What to eat when you have diarrhea on the go

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There are few backcountry calamities more feared than diarrhea, also known as hiker’s trot. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common afflictions in nature, and it has an often overlooked side effect: you lack the energy to walk because you don’t feel like eating.

Believe it or not, food can help you with your stomach problems. In fact, some foods will make you feel better and shorten the duration of the illness. The BRAT diet, often recommended for diarrhea, consists of bananas, rice, apples (or applesauce), and toast (white). This bland meal puts soluble fiber in your system, which slows the passage of food through your intestinal tract.

While you probably won’t have ripe bananas and white bread in your pack, you can whip up a BRAT-like diet with typical backpacking fare:

  • Rehydrate dried bananas and apples by cooking them in water until soft and easy to digest. Eat the fruit and drink the cooking water for maximum fiber intake. The bananas will also replace some of the potassium that the diarrhea is causing your body to lose.
  • Prepare a rice dinner, but leave out the spices. Prepare the rice with extra water to create the largest volume possible.
  • Eat pasta (without sauce), plain crackers, and white flour breads, such as plain flour tortillas or plain bagels, all of which provide fiber and are easy to digest.
  • Choose soft, hot cereals, such as oatmeal, farina, or cream of rice.
  • Mix up a batch of instant potatoes and add a pinch of salt to replace what your body is losing.
  • Boil a handful of baby carrots until soft. Your body will absorb their nutrients more efficiently if they are soft, not crunchy.

Avoid fatty foods such as fat that contain nuts or chocolate, dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, and foods high in insoluble fiber such as whole grains, bran, beans, and leafy vegetables. Stay away from backpacking staples like jerky, candy, energy bars, and raisins, which can make diarrhea worse.

The most important thing is to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Drink at least 3 quarts a day, and double that if you’re sweating a lot. For maximum benefit, take small sips throughout the day rather than during breaks. If you brought sports drinks, dilute (4 parts water to 1 part sports drink) and sip them instead of water, as they help replace the sodium and potassium lost with each trip to the bushes.

When to evacuate

Seek the attention of a doctor when diarrhea:

  • Continues for more than 72 hours
  • Accompanied by severe abdominal pain
  • Leaves you dizzy or lightheaded (a sign of dehydration)
  • includes blood
  • Occurs with fever of 102°F or higher

Note: the more severe the diarrhea, the sooner you should see a doctor. Drink plenty of water and, if available, take an anti-diarrheal medicine such as Imodium to slow the flow while you walk.

Last update March 2023

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
Articles: 8689