Llike most of us, you’ve probably been there: you’re minding your business, fussing over 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 drink may be best known for its energy-boosting abilities, but it’s also a laxative.
This is important to keep in mind because, as nourishing as it may feel to sip an iced coffee while walking through a farmer’s market or going on your daily hot girl walk, the practice can lead to a potentially messy situation—literally. That’s because going alone can get your bowels moving, and adding a laxative to the equation can make it to the nearest bathroom.
What’s with the combination of coffee and walks?
“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 will end up in a situation where you have to leave Right now (although you may be far from a toilet).
A study published in Diseases of the colon and rectum found that consuming caffeine in water led to an earlier need to poop than drinking the same amount of water without caffeine. This is probably because caffeine causes our intestinal muscles to contract.
But caffeine isn’t the only 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 motility and cholecystokinin releases bile and digestive enzymes, initiating the digestion process.” Coffee also stimulates stomach acids that help move food through our system.
At the same time, walking activates these core muscles (and digestive muscles), even if we don’t necessarily feel like we’re getting a core workout. “Just a simple walk will tighten your stomach 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 won’t lie – going for a morning walk to the cafe, or with our favorite travel mug in hand, is a really lovely way to start the day. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use so you don’t have to skip it altogether.
Time your coffee and post-poo cardio
If you know things usually move in the morning, suggests Dr. Nazareth that you wait until you have done your business to go for a walk.
Stick to a single cup of coffee
That way, you don’t overload your system with caffeine or stimulate the digestive hormones and acids as much.
Avoid dairy milk and creamers
“Lactose can stimulate bowel movements, especially if you’re lactose intolerant,” says Dr. Nazareth.
Opt for caffeine-free
We know this may feel like blasphemy to some, but it may help. “Although decaf still contains some caffeine, it doesn’t have as strong a laxative effect as regular coffee,” says Dr. Nazareth.
Some people find that iced coffee does not affect their bowels with the same intensity as hot coffee. While there is no research to back this up definitively, you can try it out to see if your own body reacts differently to cold brew.
Try a bevvie that is gentler on the intestines
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 a little fizz, I rely on the old faithful: Polar Seltzer Water ($4/8).