (pun intended), even surfing legend Kelly Slater — have all been hit with bouts of diarrhea during competition. Your best bet for avoiding this messy embarrassment is drinking plenty of cold fluids throughout your workout, and avoiding high-fiber foods like beans, fruit and bran beforehand.
Athlete’s Diarrhea: Exercise and Fecal Incontinence
Known as “athlete’s diarrhea,” this is the inability to control your bowel movements. The most infamous victims of this shit show have traditionally been marathon runners like Sweden’s Mikael Ekvall in 2008 and Germany’s Uta Pippig in 1996, during her third consecutive Boston Marathon win. Gastroenterologist James Lee told Shape magazine that incontinence is more common in runners due to increased hormonal surges in the stomach lining from all the jostling around while pounding the pavement. “In some studies, up to 80 percent of runners experienced GI disturbance, including abdominal pain and bowel dysfunction,” Lee said.
Powerlifters are susceptible to incontinence as well. Sometimes, worse: Heavy squatting and deadlifting can cause sphincter injury, or in drastic cases, rectal prolapse (link very much NSFW), which is when the rectum drops down into the anus from excessive straining. As you might imagine, this can make it difficult to hold stool back during heavy lifts, so if you feel yourself straining on a lift or endurance run, listen to your body and stop.
All in all, remember this: When you’re at the gym, do your best to stay on top of your shit.