Question: I’m 51 and a strong recreational cyclist who does about 250 miles a week, including two hard 40-milers with local racers (who seem to look younger every year). Recently, my body began “helping” me prepare for each week’s two competitive rides by sending me to the bathroom several times on those days. I worry that I’ll have diarrhea while riding, though I never have. The rest of the time, my bowel habits are totally normal. I psych myself up for these race-like rides and perform well. Should I be worried about these frequent trips to the bathroom? — D.K.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I think your intestinal activity is a result of nervousness. You probably don’t feel especially nervous because the hard rides aren’t “real races.” But if you’re getting psyched up to deal out some hurt to the youngsters, your body is preparing for action just as if it were the Tour de France.
One way evolution has equipped us for fight or flight is to empty the bowels in advance of anticipated action. The theory is that humans who had empty bowels were better able to survive an intestinal wound from a fire-hardened stick or sword. This ability became widespread through the populations because it conferred an evolutionary advantage.
I’m not qualified to judge the validity of this theory. But as you know, most cyclists hit the Porta Potty a time or two before a race.
The more accustomed you become to the stresses of “race day” the better your system should adapt. Don’t fight it — consider it a benefit to be empty during stressful rides.