Essential Sports Nutrition


How to avoid GI issues on race day

Photo by Deuce Bradshaw.

Unwanted in training and competition, GI issues frequently impair performance and recovery. The three main causes of GI symptoms include physiological (reduced blood flow to the gut), mechanical (bouncing/jumping) or nutritional (diet/sport nutrition). For example, during exercise, blood flow to the digestive system is impaired so the stomach may reject ingested food or fluids, sending them out of the body - either up or down.

Common upper and lower GI issues include:

Intestinal cramping
Side stitch
Stomach pain/cramps
Loose stools/diarrhea
Intestinal bleeding
Urgency to defecate

Severity differs depending on the athlete and sport.

For example, the high-impact nature of running may jostle the gastric system, contributing to lower GI issues. In cycling, posture on the bike may increase pressure on the abdomen causing upper GI issues. Among swimmers, swallowing air from short and rapid breathing may cause belching.

Additionally, using a straw-based hydration system or gulping fluids (especially carbonated drinks) may cause aerophagia – which is a condition of excessive air swallowing, contributing to GI issues.

To reduce the risk of GI issues during exercise, follow these practical guidelines:

  • ·     If you get gassy with dairy and fructose, consider a lactose or dairy-free alternative and avoid grapes, apples, asparagus, melon and juices when gut flow may be compromised (ex. high-intensity training, competition day).
  •       Reduce/avoid high-fiber food such as cruciferous veggies and high-fiber cereals/grains and replace with potatoes and plain breads in the 4-24 hours before intense or long duration activity.
  •       Avoid high-fructose foods such as soda, candy and juice, as well as carbonated drinks around workouts/competition.
  •       Stay well-hydrated before, during and after exercise. Dehydration can exacerbate GI symptoms. Drink frequently in smaller amounts on a schedule throughout your race instead of big gulps randomly occurring when you feel overly thirsty to reduce the risk of a sloshy stomach.
  •       Allow 4-6 weeks to train your gut to improve intestinal absorption with ingested foods and fluids. Don't wait until race week to try out your race day nutrition plan. Consider the formulation of your sport nutrition products to ensure optimal digestion and absorption. In other words, don't concentrate your products.
  •      Trial and error to figure out what works/doesn’t work before and during training/competition. Keep your pre race and race day fueling and hydration plan simple so it's easy to execute under pressure/nerves/stress.
  •       NSAIDs and aspirin are associated with an increased risk of GI complications, mucosal bleeding and ulcers. Avoid as much as possible, and avoid before and on competition day.
  •      Stay calm and relaxed. Stress can exacerbate GI issues.