Like most of us, you’ve probably been there: You’re minding your business, milling about your morning routine, only to have the sudden, urgent need to go number two. Such is the reality of drinking coffee. After all, the cult-favorite beverage might be best known for its energy-boosting abilities, but it’s a laxative, too.
This is important to keep in mind because, as soul-nourishing as it may feel to sip on an iced coffee while walking through a farmer’s market or embarking on your daily hot girl walk, the practice can lead to a potentially shitty situation—literally. That’s because walking alone can get the bowels moving, and adding a laxative to the equation could have you high-tailing it to the nearest bathroom.
What is it about the combo of coffee and walking?
“Individually, coffee and cardio are known to stimulate the bowels,” says New York City–based gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, MD, FACG. Combining the two makes it even more likely that you’ll find yourself in a situation where you gotta go right now (even though you might be far from a toilet).
A study published in Diseases of the Colon & Rectum found that consuming caffeine in water led to an earlier need to poop than drinking the same amount of water sans caffeine. That’s likely because caffeine causes our intestinal muscles to contract.
But it’s not caffeine alone that’s the sole culprit. “Coffee stimulates the release of two hormones, gastrin (released in the stomach) and cholecystokinin (released from the small intestine),” gut health expert Kate Scarlata, RDN, LDN, previously told Well+Good. “Gastrin increases colonic movements and cholecystokinin releases bile and digestive enzymes, initiating the digestive process.” Coffee also stimulates stomach acids that help move food through our system.
Meanwhile, walking gets those core (and digestive) muscles activating, even if we don’t necessarily feel like we’re getting a core workout. “Just a simple walk will contract your belly muscles and help push out gas and stool and keep you regular,” gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, previously told Well+Good.
Is there a way to go on a coffee walk without pooping?
We know what you’re thinking: How can I cut such a delicious ritual from my morning routine? Because, we’re not gonna lie—heading out for a morning walk to the coffee shop, or with our favorite travel mug in hand, is a truly delightful way to start the day. Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use so you don’t have to skip it altogether.
Time your coffee and cardio post-poo
If you know things typically get moving in the morning, Dr. Nazareth suggests waiting until after you’ve done your business to head out for a walk.
Stick to a single cup of coffee
That way you aren’t overloading your system with caffeine or stimulating those digestive-boosting hormones and acids quite so much.
Steer clear of dairy milk and creamers
“Lactose can stimulate bowel movements, particularly if you are lactose intolerant,” Dr. Nazareth says.
Opt for decaf
We know, this may feel like blasphemy to some, but it can help. “While decaf still does contain some caffeine, it does not have as strong of a laxative effect as regular coffee,” Dr. Nazareth says.
Some people find that iced coffee doesn’t affect their bowels with quite the same intensity as hot coffee. While there’s no research to back this up definitively, you can test it out to see if your own body responds differently to cold brew.
Try a bevvie that’s gentler on the bowels
My personal go-tos are Alani Nu Energy Drinks ($28/12) and Better Days Caffeinated Greens ($90 for 60 servings). Or, on days I want some fizz, I rely on old faithful: Polar Seltzer Water ($4/8).
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