In this guide, nutritional experts from PowerBar tell us how to avoid stomach problems during races. GI (gastrointestinal) problems are common for marathon runners, long distance cyclists and triathletes; but there are ways to reduce GI, or elimitate it, with the correct nutrition approach. We find out more...
How to avoid nutritionally induced gastrointestinal problems during races
Nervousness or elevated stress levels before a competition can literally cause an "upset stomach". The wrong nutrition can further make the gastrointestinal tract rebel. Complaints of varying severity include feelings of fullness, bloating, flatulence, stomach cramps, nausea / sickness, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
Gastrointestinal problems aren't uncommon during competitions for endurance athletes, and often result in not being able to achieve maximal efforts. In addition to a fluid deficit (dehydration), the consumption of foods that are difficult and hard to digest (these especially include foods rich in fat and high in fibre), in the last few hours leading up to an intense exercise, increases the risk of digestion issues. It is therefore better to avoid sandwiches with salami, or fried potatoes / chips with sausages and co.
The tolerance for foods and drinks is individually different. Therefore, on several occasions, every athlete should mimic their race place in training; which includes nutritional and fluid timings and amounts, to find out what can be tolerated best.
The main rule is: no experiments on race day! It is also important not to forget these "rituals" shortly before the start: Eat and drink only what you're used to. This helps you feel prepared to race and calms you down.
The right carbohydrate strategy during competition not only supports maximal performance, but also prevents gastrointestinal distress. The saying "for success train both the body and the gut" is therefore correct.
7 practical tips to help avoid gastrointestinal problems
- Never try something new on race day!
- Gradually increase the carbohydrate and fluid intake over several weeks before a race; so that the gastrointestinal tract also gets 'trained', and the best possible individual strategy can be developed.
- Avoid Aspirin or other painkillers with anti-inflammatory properties, such as e.g. Ibuprofen, as these increase the risk for gastrointestinal problems.
- Consume the last big meal 3-4 hours before the race: make sure it is easy to digest, and low in fat and fibre (e.g. pasta with tomato sauce, sandwiches / bread rolls with ham or jam). Make sure you combine the meal with sufficient fluid.
- The closer in time you get to the race, the smaller the portions should become. Up to 60 minutes before, concentrate on carbohydrate-rich snacks such as PowerBar ENERGIZE wafers. Combine it with sufficient amounts of drink. In some cases of high level competition nervousness, liquid food, such as PowerBar IsoActive drink or POWERGELs dissolved in water, can usually be tolerated better than solid snacks.
- Avoid a fluid deficit (dehydration): begin with a good fluid balance, and make sure to follow an appropriate and individual drinking strategy.
- Use proven methods to manage stress through nervousness and fear of competition. For example, food rituals and typically followed behaviours can give reassurance and a feeling of security.
Good luck in your event!